Tales From Truman Park

Episode 1

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 junkie 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.

“I did.”

“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.

“Gary?” 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.

“Who’s Nelson?”

“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?”

“Jack Holden.”

“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 not?”

“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.

“They’re Italian.”

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 1902 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 again 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.

“Blew what?”

“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 East Hollywood, 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 Trent 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.”
“Cheryl Johnson?”
“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 as you might imagine dear reader, was full of dull commentary and hard-left political agendas, which the hard-right students at Coronation loathed with magma-like disdain…and because the hard-right students had mostly all resigned or had been voted out of the Coronation Gazette at one point or another, they’d 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.

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 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 Hollywood 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.”

“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 Hollywood. 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. Sherilyn Fenn, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone…and the likes of. 90’s chicks; 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 sunbaked streets casually as the palm trees passed by and the helicopters chopped through the sky high above. We followed Hollywood 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 Hollywood, 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 Hollywood 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 Sunset 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. 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.” suggested Gavin.

“He picked it with me.” I said.

“And you fell for it…take my advice…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.

“Thanks to your dad…daddy’s girl.” I said

“At least I have a father. Have fun in Truman Park for the next week…maybe you can bide your time stealing car stereos with the rest of the degenerate kids from broken homes.” said Locksmith.

“Is that supposed to insult me?” I laughed.

“Is calling me a daddy’s girl supposed to insult me?” demanded Locksmith, “My father is a respected leader of the people…what was your father? I heard he was the leader of a platoon.”

“But Locksmith, you don’t really believe he’s your real father do you? Probably your real father is one of the guys your mom blew for tequila shots in a dive bar urinal—while she was pregnant with you.” I said.

Locksmith’s face started to twitch and it turned a deep shade of red and when his lips tightened to form a gob of spit, I held my textbooks up at the last second, so the spittle landed against the cover of my chemistry text book. I was glad that I’d been holding the textbook for otherwise, Locksmith would have spit on me. When I turned my head back I saw he was gone…as if he’d vanished into thin air. Stepping from the stairwell back into the hallway, I saw him sprinting down the hallway, with his awkwardly straight back. He ran in a robotic fashion, his flood pants and argyle socks cutting through the air and his oxfords clacking against the tiles with his rapid strides, perhaps thinking I was giving chase.

After stopping in the bathroom to wash, with a soapy paper towel, Locksmith’s spittle from the cover of my chemistry textbook, 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 travelled 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 Hollywood 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 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 19 takes we did, actually the 14th 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 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 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 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 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 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.

Tales from Truman Park Episode 5

Suddenly finding myself with a week off from classes at Coronation was strangely disconcerting to me. Though I wasn’t a grade point alchemist or a brown nosing try hard or even an extracurricular scenster—I missed the commute, the early morning sativa haze, the droning teachers, the after school specials, the lulling calm of the 1960’s décor and the sedative effect of sunny suburban bliss…it had acted as a drug and after three days I found myself going through withdrawal. Which is to say that I’d become wonderstruck by the walls of the Coronation sanctuary I’d gone to such great lengths to attend and being suddenly banished from them left me with the feeling that I’d somehow fucked up. Perhaps a defining element of this cloudy disposition was the knowledge that it was all going on without me…as if I hadn’t even existed at Coronation…as if Locksmith and his Alderman father had successfully erased me from the annals of Coronation High history with a stroke of their privilege. In short—I felt like I’d been sent home from summer camp and had to now spend a fortnight banished from the kingdom.

Though I’d been extended the brunt of the Locksmith family power trip through the political coercion of principal Gavin—there was the consoling factor of Eleanor Price, who moved into my attic dwelling in Truman Park. Her home life I’d systematically learned was a shambles and it was mainly because of her father’s ongoing mid-life crisis and the ever-present symptoms of which. Though he shared joint-custody of Eleanor with Eleanor’s filthy rich socialite mother who was frequently jet-setting with her new and substantially younger husband to far off and exotic locations in the world—Eleanor’s residence at her father’s home was basically full time and it was mainly because her mother’s large, multi-room estate in Brentwood was largely inhabited by Eleanor’s stepsister, who Eleanor assured was evil in a cartoonish sort of way. Indeed, Eleanor referred to her stepsister as a ‘venomous shrew’ and didn’t bother elaborating on the fine details beyond uttering a shiver of disgust every time she mentioned her.

We’d sat in the living room with my mom, explaining the entire predicament with Locksmith and the events that had unfolded the day Eleanor and I had both been suspended from Coronation High on grounds of Locksmith—he’d proven to be a pesky fucker. Eleanor opened up to my mom in ways she’d never opened up to me…citing the cruel and unusual abuse she suffered at the hands of her wicked stepmother and the neutral stance her father adopted each time the psychological abuse occurred.

I sat quietly, sipping a Dr. Skipper as Eleanor explained nearly nonchalantly the psychological abuse her stepmother threw at her at total random. Perhaps the pinnacle of this bizarre campaign of cruelty was perfectly defined when the wicked stepmother had taken Eleanor’s father’s gold card from his wallet and planted it in Eleanor’s room and miraculously found it one afternoon while cleaning Eleanor’s bedroom, subsequently reporting the ominous find to Eleanor’s father—who had chosen immediately to side with his diabolically insane trophy wife. Eleanor laughed about it as my mom listened intensely, her brows tightened in disbelief.

Eleanor eventually came around to explaining our afternoon at Coronation and how she’d wound up and slapped Locksmith across the face in the school cafeteria in front of an audience of students and teachers…she’d explained in detail the wobble of Locksmith’s cheek and the way his spectacles had shaken loose and landed in Molly Hansen’s cream of mushroom soup. My mom had been seized by laughter that was so sudden and intense it drew her tears which she dabbed at afterward with a tissue, apologizing for laughing but citing the visual as one of pure hilarity…adding in a more wry tone that perhaps Eleanor should have wound up her leg and booted Locksmith directly in his balls—for good measure.

Eleanor laughed, thinking my mother was speaking in jest…not realizing that my mother had, by way of my father’s abuse, infidelity  and ultra-alpha-male psychosis, evolved into a near radical feminist, who had been known to state that men were only good for one thing and were not even so good at that.

She next warned me to stay out of Locksmith’s way…explaining to me in a scolding tone that such a kid wasn’t worth being expelled from Coronation and subsequently reminding me of the trouble I’d gone through to enroll; a solemn reminder. I nodded, declaring that that though Locksmith would have been more useful to the world as an abortion—still, I agreed; Locksmith was definitely not worth being expelled over…in the event that I did something stupid.

Though my plan had been to request that Eleanor stay with us for a while, I didn’t have to mention it, as my mom offered the option to Eleanor on her own accord; citing that she was always welcome to stay in our home as long as she needed to. And so it was dear reader that I was at least able to have Eleanor with me during my exile from Coronation which I largely spent in Truman Park, obliging Eleanor’s requests for historical tours of the old neighborhood.

I also spent three hours every afternoon with Walt and the Goblin in their rehearsal room, working on compositions that would eventually make up a full set of amphetamine charged songs which were specifically designed to blow minds and incite chaos on a mass level…Walt subscribed to the belief that if our shows didn’t end in fiery destruction and spontaneously combustible anarchy—we weren’t doing our job correctly. Indeed, Walt was full of ideas…stage props, spotlight antics and ritualistic voodoo that would collectively spellbind an audience of savage teens…he wanted to hypnotize them with a colorfast of rebellion and teen angst…he wanted to incite a proverbial book burning…one which he hoped would spread and catch fire to the establishment of social grace and upright tradition they’d all been raised on…turning it on its head with Gen X revolution. I wasn’t sure if Walt was the devil incarnate or just a great gimmick man–indeed there seemed to be a fine line.

In response to Walt’s general goal, the Goblin usually shrugged, took a bong hit and said ‘count me in’…I on the other hand felt that though it was entirely possible to roll in like a funkadelic hurricane; without great songs—we were only a sideshow…great songs were the key as far as I was concerned and indeed, I stayed up late into the wee hours each night composing on the guitar as Eleanor slept curled up on my bed and the Hollywood police helicopters circled overhead. I’d grin to myself after completing a great composition…each of which I felt I’d never surpass in terms of creative prowess, but each time seemed to do so—I’d found the ancient emptiness that lined the streets with innocence and it was magical.

One day I’d woken up to the sounds of Eleanor moving around the bedroom. The black curtains were still drawn and she’d opened them suddenly, flooding the room in brilliant sunlight. It was afternoon and I’d slept the morning away while she’d been out with my mom. They’d attended a yoga class my mom frequented and had afterward gone for lunch with some women from the class, who also belonged to a book club my mom was part of. It was Saturday and Eleanor stood there in my room, illuminated by the afternoon sun and clad in athletic wear. I’d never seen her in yoga pants and a tank top, or with a frumpy ball cap on.

“Who the hell are you? What did you do with Eleanor?” I asked taking note again of the athletic wear.

“You slept the morning away…and I went to yoga with your mom and her friends—we had some fascinating conversations about the challenges women face in today’s society—it was quite fascinating.” she said.

“Ah, nothing like some good old fashioned man-hating.” I chuckled, rolling onto my back, “I was writing until late.” I said, “I’ve got an A-bomb in my pocket baby…and we’re going to unleash that shit at our first show.”

“That’s great…so it worked out?” she asked sitting on the bed beside me.

“In ways I never imagined.” I smiled, pulling her in close and rolling on top of her.

“I should shower.” she said.

“I don’t want to wait.” I said, and went to work.

It was about 2pm by the time we made it out of my van, the interior of which was like a blast furnace sitting under the Socal sun all morning and most of the afternoon. I punched the air conditioner button that was labeled with an icy snowflake as we cruised down Hollywood Blvd at Eleanor’s request. I wasn’t sure where we were going or what she was looking for…I didn’t much care either. I had the Replacements ‘Tim’ on the speakers and my beloved woman beside me and Hollywood all around me…it was the 1990’s and we felt the youth coursing through us in beautiful and mysterious ways…it was a world of possibilities and we were on the forefront—the cutting edge…the future was ours.

Eventually, Eleanor pointed out the shop she’d been looking for and I pulled up beside one of the dented and spray painted parking meters. We stepped out of the air-conditioned interior into the dry desert heat. The palm trees glistened and rustled as the traffic went by and the tourists went by in brightly clad droves. I plugged the meter with some quarters and we made our way up the sidewalk which bared the names of dead stars beneath the clutter of litter and spilled fluids. After stopping at a corner store for a slush, Eleanor led me into an air conditioned print shop that smelled like cigarette smoke, paper products and gasoline. She spoke with the man behind the counter whose reptilian eyes clicked from Eleanor to me suspiciously after which Eleanor produced a floppy disc from her purse and handed it to the man. We waited at the counter for a while as the man did some configuring after which a print machine in one corner of the shop came to life with a buzz and began printing off dozens of copies with a repetitious hissing.

The man eventually returned to the counter with a stack of papers that were still warm from the printer and heavy with fresh ink. I thumbed through a few of them, taking note of the perfection of Eleanor’s design. Indeed, our ‘save Truman Park High’ posters were immaculate and glossy and full of inkjet color.

Out on the street the day seemed even hotter in contrast to the air conditioned print shop and Eleanor and I walked along, checking out some t-shirt and souvenir shops. In one shop I found a Return of the Living Dead t-shirt. It was black and attractive and a polyester cotton blend. I bought it and immediately put it on…feeling suddenly like heading down to the graveyard and getting drunk. However, the posters were the plan and back to Truman Park we drove in my new, used van…taking the potholes and dips in the road nicely as the a/c blew the snowflake air at us, enough so to raise goose bumps on Eleanor’s otherwise perfectly smooth arms.

“Do you think we’ll grow up to be old together?” she asked me, “Will you love me when I’m 65 and falling apart?”

“Of course. But why you want to talk about depressing shit?” I countered, “Who do you think this is all for? It’s our time now and we’re going to be the last great generation…mainly because we’re an impossible act to follow—it’s our responsibility to always shoot for greatness…and baby, the pursuit of greatness is not a sin.”

“How do you know? And what if we’re the worst generation? What if we steer it all into the ditch?” asked Eleanor.

“Well…at least we’ll do it with some style.” I said.

Our first stop was of course Truman high school…ground zero of our poster campaign. It always seemed that Eleanor was on some level deeply intrigued with Truman Park…it was evident in the keen observations she would make as we drove the streets or she sat at my attic window staring out on the neighborhood noticing the tiny details…indeed, she had a keen eye for details and didn’t usually miss a thing. Details I’d walked by a thousand and one times and never quite noticed, Eleanor noticed with keen precision however…calculating their relevance and contemplating their meaning, which she must have been convinced was more arcane that it actually was. 

On this afternoon, Eleanor peered up at the old school with a certain wonder I’d seen in her eyes before, when she discussed the law of attraction, ancient Egypt or true romance. On this afternoon, Eleanor was moving her eyes over the preserved architecture…the 19th century gargoyles jutting from the top corners of the building…the large half-moon entrance steps and the black iron railings and intricately designed window grills.

“Wow…you weren’t kidding—this place really should be a heritage building. It’s like a time capsule.” said Eleanor, peering up at Truman’s rustic façade as I wrapped a poster around the pole of a street lamp with a roll of clear packing tape.

“She’s majestic alright.” I sighed, looking over the old building, now somehow through Eleanor’s colorful kaleidoscope.

“I want to see what it’s like inside.” she said, “Shall we go in?”

“It’s Saturday…probably nobody is in there.” I said.

“The janitor must be.” said Eleanor, interlocking her fingers in mine, leading me away from the lamp post and up the cobblestone walkway toward Truman High, a place to which I hadn’t planned to ever return.

The day was extra hot and as we approached the entrance doors the heat emanating from the brick façade of Truman High seemed to scorch my face, as if a 100 dry desert summers faced me all at once, baring witness to a century worth of classes, graduations, nervous freshmen, cocky seniors and jaded teachers…as if we were moving across the rough, pulpy page of a tattered textbook photo of the school, I wondered about Eleanor and I—where we would go in life and what the world held in store. Certainly the dead, who existed only in black and white historic photos had wondered the same. It was our time…the 1990’s; an era of creative magic and wondrous mysticism…it too however, would fade into the black and white past—softened with grain and the childlike innocence of assumed immortality. Time laughs.

Both Eleanor and I were surprised to find the front door of the school unlocked. I’d pulled it with the uncommitted expectation that it would be locked. However, someone inside had deemed it reasonable to leave it unbolted and it swung ajar, bringing with it the familiar smell of old wood, polished tiles and cynical school spirit.

We stepped in and Eleanor scanned the sundrenched foyer with a certain look of wonder, taking note of the concave ceiling and the spiral stair case, “Wow…this place is gorgeous.” said Eleanor.

“I think it started as a municipal building.” I said.

“My god, look at the vintage drinking fountain.” gasped Eleanor, moving across the floor to the brick wall against which was fastened the same old drinking fountain that had always been there. It looked like an antique ashtray stand only thicker and was cast in intricately designed bronze. Eleanor pressed the button and bent forward, placing her red luscious lips in the arching stream of water that splashed down into the wide and shallow basin.

“The antiquity of this place is extraordinary.” she said, wiping a drip of water from her bottom lip as we made our way up the steps and into the main hallway that was empty and silent and lined with dented, paint-chipped lockers. As we passed them, Eleanor took note of the names, initials and designs that had been carved into them by students past. She had a look of wonder in her eyes and it occurred to me that this was all an adventure for Eleanor…me, Truman Park…the decampment from her space cadet father and absentee millionaire mother and it made me wonder how empty her life had seemed after her private school sanctuary had announced its closing and she’d been transferred to Coronation under the command of her wicked stepmother. It seemed the suburban silence had driven her half mad and the rough character of the inner city intrigued her into a great, contemplative distraction—a puzzle requiring a solve.

“Do you miss Southridge Academy?” I asked her as we strolled down the hallway.

“My life was at Southridge.” she said.

“Why do you never talk about it?”

“It makes me sad I guess.” she said, “Doesn’t it make you sad to walk around this old place knowing that they’re going to tear it down?”

“I always hated going to school here…mainly because of the shithead inhabitants…but this building is important…once they tear it down, it’s only a matter of time until they tear them all down in Truman Park…nobody cares what happens here…we’re the forgotten.” I said.

“Well you care and I care…and I’m sure others care too. People need a voice though.” said Eleanor, “A platform…and that’s what these posters are going to offer.” she said, holding up the bag slung around her, from which protruded the thick stack of posters.

We were interrupted just then by a voice calling to us from behind. When we turned, I found it was Spencer…the janitor. He was an old gruff and smoky man who always wore a machinist jumpsuit and a conductor hat. It was known that he played the horses when he wasn’t janitoring around Truman High and that he drank on the job. I often felt for the old timer thinking of the heinous messes he’d had to clean up in his long spanning career.

“Hey Spencer.” I said.

“Jacko…is that really you boy?” he grinned his signature toothless grin.

“In the flesh.” I said, striking an invincible pose.

“God dam boy…they was chattering about you for weeks…I assumed you’d just gone AWOL.” said Spencer.

“I transferred…figured either Nelson or I were going to wind up dead if I didn’t.” I laughed.

“Be careful,” said Spencer raising his brows, “he’s around here today…you don’t want him running into you.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“And who is the lovely young lady?” he asked turning his gaze to Eleanor who seemed to nearly blush with surprise.

“This is Eleanor.” I said.

“I’m Eleanor.” she said, extending her hand in a lady-like fashion and curtsying slightly as Spencer shook it.

“I don’t recognize you, but that’s ok…a pretty face is always welcome around here.”

“I was never a student here…but I must say, the architecture is fascinating and nearly gothic…and it seems this is all the original décor. I mean, look at the door knobs…they’re certainly the originals…the cast bronze and anthemion design—it’s all a bit breath-taking.” said Eleanor placing a small perfectly shaped hand across her chest.

“I think most of it is the original stuff.” said Spencer, looking around the hall and squinting against the cascade of sunlight, “But it wasn’t a conscious decision…it’s cheaper to keep the old stuff rather than put in all new stuff. Not a lot of money gets thrown at this old place anymore.”

“What will happen to the door knobs and the light fixtures and the old drinking fountains when they demolish this place?” asked Eleanor.

“Well, I reckon it will all go down into the rubble pile and they’ll cart it off wherever they cart rubble off to.” said Spencer.

“It seems a crime to just throw it all away. Really this place is full of artifacts.” said Eleanor, nearly in protest.

“You want to see artifacts? Follow me, I can show y’all some artifacts you won’t believe.” said Spencer, falling into step and heading toward a stairwell doorway. As we descended the stairs behind him, he continued, “We have our main storage room and then there is one for the gymnasium…but we recently discovered another one. It was always just a metal door in the boiler room which had always been locked since I started here and I started here in 67’…never really paid that door much mind. Then last fall we found a box in the gymnasium storage room with a bunch of knick knacks…golf balls and tees, nuts and bolts, and several loose keys. Many of the keys were spares for the classrooms…a few for other doors around the building. One of the keys wound up opening the metal door in the boiler room…imagine that—nobody around here could remember that door ever being open…and there are some veterans here if you know what I mean.” Spencer said and turned to us when we reached the landing of the stairwell on the basement floor.

Pushing through the fire glass door leading into the basement hallway Spencer continued as we made our way toward the boiler room, “It was like opening a tomb I tell you…cobwebs, dust and spiders—lots of spiders…just like you’d imagine. We had to bring in a portable lamp because the electrical leading to that room had been either cut or just decayed from non-use. But judging from some old newspapers and magazines we found inside, along with the other things, we figured the room had been locked at some point in the early 1950’s and hadn’t been opened since.”

“Are the artifacts still there or where they removed?” asked Eleanor.

“Oh, everything is still in there…though I think Principal Nelson decided to use the boxes of unused note books and old pencils so those went out earlier this year.” said Spencer over his shoulder as Eleanor widened her eyes with amazement, enthused to rummage through the memorabilia.

We followed Spencer through the boiler room which was a clanking mess of pipes, gauges and hissing steam. We came to the metal door he’d told us about and waited as he fumbled through his massive brass ring of keys. Finding the right one, he slipped it into the lock and pulled on the heavy door which opened with an ominous creak. Inside it smelled musty and the sudden illumination of a lamp cast the storage room in a dim yellow glow, “Have at it…I’ve got a faucet to fix on third level…nice to see you Jacko.” said Spencer, then quieter as he leaned into my ear, “Hang onto that one kid—she’s a stunner.”

I grinned and nodded as Eleanor went straight to work, opening the first box within reach. In the box were old playbills for a school production of A Streetcar Named Desire which Eleanor fawned over, smoothing her blood red fingernails over the print with a sign of wonder.

“I want these.”

“Take whatever you want…it’s just going into the landfill.” said Spencer before leaving us there alone in the dim storage room.

Eleanor carefully placed a few of the playbills into her bag before moving on to the next box. I took my own route and started with some boxes on the opposite side of the room. Some of the boxes were still sealed with tape and I realized as I opened them that the last light the contents had seen was in the 1950’s. Mostly the boxes were filled with supplies, like ink ribbons for defunct typewriters, paper, pencils, thumb tacks and Pink Pearl erasers; artillery for learning minds.

I was sifting through the contents of a box of shorthand text books when Eleanor uttered an awestruck gasp. Turning, I found she was holding out before her a women’s sleeveless sweater bearing horizontally down the front large felt letters that read ‘TPH’. “I have to have this.” said Eleanor, seemingly stunned by the find, “It’s my destiny.” she added with a chuckle, “You think it will look good on me?”

“Anything looks good on you…but you know what looks best on you?” I asked.


“Me.” I said and moved toward her, pulling her in close and kissing her deeply. I pulled her leg up around my hip and pulled her closer.

“We can’t do that in here.” she grinned.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Too many ghosts.” she said, holding up the sweater again. We both admired the knitted lines and the giant blue felt letters sewn into the front of it, “I wonder who wore this.”

“We’ll never know.” I said, “But it’s a hella rad sweater.”

“I wonder who she was…” said Eleanor, trailing off into contemplation as I opened some more boxes.

In one box I found a number of pens and felt markers. Around one of the markers was fit a thick, golden ring, the face of which was a blue sapphire that sparkled under the lamplight. The engraving around the sapphire read ‘Truman Park High, class of 1953’. With some effort I loosened the ring and held it in my palm. I felt that wearing it in that moment was somehow wrong, being that I’d gone to such great lengths to transfer out of Truman Park. However, as far as Truman High memorabilia was concerned; the class ring was a find of historical significance and I handed it to Eleanor who wasn’t prone to losing things. She stowed the ring, as well as the playbills and a few other Truman Park artifacts in her bag. The sweater she draped over her forearm, as young women in the 1950’s might have done on such a hot day, and the bag she slung over her shoulder.

Intoxicated by the archeological find, we made our way back up the stairs to the main floor where the community bulletin board was situated. It wasn’t quite cluttered…it was populated mainly by pointless school notices nobody would take the time to read. I read a few as Eleanor used colored tacks to pin our poster to the corkboard. The bulletins were simple, to the point and lacking real personality; smoking at the east entrance was now prohibited, there were new cafeteria hours, graffiti was a crime and punishable by expulsion, outside runners were no longer allowed on the gymnasium floor. Weapons picked up by the metal detectors would not only be confiscated—parents and perhaps the police would now be notified. The notices read like the droning disinterest of a discount store customer service representative who was only stating the protocols for the millionth time.

Using a few of the colored thumb tacks, Eleanor pinned the poster to the board. It looked out of place and caught the eye nicely—Eleanor’s design was perfect and we admired it for a few moments in the sun drenched hall. It was then that the fire glass door behind us clicked open and through it emerged the man himself; the feared, the loathed, the bootied—Principal Nelson.

Indeed, the old chap gazed upon me with shock and awe…his jaw nearly dropping and his jowls wobbling in dismay. Indeed, he was clad in his usual creepily snug fitting booty slacks and his Barney Miller shirt and tie. After a great degree of disconcerted stuttering, Nelson finally spit out is statement, “What the godam hell are you doing in here Holden?”

“What are you doing here?” I counter asked, “Shouldn’t you be browsing CJ Penney for booty pants on such a leisurely Saturday afternoon?”

“You’re still as crazy as a shit house rat I can see.” he snapped, wrinkling his bushy greying brows in utter loathing, “I want you the fuck out of here and take your little tramp with you.”

“Tramp? Do I look like a tramp?” demanded Eleanor suddenly, perhaps slightly alarmed that she might bare the appearance of a tramp.

“Leave!” spat Nelson.

“Maybe you’re just pissed because your attempts at sabotaging my transfer to Coronation failed.” I shrugged, “Yep, it’s really too bad for you that Principal Jefferies was such a douche and got himself fired over at Coronation…the new principal had no problem accepting my application.” I told him, phrasing my words like salt in an unhealed wound.

“I’m sure I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about and I’m sure I don’t care.” Nelson said.

“I know what you did last summer.” I said.

“Yeah well, good luck proving it shithead.” said Nelson with an insatiably vindictive grin.

“Do you treat your daughters this way?” I asked.

“I will call the police if you don’t get the hell out of my school now!” Nelson hollered, whipping a pointing arm toward the east exit doors.

“That’s a horrible tie by the way…it looks like a vomit stain running down your shirt.” stated Eleanor, which made me laugh—witty little kitten.

“Leave! Now!” hollered Nelson, “Godamit Holden…you have absolutely no right to even be in here right now.”

“No prob…we were just putting up a poster to save this school…which I’m sure is more than you’ve ever done for it…by the way, where are you going to work now? I thought Truman was the only school that would take a cretin like you.” I said, gesturing toward the poster which Nelson turned to. He stepped up to it next, reading it for a moment before tearing it from the board and crumpling it in his palm. He crossed one arm over his chest and propped his other elbow upon his wrist, making a fist and placing it to his mouth, as if he were about to eat the crumpled poster. He only clenched his fist against his lips in rage, closed his eyes and repeated again in a quiet gristly voice, “Get out.”

I felt an explosion was about to erupt and I took Eleanor by the hand, trying to lead her toward the east exit doors. Her hesitancy however told me she wasn’t ready to budge, “Let’s go,” I said, “it’s like talking to a wall…only a wall wearing booty pants.”

“You know something Mr. Nelson…you should be ashamed of how you just talked to us.” said Eleanor.

“I’m not sure why you’re still standing here when I’ve clearly asked you to leave.” said Nelson, calmly containing his rage.

“Firstly it’s a public building…it’s not a private school…and this bulletin board is here for the precise reason we’ve hung our poster—to create awareness about an important issue that will inevitably have some impact on the residents of this neighborhood and more specifically the students who attend this school, which by the way is far too historically relevant to be turned into a pile of rubble. We’ve come here today to do something positive for this school and you’ve treated us like assholes…it’s extremely uncool sir.” said Eleanor, crossing her arms below her pert breasts and cocking her hip, shifting her weight onto one leg in a sexy way. 

“I’m not sure where Holden found you…or why it is you would even want to spend your time delinquenting around Truman Park with such a shit-stain. He’ll only lead you into trouble…he’s a bad apple…bad to the core.” scolded Nelson.

“Well Irving,” said Eleanor with a devilish grin, “that’s where you’re wrong. You see, it was entirely my idea to remove the lawn ornaments from you yard in Palisade Point and replace them on the front lawn of this school a few days later. Jack had nothing to do with that decision—that was all my loopy shit.” she said, pointing to her temple.

I was dumbfounded…perhaps my own jaw dropped…perhaps I’d stood there with an amused grin…perhaps I’d merely closed my eyes and chuckled to myself. I recall no reaction however, as my focus was drawn upon Nelson’s reaction which surfaced upon his face as first surprise, then a few moments of hard contemplation, followed by outrage, which he voiced with some volume, “I should have known that it was you Holden, you godam little savage! Who else could be such a diabolical little bastard? Of course a kid who goes around wearing satanic t-shirts! Oh, you’ve really fucked yourself now! I’m going to be informing the police about your targeted act of vandalism you little shit-stain.”

I just laughed, his use of the compound insult was voiced with such passion it struck me as comical, “Whatever dickwad…the only satanic fucker here is you…this shirt is a George A. Romero original—not some lame ass Satanism…but I guess you wouldn’t know anything about it would you? The only films you probably watch are pissing porn videos…you sick fucker.”

“I’ll be filing my report with the police as soon as you’re off the property…those lawn ornaments were arranged by my wife…and she was quite distraught when they disappeared. I should have guessed it was you, you fucking little diarrhea squirt.”

“Hey…” Eleanor interjected, snapping her fingers in Nelson’s face, drawing his rage back upon her, “Do you kiss your wife with that filthy mouth of yours? Anyway, I already told you it was my idea…Jack had nothing to do with it…”

“Who the fuck are you? I’ve never met you before in my life and you took my lawn ornaments hostage! Clearly you’re a diabolical little bitch and I’ll be including you in my report to the police as well.” said Nelson.

“Be my guest. Good luck proving it shithead. By the way; mess with my man one more time and you’ll see how diabolical I can really be. The ornaments were a luxury…child’s play…but you fuck with my man again and I’ll stop at nothing. You need to ask yourself if you really want to fuck with me Irving.” Eleanor said, staring coldly into Nelson’s eyes. Nelson only stood still, silently transfixed on Eleanor who wore an expression I didn’t recognize but found intriguing all the same.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble here with crazy people…just leave. Just get the fuck out of here will you.” Nelson insisted, his rage drained and his sensibilities kicking in. After giving him a once over Eleanor turned and casually strolled toward the exit doors, with her arms still crossed beneath her pert breasts held snug in her Psychedelic Furs t-shirt.

Our minor altercation with Nelson wasn’t surprising by any stretch of the imagination and I’d known the risks of entering Truman High which had officially and quite evidently become enemy territory. I’d not asked for an intense exchange with Nelson and after realizing it didn’t matter either way…having developed a thick skin, his words were easily shrugged off. Though the experience had slid off of me easily, it seemed to stick in Eleanor’s craw and she asked me many questions regarding Nelson and eventually the entire Truman High experience as we spent the rest of the day taping our posters to Truman Park lamp posts and telephone poles around the neighborhood. Eleanor listened, seemingly fascinated and at times disturbed by my recollections, all the while assessing the facts and drawing in her mind an articulate conclusion to the Truman High puzzle; Principal Nelson was a shame to his profession and beyond that a well refined ‘pig fucker’ who wasn’t worth the effort of any further contemplation. Concurring, I was more than happy to field no further questions about the man and his legacy of maliciousness. However, something told me that it wouldn’t be the last I’d see of the mean old buzzard.

In total Eleanor and I posted all 100 posters around Truman Park and we’d used up three rolls of clear packing tape to do so. What’s more, I felt I’d done my part for old Truman Park High and could only sit back and watch the wrecking ball swing if in fact my small poster campaign yielded no results. Though I knew deep down that my 100 posters were really no match for a city wrecking ball and the monetary worth of the school property as several housing project units was much greater than it was as a high school; I held out some hope—which is all any of us really have in the end.

When Eleanor and I returned to Coronation the following week, we learned quite quickly that Locksmith and company had managed to successfully implement skateboarding restrictions on school property; they’d officially made it a crime. We stood for a few moments gazing at the new metal sign bolted to the wall beside the entrance doors which read in bold black lettering “Skateboarding is strictly prohibited on school property. Violators will be held responsible.”

“Strictly.” I laughed, giving Eleanor a squeeze.

“This is only going to further inflate Gregory’s sense of self-importance and entitlement—not to mention the size of his head.” sighed Eleanor.

“Well his head is already pretty inflated…his actual head is nearly planetary. I saw him standing in line one afternoon in the cafeteria…the circumference of his cranium is enlarged compared to a normal headed person. I’m telling you—his mom was hitting the bottle during those crucial trimesters.” I laughed, causing Eleanor to smile a smile she felt she shouldn’t have been smiling and tried to conceal it.

Indeed, it seemed utterly absurd to me that Gregory and his team of Coronation Gazette minions had all simultaneously taken such a hard-line stance against the skateboarding culture at Coronation. It seemed the idea of a kid standing atop a board with four small wheels and coasting from here to there, was indeed a menace they certainly couldn’t live with…though there had not be one reported collision, broken window, heavy injury or instigation on part of any of us who skateboarded on school property. It occurred to me that Locksmith and his camp were picking carefully selected campaign strategies to not only justify their position as the official Coronation publication but also to create new mandates, which to them equaled power.

Power: the definition was elusive and certainly relative to one’s own priorities. I saw writing a great song as power where Locksmith saw power as his parent’s money…or a sign prohibiting skateboarding. In the same way, I saw his flood pants, enlarged cranium and his flailing way of running as evidence of a botched pregnancy where he saw it as prep school pantomime. We were from different worlds and for some reason, Eleanor preferred my world to Locksmith’s. I’d not seen her preference coming…it had taken me completely by surprise, proving her unpredictability by way of hard action and a clear cut decision—one which hadn’t earned her any friends at Coronation—in fact, she’d lost one or two over the ordeal. I realized I’d never completely understand Eleanor…it seemed I could contemplate the mysteries of the cosmos before I could contemplate Eleanor Price. Still, I had to wonder why she preferred a Truman Park kid to such an upright, picture perfect Ivy League pretty boy like Locksmith. Perhaps it was because among my lands, she was entirely free to roam in any shape she chose to take. Locksmith expected Eleanor to live up to too many expectations. He also seemed to want to deprogram her, as if she’d been brainwashed and I’d been the one who’d brainwashed her. Indeed, disregarding Locksmith’s sign, I rolled up on my skateboard each day and at the end of each day I rolled back to the school parking lot in the same fashion—all as Carter Bell, Coronation Gazette’s primary photographer snapped polaroids of me doing so.

Indeed he also snapped polaroids of many other Coronation skaters doing the same, but it was my photo that always seemed to get published in the Gazette—never failing to be captioned by dull wit that was intended to slice and dice. I’d heard that Locksmith had forwarded all of our photos to Principal Gavin, however, none of us who continued to ride our boards on school property were summoned to Gavin’s office for that reason. And so it went; a photographic smear campaign that was greatly ignored by the majority of Coronation skaters as well as principal Gavin who seemed to have bigger fish to fry.

Unfortunately Locksmith didn’t have bigger fish to fry and I’d one day been brought a copy of the weekly Gazette depicting Wes Milton and I standing on the sidewalk, officially off school property passing a blunt back and forth while unwittingly shooting the shit. Our photo had been lumped into a particularly thorough, reputation-smearing, photo collage consisting of many other students partaking in the same daily ritual. The collage had been titled ‘Dazed and Confused at Coronation’ and the accompanying article lambasted  the skateboarders of Coronation once again…this time ostracizing us for smoking blunts on school property. Indeed, when asked about this alleged photographic evidence, I’d shrug and usually utter with a weary sigh that indeed, we’d been on city property…not school property.

Indeed, looking for a retort, the folks at the Right World Times sent a number of their most prestigious journalists out into the halls of Coronation High in order to document some feedback from students that had been included in the collage. I’d not bothered dodging the Right World people as I’d assumed without hesitation that the Right World crew had heard of my suspension over my previous Locksmith comments and knew much better than to ask me for a repeat performance. So certain I was slightly baffled when I was approached in a second floor washroom by Chip Haverstock…right World’s resident fanatic who’d written a scathing piece about the revamping of the Coronation Coyotes jersey emblem, citing that it ransacked the fundamentals and tradition Coronation High was founded on and castrated the killer instinct of the team with a poorly thought and flowery design. He’d claimed the emblem had been changed to placate mothers who’d threatened to launch an inquiry after it was found that many of the Coyotes were in fact steroid cases. It had been something of a scandal in Emerald Heights and since the firing of coach Edwards, the team had been undergoing changes…most recently the emblem change…about which Chip had written a so-called controversial article.

As I let a stream of piss splash into one of the urinals he called out from behind me.

“Can I ask you a few questions about the recent Op Ed piece in the Coronation Gazette?” Chip asked, causing an unwanted disturbance in my stream, however I pressed on, ignoring him and wondering why he felt initiating conversation at a public pisser was indeed the best setting.

“Can I ask you just a few questions?” Haverstock insisted when I didn’t answer.

“Can I piss godmit?” I asked him over my shoulder.

“Certainly…continue.” he said and ridiculously waited nearby in silence.

When I finished pissing I walked over to the sinks where I lathered up my hands. I looked up at Haverstock through the water stained mirror. Over my shoulder I found him standing patient and rigid, his pen poised over the small pad he held in his other hand.

“So…can we begin?” he asked.

“You really think I’m going to fall for that shit again?” I asked him.

“What shit?” he inquired, pushing up his bulky frames with a finger.

“Dude, you guys sold me up the river and got me suspended…” I said.

“We didn’t get anyone suspended. The fascist Locksmith family got you suspended my friend…which is exactly why you should comment and illustrate to everyone that fascists can’t block our basic freedoms by way of coercion and intimidation.”

“Come on man…Malcolm Curtis could have printed my comment anonymously—he wanted to use the quote, but didn’t want to take the heat for it. He wanted me to take the heat.” I said, drying my hands on a napkin, “What kind of pussy-ass-bitch-boy does that?”

“You’re mistaken Jack…your comment was published because you gave Malcolm permission to publish it.” said Haverstock.

“But, I didn’t think he’d actually do it. I thought it was…understood. I mean what good did it do to publish my insults against Locksmith?” I asked.

“Personal opinions are important, even if they are insulting.” nodded Chip as she scribbled down what I’d just said.

“You’re not really going publish what I just said are you?” I laughed.

“That’s for our editor to decide. And by the way, Locksmith is the one you should be blaming…he’s pretty much trying to get you kicked out of Coronation—that’s the word off the record. Do you have any comment on that?” he prodded, waiting with his pen poised.

“Yeah, why don’t y’all start reporting on shit that matters?” I asked.

“Like what?” asked Chip, pushing up his thick frames.

“How about the fact that they’re closing one of the oldest schools in the city because there’s a few cracks in the foundation? Guess shit that happens in Truman Park doesn’t interest anyone though unless it’s a drive by shooting.” I said.

“Which school?” asked Chip.

I offered a brief chuckle and walked away, balling up the paper towel and volleying it as if it were a basketball into the wastebasket beside the doorway.

Of course I didn’t need an enemy like Locksmith campaigning to have me expelled from Coronation High. However, I was pretty confident Principal Gavin understood exactly who and what Locksmith was and I’d hoped that on some level, Gavin possessed enough self-respect to set very definitive boundaries regarding how far she was willing to be coerced. I also felt that if I kept my quotes out of the school publications, as Gavin had advised, she’d go easy on me whatever the case. Some alliances were well worth having.

So, there it was dear reader, your virtuous narrator in the throes of a very sticky situation at Coronation…one which I cared very little about and so hadn’t attempted a chess move in order to defend my name or even fuel the fans of controversy. However, controversy seemed to be looking for me that week and find me it did, on a Friday afternoon, as I sat in the library, completing an essay for Holland’s class—an essay which detailed arguments that supported his theory of a grassy knoll shooter. Indeed it had been Lucille Hearst who’d appeared before me at the wooden table, wedging herself down into the chair across from me, sipping from a can of pop and handing me a copy of the Right World Times, opened to the page in question.

“Have you seen this shit?” she asked.

“I don’t read gossip rags.” I said, not bothering to glance over it.

Lucille Hearst and I shared two classes and occasionally chatted about assignments and lectures. She’d admitted to me during my first month at Coronation that she’d had a dirty dream about me. I’d inquired what exactly had happened in her dream and she’d blushed and refused to tell me. I’d allowed her to copy my notes a few times and for it she was ever grateful. You see Lucille was a self-proclaimed sufferer of attention deficit disorder…a condition which she self-medicated with copious amounts of grass, black market ritalin and special brownies that she ate on a daily basis. She started reading the text as I tried to finish writing my closing argument—one which cited the Zapruder film and the seemingly unarguable evidence that poor John F. had been jolt back and to the left…back and to the left…back and to the left. Slightly frustrated that Lucille was distracting me from perhaps my finest essay yet, I sighed and set my pencil down…listening haphazardly to her recite the pertinent section of the Right World Times article.

“…not all Coronation students care to exist in a just and fair academic environment. A prime example of this indifference is Truman Park resident turned Coronation High student Jack Holden, who— when asked how he felt about being berated in another scathing, privacy intruding, privacy infringing photo collage featured in the hard-left Coronation Gazette—surprisingly took issue with the Right World Times, citing our editor in chief as a ‘Pussy-ass-bitch-boy’, adding that he believes the Right World Times doesn’t report on any topics that really matter. We respectfully disagree Mr. Holden and remind out-of-district students like Holden that just because they have nothing invested in our school; Coronation issues still matter.”

“Jack ass.” I sighed.

“It’s all over school…just thought you’d want to know.” said Lucille.

Indeed, it was true, I’d been shamed again even if it was only in the eyes of a student body, whose customary social ethics I didn’t quite understand or subscribe to. Strangely I’d managed to make enemies on both sides of the political spectrum at Coronation High and I’d done it with surprising ease. Perhaps I wasn’t surprised when two days after the publication was released I was again summoned to Gavin’s office through a classroom intercom request. As I sat across from Gavin who was reading through some paperwork, I wondered silently if this was all part of a very proper and passive aggressive campaign of elaborateness which was aimed toward expelling the unwanted dregs from their thin slice of suburban bliss.

“Mr. Holden…” sighed Mrs. Gavin, finally looking up at me and taking note of my solemn expression she added, “…do you never smile?” 

I offered a forced grin, letting it fade into my perpetual thousand yard stare. Indeed there is a lot to be said for an expressionless gaze…for it alludes to nothing and represents nothing and leaves the other person with absolutely no idea what you’re feeling or thinking or about to do.

“Alrighty…so, Jack…we’ve talked about being careful when chatting with anyone involved in school publications…and I’ve been contacted this time by Mrs. Webster…she’s a bit furious about something she’d read in the East World paper or whatever they call it these days…it was something you said.” said Gavin with a comically ominous raise of her brow.

“I’m impressed.” I said.

“How’s that?”

“Well…I’m impressed that anyone actually even reads those boring publications…they seem like just a bunch of tight asses exchanging political barbs.”

“Did you call Malcolm Curtis—and I quote—a pussy-ass-bitch-boy?” asked Gavin from behind her boxy desk.

“I may have…but you know—these things are taken out of context.” I admitted as I noticed a box of Kleenex on one corner of the desk…it was set on the opposite side she sat on and I could only assume it was for students who broke down in tears while being scolded.

“What’s the Kleenex for?” I asked, “You get a lot of students in here crying on your desk?”

“Some do. I’m not just the principal here at Coronation; I’m warden, cheerleader, guidance counselor and den mother all wrapped into one. Students sometimes come in here to tell me their problems…talk about the issues they’re facing. A lot of the time I’m just here to listen. If you ever need to talk to me about anything…my door is always open. We could start now by you telling me what’s caused all of that damage in side of you.”

“What damage?” I asked.

“Look Jack, you can cut the shit. I’m an empathic…and I felt it the very first time I spoke with you. What’s going on in there?” said Gavin sitting back in her swivel chair with a creak so a sun ray cascading in through the window illuminated half of her face.

“I wouldn’t even know where to start Mrs. Gavin…it’s hard to tell where the mess ends and the disaster begins…and besides…I’m from Truman Park…” I said.

“What does being from Truman Park have to do with anything?” she asked, tilting her head curiously.

“It means that I resigned long ago to the idea that I’ll have to live with shit being wrong for the rest of my life.” I said.

“Really?” she asked, “Don’t you think you’re being a bit of a fatalist by saying that?” she asked thoughtfully.

“It’s reality.” I assured.

“Is it though?” inquired Gavin, “I mean if you ask any of your classmates here, I’m sure they might agree that your statement subscribes to a fatalist attitude.”

“You mean all the pampered dilettantes I have classes with?” I laughed, “I know the score Mrs. Gavin…all these Emerald Heights kids had it made coming out of the gate…children of privilege want for nothing…they’re used to getting their way…and it shows. They exist in a beautiful sheltered dreamscape of non-reality and that’s okay because the entire world in which they exist is made of non-reality. These are people who actually believe that the slums have so much soul—you gotta be out of touch with reality to think that sort of thing—wouldn’t you say?” I asked.

“Much of that is true. What’s also true is that if you don’t deal with emotional traumas when they happen…they might come calling later in life and when you least expect them to.”

I absorbed this possibility as I stared back at Gavin with a stony expression, “Just great.” I sighed.

Gavin looked at me biting her lip very seriously. After a moment she snapped out of her trance and sighed deeply, “Well, in any case, I need you to read this over and sign it.” said Gavin, handing me a piece of paper. I scanned the paper and realized it was a contractual agreement. The agreement was simple, I would agree to the various conditions which summed up amounted to an oath of never coloring outside of the lines or rocking the boat and in turn, Gavin wouldn’t have to suspend me or expel me.

Looking at up at her once I’d read over the stipulations, I grinned and set the agreement down on her desk, “You know I can’t promise to stick to all of these.” I told her.

“It’s a formality…some leverage I can use to placate complainers…see the way this works Jack is that when you do something dumb…like speaking your mind to school publications…someone will probably get offended, and because I like you, I then have to do some damage control. I’m not sure how it worked at Truman Park high…but here at Coronation, the moniker ‘pussy-ass-bitch-boy’ isn’t included in the accepted nomenclature…even if the moniker is a fair representation…so now you have to sign this agreement even if it is just a formality. I took a chance on you Jack because I believe you’re a super intelligent kid…don’t prove me wrong.”

“The last thing I want to do is let you down.” I assured as I signed the agreement.

“You’re left handed?” Gavin noticed.

“I am indeed.” I said.

“That makes us both lefties.” she said, raising her left hand the fingers of which were entwined around a pen.

“The world is designed for the right handed.” I said.

“That it is…and it’s all the more reason to pay closer attention to how you move through it.” said Gavin, sitting back up now and taking the agreement in hand, “…and just a word before you go…”

“Yeah?” I said as I rose from my chair.

“It’s probably not the best policy to provide Gregory Locksmith with any more social artillery.” suggested Gavin, raising her brows.

“For sure.” I nodded.

Indeed, the conversation had been enlightening on some level and I’d made a point of keeping an even lower profile; which in essence meant complying with any obvious regulations and school protocols, particularly the ones posted in plain sight. Certainly this meant refraining from smoking and skateboarding on school property…this also meant being punctual to all of my classes. It wasn’t enough to maintain a straight A grade point average. It wasn’t enough to go above and beyond the call of curriculum by turning in finely tuned assignments which superseded compulsory boundaries for the sake of covering not only all bases but the outfield as well. It wasn’t enough to view my written papers as literary works…indeed dear reader, it certainly wasn’t enough…on top of this, one was expected to stand on point and diligently mimic the favored qualities of a conscientious student; a love child of the academic institution, which was in essence only a practice drill for an Ivy League education—one which I could never afford and so would never have.

It seemed that I had to be behave for a little while if I wanted to stick around at Coronation. So, dear reader, I walked the mine field, careful where I stepped, which took a bit of work. All work and no play however, definitely made Jack a dull boy and I decided to finally oblige Wes and April’s invitation to dinner and an after hours rave in K-town. During dinner, I’d caught word of an annual tradition which was, I’d also been told a strictly clandestine matter. It came more or less delivered on the whispers of Wes and April, who’d explained the yearly ritual to me at Prime Ribs—a local hangout for the west side social brigade. Certainly there was some back story and a fair amount of setting up Wes felt was necessary in order to deliver the full impact of this week long house party.

It was thrown each year at Laura Caldwell’s estate while her parents who were both college professors were taking advantage of the spring break down time in one exotic destination or another. The party had been an annual ritual since Laura’s grade nine year and as long as there was a spring break, there seemed to be no reason why the party couldn’t continue running each consecutive year…so long as the partiers didn’t burn the place to the ground. Indeed, it had come close the previous year when an oversized bonfire on the property had spread to some nearby bushes. Luckily the entire blaze had been doused by the sprinkler system which Laura had tripped just in time, but evidently she’d had some explaining to do about the burned bushes when her parents returned from Cancun.

Wes and April relived past Laura Caldwell parties with a bedazzled air of recollection, citing the magnitude and the social significance of the parties. As they explained it, many prolific romantic hook-ups were formed there as well as many important social alliances…most prominently however were the illicit drugs and the endless supply of alcohol Laura made sure to have on hand. Judging from Wes and April’s enthusiastic description, Laura Caldwell’s week long spring break soiree was part house party, part pool party and part anything goes end of days orgy of madness…rated R and frequently bordering on X as the party gained momentum toward the weekend. As Wes and April explained the more lascivious elements of the party which took place upstairs in any of the rooms, Eleanor seemed shocked as if she might blush…though she was no angel she didn’t like trashy antics and often balked at Coronation girls who passed themselves around certain social circles for the sake of advancement. She’d never been to a Laura Caldwell party and in fact it came to light just then that there was an underlying issue of bad-blood between Caldwell and Eleanor stemming from an incident that had played out with Locksmith…which, explained in short was simply that the creepy bastard had cheated on Eleanor with Laura Caldwell during the first week of their courtship…though Eleanor reminded us that she’d never gained proof of said infidelity and so it remained an ‘alleged’ infidelity…we all knew about Locksmith. Though Wes and April had previously heard about Locksmith’s fling with Laura Caldwell, I learned of it then and there at Prime Ribs as the conversations went on at neighboring tables and the Smith’s piped through the unseen speakers.

“The funny thing is that Gregory is in no way shape or form Laura Caldwell’s type…everyone knows she has a penchant for the mentally challenged denizens of metal shop notoriety…really the bitch was only trying to steal my boyfriend…it was more about me than it was about Gregory…how diabolical is that?” said Eleanor.

“She dated Chet Wilson for two years…that in itself says it all.” agreed April.

“Who the hell is Chet Wilson?” I asked.

“Chet is probably the dumbest kid at Coronation.” said Wes, earning himself a smack in the arm from April who took a more empathetic approach.

“I’ll phrase this with an example; Chet once stage dived into a thin crowd at Terminal City and nobody caught him…he was bleeding from his head all down the back of his shirt. Most people would have called an ambulance—but Chet kept stagediving…” shrugged April.

“Total dingbat.” laughed Wes, placing a fry in his mouth as Eleanor gave a slight shiver of disgust.

“Right up Laura’s alley.” said Eleanor.

“Either way…her parties have all gone down as historical events.” Wes insisted, taking a bite of a french-fry and giving Eleanor and I a knowing wink.

Now, dear reader, it seems some nights are already written in stone as if the course is already predisposed by destiny, to which you are merely a willing co-pilot. Sometimes coincidences are too profound and elude explanation. For instance, later in the evening, when we’d finished with dinner and were filing out of Prime Ribs slowly but surely as Wes and April bid long goodbye’s to nearly everyone in attendance—I noticed Walt and his girlfriend strolling through the lobby that was blooming with plastic outback foliage held in large post modern pots. His arm was slung over his girl’s shoulder and she was looking heavily sedated as usual. Surprised to see me, Walt halted and greeted me with a fist bump…I took his fist in hand and shook it.

“Well if it isn’t Mr. Jack Holden, songwriter extraordinaire.” said Walt, letting go of his girl and clapping his hands together, placing them at his chin as if he were about to pray or confess.

After taking a look around the crowded lobby area, Walt took hold of my arm and led me back over the carpeted floor toward the entrance doors, turning and informing Eleanor over his shoulder that the information he was about to relay was top secret. After apologetically suggesting his own girlfriend be seated by the hostess, he walked me outside where we stood before one of the tall windows through which dozens of west side kids could be seen honing the networking skills they’d one day employ in the halls of Ivy League schools and European brothels.

“What’s with the clandestine?” I asked Walt who lit up a cigarette and scanned the parking lot which was full of cars, some idling with smoking kids and loud music.

“I got some big news to tell you.” Walt said proudly, “I’m here to tell you that I just landed us our first gig brother and it’s a fucking doozy at that…a huge motherfucking funkadelia laced doozy!”

“Cool…where at?” I asked.

“Prime spot…Saturday night…at Laura Caldwell’s party.” said Walt.

“Crazy…we were just talking about Laura’s party a few minutes before you got here.” I said, “It’s the first I’m hearing of any of it. She’s throwing a week long party—the chick must be berserk; I like her already.”

“Everyone’s talking about her party man at every school on the west side…it’s the Oscars of house parties man…and we’re going to provide the soundtrack to this year’s addition.” said Walt, rubbing his hands together, “This is probably bigger than any other show we could land.”

“It’s not bigger than the battle of the bands at the Backyard…no way.” I assured.

“Okay, so it’s the second biggest show we could land and all the more reason why we’ve got to destroy their brains…we gotta melt their faces with awesomeness dude…this is it…this is the hand of destiny, rising from the soot and the dirt…and it’s just grabbed us by the nuts man!” Walt sang brimming with intensity.

“That’s crazy shit…but a house party? Won’t that sound a bit like a wet and flobby paper bag full of assholes? We need a proper sound system to play through…if she don’t got one…then we gotta bring our own.”

“Already covered…the Goblin and I were down at Alto Sound this afternoon…we’ve got a nice sound system on reserve…and it also comes with some stage lights…but you’re going to be more interested in the fireworks and props were getting tomorrow.”

“Fireworks?” I asked.

“What’s a great show without fire and explosions?” demanded Walt.

“Well…” I said, scratching my head…contemplating the many ways in which DIY pyrotechnics could fail.

“How many bands?” I asked.

“So far she’s got two and is looking for an opener. We’re smack dab in the middle. 1030pm start time…give or take…and we’re opening for Vermillion Trees…they’re probably the second best band to come out of Emerald Heights this year—next to us of course and we’re going to blow those fuckers away…so their act seems weak and boring…we couldn’t ask for a better slot.” assured Walt.

“That’s great.” I smiled, cupping the bastard a hard cool shake.

“I’ve found a name for us…it came to me when I was drinking cactus juice in the desert last week.” he said.

“Yeah?” I grinned.

“Seriously check this out,” he said, opening his palms and fanning the words out as he spoke the name majestically, “Lusty Lacy Laura.”

I waited for more…however more didn’t come…there was only the residue of madness and wonder on Walt’s face as he stared back at me.

“I’ve already got a whole intro thing worked out—you’ll see what I’m talking about man…” he said.

“You got a thing for Caldwell?” I asked him.

“I spent the night with her a few times over the summer…how do you think we’re getting this show?” Walt laughed, “Really though the name Laura just fit.”

“I see.” I said, noticing Wes, April and Eleanor finally exiting Prime Ribs, “Well…let’s talk more tomorrow at rehearsal.”

“It’s going to be a big rehearsal man…we’ve got to arrange the set list according to the stage antics…the Goblin and I have been discussing it…you’re going to love it.” he assured as Eleanor slid her arm around my waist.

“Love what?” she asked.

“You’re not going to believe this.” I said, “But Walt landed us a slot at Laura Caldwell’s mega party.”

Eleanor looked at me for a moment, offering a hurt looking expression. I remembered suddenly her disdain for Laura Caldwell, which I realized indeed was going to create a conflict of interest. She didn’t mention anything more about it…she only held my hand in the back seat of the car as she looked out the window at the passing houses. We dropped Eleanor at her mother’s place in Brentwood first, where she was staying the night, having made plans the next morning with her mother who was scheduled to fly in early the next morning from Cuba. She’d be in town for a few days and evidently had the time to spare. She kissed me goodbye and was gone a moment later…leaving me with a strange sense that something wasn’t right…that it wasn’t a regular goodbye.

Then it was Wes, April and I cruising Hollywood Blvd in Wes’ old man’s car, passing one around and blowing smoke out the windows as the Smiths rolled on the cassette player. We were en route to Sinchell’s Donuts to meet Cat Foley, who occupied a window table at Sinchell’s between the hours of 11pm and 1am. He claimed to be the expeditors of one’s whims…however he was only a dealer and coincidently the very sack who’d sold Wes the Napalm Dreams that had driven him to the furthest reaches of his sanity the day Eleanor and I had been suspended. Cat Foley was a tall skinny kid with dopey eyes, a thick gristly beard and a large round troll-like nose. He was like a creature out of a surreal and twisted dream, where cats talk and old ladies fly away with their umbrellas. I’d been told Cat Foley was such a creepy, bizarre dirtbag mainly because he’d suffered a complete and total mental break when, upon receiving several pager calls one evening the previous year, Cat had decided to put on his Walkman and jog to the nearby Sinchell’s donuts and for some reason he’d decided to stash the blotter sheet in his sock and had only haphazardly wrapped it in foil. As he jogged, the foil opened and the blotter sheet mixed with his sweat and absorbed into his ankle. It was said that Cat Foley had spent the rest of the semester at Hollywood County Institution for the Mentally Ill. Of course he’d emerged eventually, but those who’d been closest to him said he’d never quite been the same. The acid had given him brain damage.

April reiterated the story about Cat and his extended stay at the county mental ward as Wes and I chuckled…April knew how to tell a story innocently enough for her mockery to go nearly unnoticed. Though the complete mental break of a classmate should never intentionally be seen as an anecdote—April added an arcane twist of comedy to Cat Foley’s seemingly permanent brain damage by citing that indeed he’d been ‘frizzle-fried’ before the blotter incident.

As Wes added his own two cents worth of Cat Foley recollections from years past, I sat in the back seat, feeling my head rising so it pressed against the overhead upholstery like a helium filled balloon—Wes always smoked the best shit and the Smiths ‘Oscillate Wildly’ took me away to Parisian cobblestone lanes laced with murk and mystery.

By the time we were pulling up to Sinchell’s I was hopelessly adaptable and dear reader…I should state this here and now as an italic quotation, for certainly ‘all hell was about to break loose’. It was indeed another guiding push from the hand of destiny, leading me to some far off point in the evening that would prove pivotal or profound on some level. And it’s a strange thing when hell breaks loose, because it doesn’t usually quite break loose with a bang or a crack or an explosion of chaos…often it breaks loose with the quietness of a well rehearsed routine. That is to say that I’d been a passenger in Wes’ old man’s car many times before, but on this night, perhaps the moon was fuller than it normally was…perhaps a great werewolf howling was echoing out to us from the moorland.

On this night, Cat Foley wasn’t sitting at his usual window seat at Sinchell’s…rather he was waiting outside and perhaps this was the second instance that redirected our fate. For normally, Wes would have entered the donut shop and sat with Foley for a few minutes, shooting the pocket change shit and posing as if he wasn’t buying a half dozen tabs of Napalm Dreams.

On this evening, Cat Foley approached the car, opened the back door and slid down onto the seat beside me. He looked at me with his troll features and issued with his eyes nearly all the way shut a smooth greeting, “What’s up party people?”

I didn’t say anything, nor did April…who hated Foley for selling hard chemicals to the love of her young life. Wes on the other hand was chipper and cheery as usual and turned in the driver’s seat to lock hands with Foley in a soul brother greeting.

“What’s up my brother?” he said to Foley who only nodded.

“Hey, I’m actually late, I’m supposed to be meeting my girlfriend at The Good Captain theater on Hollywood Blvd…we’re going to drop and go see a cartoon.”

“Wow, sounds like an experience.” said Wes with an enthused grin, “You want to do this here or should I drive?” asked Wes of the transaction.

“Just drive…I’m almost late.” chuckled Foley, digging into his 1990’s hip sack.

He dug through it intently, looking for the blotter I presumed. He produced many items from his hip sack, including a hacky sack, a stone pipe, a jar of multicolored pills, a large bag of grass, a roll of twenty dollar bills…his pager…a set of jingly keys…however, no blotter.

“Fuck, I can’t find the blotter man.” he groaned with a chuckle.

“Perhaps it’s in your sock, genius.” grinned April, who was immediately checked by Wes who touched her arm and shook his head disapprovingly.

“Maybe you dropped it.” Wes said.

“Hells no man…I’d be totally fried if I dropped all of that.” chuckled Foley.

“I mean like dropped it on the ground somewhere.” clarified Wes.

“Ooooooh….yeah…no man…I…that wouldn’t be the case…” said Foley absently, still digging into the hip sack, the contents of which were splayed out between him and I on the seat. I was looking down at the other knick knacks trying to decipher what they were when flickering red and blue lights illuminated the interior of the car. Foley seemed oblivious, Wes checked the rearview and April spun in her seat to look and her face was a moment later illuminated by a bright spot light. The squad car behind us revved it’s siren for a second, prompting Wes to pull over to the curb.

“Okay, let me do the talking and no sudden movements.” cautioned Wes as the officer approached the driver side window.

“Are you Wes Milton Jr.?” the cop asked once the window was rolled down.

“I am indeed.” nodded Wes.

“Ok, I’m going to need you to kill the ignition and for everyone to step out of the vehicle.” said the lady cop.

“Can I ask why?” said Wes.

“This car has been reported as stolen by the rightful owner…who would be Wes Milton Sr. He’s specified that his son is the likely culprit—and whatdoya know?”

“The likely culprit.” said Wes, repeating the words with some disbelief.

“Please step out of the vehicle.” the lady cop said again…I got the feeling she wasn’t going to repeat herself a third time.

I opened my door and stepped out onto the Hollywood Blvd. sidewalk as the droves of tourists went by…many stopping to watch the unfolding drama the likes of which they’d only seen in movies. Through the open windows I could hear Wes arguing with the cop…explaining to her that the issue was between him and his father and that further more he and his father had had an initial agreement about the car which his father had reneged on after a father/son spat about colleges. It seemed old man Milton had taken away Wes’ car privileges when Wes had told his father that he was an adult now and could decide for himself when and if he wanted to attend college.

This all however was incidental to the lady cop, who happened be extremely easy on the eyes. She also happened to be short on patience and after hearing enough of Wes Milton’s tirade against his domineering father, she opened the door and removed Wes from the car physically, taking him by the arm and standing him up against the car and checking him over for contraband and paraphernalia. It was about then that I realized another cop was standing behind me. I turned and looked him over…I’d seen his type before in Truman Park, driving slowly down residential streets, spotlight searching the dark nooks and crannies for camouflaged assailants. I knew better than to make a wrong move. Wes however didn’t seem to understand what it all meant and had now resorted to publicly insulting the cops…likening them to the Gestapo, which only turned things into a public spectacle.

The male officer walked around the car and took hold of Wes. He led him back to the squad car and sat him in the back then returned to Wes’ father car, where the lady cop had discovered with her flashlight the goodies from Foley’s hip sack that were now splayed across the back seat. The male officer again, walked around the driver side of the car and this time took hold of Foley and led him back to the squad car as his partner set the contents of his hip sack on the roof in a perfectly aligned row. He sat Foley in the back seat beside Wes and this time got into the front seat and started on the initial paper work under the warm yellow glow of the interior light.

Meanwhile, his female counterpart came around to the passenger side of the car for a closer look at April and I. Up close the lady cop was even more attractive than she had been from a distance—a rarity. She was perhaps 30, dark skin, luscious lips, large brown eyes…her badge glinted in the oncoming headlights of passing cars as she turned to me and gave me a once over…she carried a gun and had been issued a license to kill…I wondered what she might be like when she was off duty. I was trying to place it when she shook me from my contemplation.

“Sorry?” I asked.

“Have you had any drugs or alcohol tonight?” she asked me, focusing on me intensely.

“Do I look drunk?” I asked.

“You’ve been riding in a car with a sordid cast of characters. Do I need to search you?” asked the lady cop.

“I’ve got nothing to hide.” I shrugged.

“Are you sassing me sir?” she asked very seriously, “Because I don’t put up with sass from cocky kids.”

“No sass officer. Just saying.” I said.

“ID.” she said holding out her hand.

I produced my drivers license and watched her expression remain stoic as she scanned it. “How do you all know each other?” she asked.

“We’re classmates.” I said.

“Classmates where?”

“Coronation High.” I said.

“Coronation is a long way from Truman Park.” she said, handing my license back to me.

“Yes it is.” I agreed.

“Are there no schools in Truman Park?” she asked.

“Hey lady he can got to any school he wants,” said April, then added, turning to me, “You don’t have to answer anything about Coronation.”

“It’s ok April.” I told her then turned back to the lady cop, “Tried that, hated it.” I said.

“Well, if your plan was to make a better life for yourself—you’re not off to the greatest start.” said officer Flores. She looked at April next, “ID.”

April handed over the only photo ID she carried…her aquatic center membership.

“Is he your boyfriend?” asked officer Flores, motioning toward me with her head.

“No, I’m with Wes…and I can assure you, Wes’s dad is just being a mega-dick. He’s a real control freak you know.”

“Not interested.” said Flores, “Where were you going with Mr. Foley?”

“We were dropping him at the Good Captain Theater to meet his girlfriend…that’s all.” said April, “I haven’t done anything wrong…” she suddenly pleaded, her face etched with distress, “Cat is Wes’ friend…not mine. I hate his stupid beard and his dumb laugh and his skinny tits.” she swore with a squint of malice.

“Is he a friend of yours?” asked Flores, turning back to me.

“He can go kill himself.” I said.

“Why would you say that? Is he suicidal?” asked Flores.

“It’s a figure of speech.” I insisted.

“Wishing suicide on someone isn’t a figure of speech—it’s a sick thing to say.”

“I didn’t wish it on him…I’m merely saying I wouldn’t give a good god damn if I ever saw him again.” I confessed. “He’s a creepy bastard and that beard…I hate fucking beards.”

“Why do you hate beards?” smiled Flores.

“Well, have you ever watched someone with a beard eat? These creeps with the beards always seem to eat the messiest and creamiest shit too…it’s disgusting.” I said.

“I see…” said Flores, flashing me a look of absurdity, “Empty your belongings on the trunk of the car…both of you.” instructed Flores, peering back at her partner in the squad car now.

April and I emptied our pockets on the trunk of the car as instructed. I had a set of keys, a pack of wintermint chewing gum, thirty seven dollars, a tube of lip balm, several guitar picks, my driver’s license, a pack of Marlboro Lights and a nude-woman zippo lighter. April was wearing a skirt and so carried everything in her miniature backpack purse. On the trunk of the car she placed the following items: a hair brush with a thick handle, three condoms, lubricating jelly, a small pocketbook containing her aquatic center ID and bank cards, a few loose tampons, a squashed PB&J sandwich, a ring of keys, a small transparent bag full of make-up and a can of pepper spray.

After examining our things, Flores told us not to move and a moment later headed back to the squad car. As April and I waited, I leaned up against the car and lit up a cigarette…April meanwhile stood solemnly on the curb, hugging herself and staring down at her vision street wear high tops as if measuring them to see if they were the same size. I glanced around at the faces of by standers who were taking inventory of the situation, seemingly mesmerized by the red and blue flicker of the police lights. They wanted to see a Hollywood showing…a real live crime in progress…an explosion or at least a great car chase. It was Hollywood after all—a city full of angels…some of which had been banished from the kingdom.

After what seemed like ten minutes, Officer Flores returned. She’d been chatting with Wes and when she was upon us again, she instructed us to gather up our belongings from the trunk of the car. As we did so, she let us know that we were free to go but that Wes and Cat Foley were being detained.

“Wes hasn’t done anything wrong…his father is a huge man-child and is constantly power tripping on him. His father only reported the car stolen because Wes doesn’t want to attend the school his father demands he attend.” pled April in a whiny voice which was ineffective immediately.

“You’re free to leave, I suggest you do so quietly…go straight home.” said Flores, “And you…” she said turning to me, “make sure she gets home safely.”

“Why do I have to go home…you can’t tell me to go home.” spat April, perhaps putting on a show now for the audience of tourists who certainly found the scene more interesting than the face painters, celebrity look-alikes and magicians lining Hollywood square all hours of the day and night.

“I’ll get her home.” I told Flores as I led April away.

As we started in on the exceptionally long walk back to Emerald Heights, where my Van was parked safely at Coronation High, April began to become unhinged…her hysterics seemingly embellished. It led to a ten block rant about Wes and his relationship with Cat Foley. Indeed, April spared no insult while raking Cat Foley over hot coals. Though she was fuming, I couldn’t help being amused by her colorful insults…she’d seemingly pulled some brilliantly cutting insults out of a black magic hat; instead of producing a rabbit, April pulled a proverbial switch blade, with which she slashed Foley into a thousand and one blood dripping cubes.

As we walked, the conversation shifted to Wes and what their relationship had become over the last year. Perhaps because I was the only other person Wes spent a fair amount of his time with, April unloaded her entire inventory of criticisms about Wes, citing his psychosis as the underlying factor that contributed to his present disposition which was, she assured me a flaming spiral of revenge based rebellion…revenge against his old man, his mother for being so docile and aloof during the frequent spats Wes and his father were having more regularly than ever…the most recent time having come to blows over colleges. April had witnessed the entire debacle which had started at the family dinner table and spilled out into the living room where the scuffling father/son duo broke some décor before ending on the front lawn with Wes’ dad choking him from the rear until Wes nearly passed out. Indeed, April had noticed neighbors inconspicuously gawking from their windows and verandas as she screamed at the top of her lungs for Wes’ father to release his grip—citing he might kill Wes…who didn’t seem to care either way.

Indeed, it was a tidbit of information I’d not been aware of and perhaps should have been. Perhaps I’d failed to read Wes’ addiction to Napalm Dreams as a symptom of a volatile relationship with his parents and perhaps I’d failed to read this undercurrent because I’d been under the assumption that everything was picture perfect in Emerald Heights where bad days didn’t quite exist. Perhaps I’d been lulled all too completely in the lush splendor of sunny suburban bliss to see any of it as suspect. There was however, a certain darkness that lurked beneath it all like a low grade sweat that conjured feverish dreams.

I’d never known April as being particularly chatty…in fact, though a regular cast member in my life; she was mainly a silent spectator. Her illustrative chatter on this night had kept me involved and it seemed like we’d covered a substantial amount of distance in a short period of time. Looking at my watch however I found we’d been walking for over an hour. We were nearing the border of Emerald Heights which was technically 14th Avenue.

“Should we bus the rest of the way?” I asked, gesturing to a Plexiglas bus shelter. The illuminated advertisement was an Angelica’s Mystery model clad in the latest line of sexy lingerie.

“The male fantasy embodied.” scoffed April as we sat on the cool metal bench. It was late, perhaps 130am and the buses were running in fewer numbers and the neighborhood streets had gone from business to residential. A great silence enveloped us, so the crickets could be heard all around us, “Does Eleanor wear things like that for you?” she asked.

I looked at April, feeling it was somehow an inappropriate question, or perhaps she was normally so mousy and quiet I’d been caught off guard by her suddenly bold curiosity, “Sometimes…but not always.” I admitted.

“I think Eleanor is so beautiful.” said April, “If I was gay, I’d definitely make out with her.”

“She’s a great kisser.” I grinned.

“Lately Wes is always too angry or too high to make out with me.” pouted April, hugging herself against the breeze.

“He’ll come around…sometimes guys self-destruct.” I shrugged.

Now, dear reader, when I said all hell broke loose, indeed I’d meant it…and it had started with the introduction of Cat Foley into our evening and progressed when we were pulled over by sexy Officer Flores. It broke loose further when Wes was detained and his car presumably towed to a barbed wire Hollywood impound. Our decision to walk back to my van in Emerald Heights rather than bus the entire way perhaps perpetuated the official breaking loose of hell and its pack of devil dogs. On this night, hell was a rusted out dodge pickup truck and the devil dogs were the Michaels brothers.

It was hard to believe that I’d randomly cross paths with the Michaels brothers who were Truman Park originals and seemingly never left the district. So, I thought as they noticed me sitting at the bus shelter, the albino inbreds did get out once in a while. Indeed, dear reader, if you can imagine it the way I’d seen it you might be compelled to laugh, feeling that indeed the universe had offered up it’s special brand of satire…however, there was nothing immediately comical about the three of them, sitting shoulder to shoulder in the cab of the pickup truck…all donning blonde mullets with their signature feathered bangs. Noticing me, the eldest of the clan hollered from across the concrete meridian, pointing at me and squealing like a body snatcher.

“Who the shit is that?” asked April.

“Trouble.” I said, pulling her up and off of the bus shelter bench, “Let’s bolt!” I told her with urgency, pulling her into gear, as if having to push start her engine. However, once started, April ran well…her lithe and light form scaled a nearby fence with ease and I went over it after her, rolling to the lawn on the opposite side and scraping my shoulder on something sharp in the dark.

We didn’t waste any time milling around the darkened yard…we sprinted across it and as we scaled the fence of a neighboring yard April demanded an answer, “Who are those guys?”

“They’re albino inbreds from Truman Park and they mean business.” I said, tugging her wrist and changing her trajectory into the alleyway which we crossed just in time to avoid being caught in the glare of the pickup’s headlights as it spun the corner into the alleyway and accelerated with a roar which caused April to scream. As if her scream had tripped a motion sensor light, the back yard we were running across illuminated, spotlighting us in a beam of light…dogs started barking next…then some hollering from one of the Michaels brothers who’d followed on foot…the engine roared again, this time I assumed in reverse and causing a loud screech. Certainly the brothers didn’t car who they woke up or what sort of attention they drew…the were on Truman Park time and this was par for the course…and so my rusty reflexes kicked in as I heard one of the brothers hollering over a fence behind us, “You’re fucking dead Holden…we’re going to fucking kill you tonight boy!”

As April and I hopped and crossed backyards, everyone seemed to illuminate with sensor lights and dogs in neighboring yards started to bark and it seemed we were either going to be eaten by a treacherous Rottweiler or pummeled by a pack of cold-blooded albino inbreds who’d evidently been waiting for this moment since I’d commandeered Michaels beloved Kuwahara Chrome the night I’d confronted him in front of Jim’s Confectionary—not to mention his stash and bankroll I’d found in the carry bag Velcro fastened to the seat post.

I led April into an alleyway and we sprinted hard for perhaps half a block before hopping a fence into a darkened yard where a dog didn’t seem to be lurking. By sheer luck, the yard wasn’t equipped with a sensor light and we jogged quickly across the yard and moved between the houses. When we emerged in the front yard, the Micheals brother’s pickup truck rounded the corner with a fierce roar of the engine. April and I doubled back and instead of crossing the yard again into the alleyway, we hopped a fence and were illuminated by another sensor light…a dog in a neighboring yard started barking and we were forced back into the alleyway which seemed clear in both directions. It was a split second decision…and only four real directions to move in. Or were there five I wondered.

Pulling April by the arm I led her into a darkened passage between two garages and stopped at one corner of one of the garages, where a fence met it’s wall. Having no time to explain my plan I simply squatted down and gripped April around her slender waist, hoisting her up and onto the fence, “Climb on the roof.” I instructed and as she did so with shaky balance, I too scaled the fence and climbed up onto the roof of the garage, hoping the Michaels were inbred enough to not think of looking up on a garage rooftop when we’d suddenly vanished into thin air. We lied down with our backs against the coarseness of the shingles and waited…staring up at the moon which was seemingly full and smudged slightly by a thin veil of air pollution.

We could hear the roaring engine of the pickup truck circling the block and stopping periodically before picking up speed and rounding corners. Finally the truck rolled down the alleyway and stopped just behind the garage upon which we were hiding. April sat up, ready to bolt again, but I held her arm, motioning with my hand to lie back down. Reluctantly she did and we stayed perfectly still as the horribly loud and clanking engine idled only a matter of feet away. A door opened next, emitting the sound of trashy heavy metal, which perfectly complimented their obligatory heavy metal half-shirts. Any footsteps were masked by the engine and the shitty metal and so I wasn’t precisely sure if anyone was circling the perimeter of the garage…however, I was certain the brothers had no way of knowing April and I were hiding on the roof and were too thick to put the possibility together. In my mind, I pictured and prepared…deciding that if one of the brothers climbed the roof the same way we had, I’d slide over and kick him backward from the top of the fence and back down to the walkway below; I readied myself…however, no one emerged at the corner of the garage and after another few minutes of the truck idling and the incidental heavy metal…the door closed and the pickup pulled away slowly.

After perhaps 15 minutes, April and I climbed down from the garage, carefully, me helping her down by the waist as I’d done hoisting her up onto the fence.

“My heart is racing so hard.” said April, placing a hand on her chest.

“Let’s go, but let’s be careful.” I said.

We stepped out into the alleyway and walked west cautiously. After a few blocks we emerged onto a well lit street and we decided to follow it to Sunshine Blvd. As we walked we could hear the pickup truck circling in the distance…perhaps three blocks away. We’d felt that we were moving away from the sound…but it was hard to tell with the wind that was picking up. To be safe, April and I ducked down another darkened alleyway and walked close to the garages. We were halfway down the alley when a sudden roar sounded, flooding us with high beams…it was the Michaels brothers again and I was perplexed by their sudden appearance. Again, April and I hopped a fence, then another fence, then another. We could hear one of the brothers hollering after us perhaps only a yard behind us and I snatched up a small gardening shovel from a poolside table top, just in case things came down to the wire.

“What are you going to do with that?” demanded April, panting hard and holding her side.

“What’s wrong with your side?” I asked her.

“I’ve got a stitch.” she whined as we emerged in the driveway of a large towering house. The house was darkened and the driveway was bare except for a detachable camper balanced on a trailer jack block.

I approached the camper and pulled at the door. Though it was flimsy it didn’t open readily. I used the small garden shovel to pry it loose and the small flimsy door popped open with a snapping crack. Not bothering to check who or what was inside, guided April into the camper and climbed into it myself, pulling the door closed and feeling for the latch. Indeed, the latch had snapped but there was enough of it left to keep the door closed and perhaps enough to resist a good hard pull in case one of the inbred Michaels brothers discovered us. It was do or die…our backs were against a wall and we sat quietly, inhaling the moth ball odor of the musty camper that probably hadn’t been used in years.

“I bet there are spiders in here.” April whispered.

“Shhhh.” I commanded, raising a finger. Through an opening in the door’s curtain, I made out a creeping figure making its way out onto the driveway. It was the eldest Michaels brother and he crept quietly over to some hedges…he peered into the hedges as his brothers pulled up in the noisy pickup. Again, like déjà vu the truck idled, only this time I could see Michaels scoping out the front yard of the house. When he noticed the camper he looked at it for a long time before approaching finally with embellished heel-to-toe stealth. When he was close enough I moved from the curtain and gestured for April to do the same.

In the darkness we waited, hearing Michaels shoes grit against the sandy asphalt of the driveway. He peered in the windows a few times before trying the door, which I held tightly in case what was left of the latch didn’t suffice. After yanking on the door a few times, he abandoned it and strolled back toward his brothers who were waiting for him in the idling truck. He offered a shrug to them and I could make out his words, “Slippery little fucker just vanished.” he said before climbing up into the truck which peeled away a moment later with a loud screech.

“Fucking inbreds.” I said to April, “they have to wake-up everyone on the block.”

“Who were those guys?”

“I know them from Truman Park…I think their parents are siblings.” I said.

“Why were they chasing you…us…you?” asked April.

“I don’t even know anymore…but evidently it means a lot to them.” I said.

“What a fucked up night.” sighed April.

“You’re telling me.” I said, “I saw some bikes in the back yard of this place…we could grab them and bike back to Coronation…we could cover ground much quicker on bikes.”

“And if they appear again?” asked April.

“How long can they really keep circling?” I asked.

“I think the best plan is to ride it out in here…at least until we’re sure they’re gone…they’re probably parked somewhere with the engine and lights off—just waiting for us to come out. We got it good in here.” said April.

I wasn’t sure if holing ourselves up in someone’s camper was technically trespassing. After all, the camper was old and musty and permeated with a dry emptiness that suggested it hadn’t been used in quite some time…the owners had perhaps planned on using it at some point but hadn’t gotten around to it…perhaps Lake Tahoe became to far of a drive. Indeed, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness the Lake Tahoe Calendar for the year 1990 hanging just above the sink that was swathed in throw pillows came into focus. I moved to the cupboards to elaborate on my hunch and found that the canned goods had an expiry date of 1992. Certainly, the camper had sat vacant since then.

“What is that?” asked April.

“Canned stew.” I said.


“The picture looks tasty.” I said, holding the can to a crack in the curtains through which a beam of street light illuminated the picture slightly.

“That stuff is mostly salt and sugar…it’s not even real food.” informed April.

“How the hell do you know?” I asked.

“My career goal is a nutritionist or something in the nutrition field.” said April, seeming to relax now into the seat that ran along the back wall of the camper.

“Well…it’s great camping food. I’d eat a can of this stuff…maybe with a biscuit.” I told her.

“A biscuit sounds nice.”

“A buttermilk biscuit.” I specified, picturing it in my mind.

“I can’t believe Wes got busted tonight…that’s going to change everything.” April said, hugging her arms around herself.

“I can’t believe I ran into the Michaels brothers in Emerald Heights. I wonder if they were looking for me.” I mused.

“Probably a coincidence…a very scary coincidence.” she said as I made myself comfortable on another booth-like seat on the opposite side of the small retractable dinner table from her.

“Why not come sit over here?” she asked, her words coming out strange and pointed…the echo of which was eaten up by the immediate silence that followed which she shattered a few moments later with an add-on, “It’s chilly tonight and I’m a bit afraid those cretins will return.”

I joined April on her long hard-cushioned seat, resting an arm across the Formica counter. As I settled in beside her, I scanned the windows for any sign of passing headlights or lurking shadows and wondered what I’d do if the Michaels brothers returned, or suddenly pried the door open. I gripped the small gardening shovel tightly for a moment, imagining the damage it could do to three inbred brothers who were out for a spot of albino justice. As I imagined the scenario unfolding, the in-camper close-quartered scuffle with one brother or perhaps two, April leaned in and kissed me…she also grabbed my crotch and squeezed.

“Hey, hey…” I said, raising my palms and smiling, “What are you doing?” I asked with a small surprised chuckle—my best Ray Liotta impression.

“You have to ask?” said April, leaning in again, this time, slithering her tongue into my mouth.

“I’m with Eleanor.” I told April.

“Not at the moment you’re not.” April said, with a measure of snoot.

“You’re with Wes.” I pointed out.

Thinking about her intentions a second time, perhaps with deeper insight, April simply leaned back and collapsed against the cushion, “You really know how to kill the mood don’t you?” she sighed, leaning her head back against the rest of the seat, “You really do love her don’t you?”

“I went off the deep end for her.” I confessed.

“I know…I see the way you look at her…I want that.” April admitted.

“I thought you had that.”

“Not for a long time now.” confessed April.

“Fooled me.” I shrugged.

April moved the curtain to one side and gazed out the murky window…the lamplight cast a blue glow over her features as a tear ran down one cheek.

“Shit…” I sighed, “don’t do that…come on.”

“Don’t worry I’m not crying because you won’t kiss me—give me a break, I’m crying because Wes is having an affair.”

“How do you know Wes is having an affair?”

“It’s common knowledge…where the hell have you been?” she sniffled.

“I don’t subscribe to gossip…who’s the broad he’s cheating with?” I asked.

“You don’t know her…she goes to Cartwright.”

“I don’t believe it.” I said.

“I didn’t either…but Lacey saw them holding hands at Waverly Center one afternoon…walking along with ice cream cones and holding hands.”

“Damn…” I sighed.

April leaned her head against the curtain and we sat there in silence for a few minutes, until her breathing became heavy and a snore started to build in the back of her throat. I sat there, listening to her breathe for a while until the sound blended into a wash of static that separated consciousness from slumber and I too sunk into the deep murk of slumber.

I awoke much later to April shaking my arm…the camper was illuminated by sunlight that was warming brightly against the curtains which I now saw were stained with humidity and bleached with SoCal sunshine. The camper had heated up substantially under the early morning sun and I realized my sudden thirst. I moved to the door and pulled the curtain aside slightly…finding the coast clear, I turned to April who was yawning and sitting upright with her eyes closed.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Give me a few minutes.” she said.

“What time is it?” I asked her to which she checked her slinky feminine designer watch.

“7:10.” she said, slightly surprised that we’d slept for so long—it had been perhaps 5 hours since we’d both fallen asleep. More pressing were classes at Coronation which started at 8am. We had under an hour to make it to Coronation High.

I turned the latch and pushed the camper door open, giving way to a blast of hot air…it was going to be a sweltering day; one which I was going to thankfully spend in air conditioned Coronation classes. First however, April and I needed to get there and after leaving the camper behind in much the same way we’d found it, we made our way beneath cathedrals of leaves through which the sun bled in brilliant rays, creating a sparkling reality of quaint suburban houses, separated from the streets by vast sprawling lawns, some of which were alive with sprinklers.

When we reached Sunshine Blvd., April and I hopped a strangely uncrowded bus which whisked us through a succession of winding suburban lanes and dropped us off out in front of Coronation High which was swarming with students, none of which, I was certain, spent their night in a stranger’s camper hiding from albino inbreds from Truman Park. After bidding April goodbye, I made a stop at my van which was sitting where I’d left her the day before…in the shade the gymnasium cast in a far corner. I got in, drank down a bottle of Gatorade and ate a few cereal bars I kept in an earthquake supply box behind the driver’s seat; they kept telling me the big one was yet to come—and it was well overdue. When I felt the sugar absorbing into my blood stream, I lit one up reclined in the seat…I had twenty minutes before first bell and felt the narrow expanse of time was wide enough to at least rest my eyes for a few minutes.

I was awoken by a voice at my window…when the deep fog of slumber ebbed and I gained back my faculties, I realized the sun was in an entirely different spot in the sky and had moved from behind the red brick wall of Coronations student parking lot. The Stone Roses cassette had stopped playing and the digital clock set into the dashboard was blank. Though the windows were down, the van was sweltering in the golden Socal sunshine.

It was Wes at the window and he was holding me in a contemplative gaze. “I was just resting my eyes man.” I said.

“It’s lunch break man.” he chuckled, “Have you been out here the whole morning you madman?”

“Shit…” I sighed, knowing I’d missed the quiz in Holland’s class, “I fucked it up.”

“Fucked what up?” asked Wes, pulling April in close, who’d been lingering awkwardly.

“So what happened with the cops last night?” I asked.

“Car was towed…my old man had to come down to the precinct and pick me up in my mom’s car…which he hates driving…he gave me a largely sanctimonious lecture on the virtues of obedience, which he punctuated by telling me he understood the angst of my youth—for he’d been my age once.”

“So you got it sorted then?” I asked.

“Hell no…he’s grounded me from the car for two months…the old fucking twat.” spat Wes with a chuckle laced with lunacy, “So, I’m hoping I can catch a ride to and from school with you each day…it’s on your way no?”

“Not really, but yeah…I’ll chauffeur your ass around for a couple months…as long as you supply the weed.” I said.

“Deal baby.” he said, extending his fist for a bump. I took his fist in hand and shook it, taking note of April. She was staring at the parking log asphalt in an awkward way.

“Whatsamatter with her?” I asked.

“I don’t know…what the hell is the matter with you?” asked Wes, squeezing April close, causing her to smile just a bit.

“Nothing…I’m just…feeling a bit out of sorts…last night was really traumatic.” she said, finally looking up at me.

“Nobody is going to hold last night against you.” I told her, “Let it go.”

“I’m going to.” she said, “If you guys take me for a waffle cone.”

“A waffle cone you shall have.” said Wes, walking them both around the front of my van. They got in and I pulled out of the parking lot. We headed in the direction of Wally’s Waffle Cones on Palmdale Road.

That evening I spent three hours on the phone with Eleanor who strangely wasn’t with her mother in Brentwood. Indeed, as it had been explained to me, Eleanor would get a sick note from her mother, who was good that way…and they’d planned to spend the afternoon driving up the Pacific Coast to San Abarro where they planned to ride the equestrian trails and catch up on some long awaited mother/daughter bonding. However, Eleanor’s mother hadn’t flown in at all. In fact, Eleanor had caught a standby flight to Havana Cuba, where her mother had fallen ill suddenly and had been subsequently hospitalized. I sat transfixed on the edge of my bed as Eleanor hysterically spoke through waves of long distance static from the hospital pay phone.

Her stepfather had called her the night before, and as April and I had sat huddled in a musty camper—Eleanor had weathered the storm of information which consisted mainly of vagueness and assumptions about her mother’s sudden hospitalization. Though several tests had been conducted, it seemed the doctors hadn’t been able to find any cause for Eleanor’s mother’s sudden collapse and subsequent fever, neither of which seemed to warrant as much concern as the head laceration she’d attained when she’d fallen to the sidewalk outside a Havana café. Evidently seeing where Ernest Hemingway drank, swore and scuffled with other drunken men had been all too much for the old lass.

So, indeed, it seemed utterly surreal to me that Eleanor had been plucked by a 747 from the safety of our democratic country and had been let off in another country altogether—where communism prevailed.

“Be careful over there.” I warned, trying not to harbor and ominous tone.

“Why baby?”

“We can’t forget about the Cuban Missile Crisis.” I said.

“That was like 30 years ago.” said Eleanor with an audible grin.

“Damn, you’re so far away.” I mused.

“I know…I know baby…I wish you were here with me.” she said.

“How is she now?” I asked.

“She’s lucid…she’s talking…having a drink of tea…but the bump on her head is nasty…she’s not happy that they shaved her head around the contusion…it’s bandaged and there’s a blood stain…I told her the hair will grow back, but I’m worried about all that blood.” said Eleanor, shifting back up into anxiousness.

“People hit their heads all the time and they’re mostly ok. This is just precautionary…I’ve read you’re not supposed to fly in a plane after a head injury…so they’re just looking out for your mom. It’s going to be okay.” I assured, “What did you dad say? You biological dad.”

“He said to keep him posted.” offered Eleanor with a sad chuckle, “He was married to her for 15 years, had a child with her…shared a godam life…and that’s all he’s got to say in the end—to keep him posted. I don’t think we’re going to be back until next week or the following week. They extended their reservation at the Villa Conquistador for another week at least and got us a room to share.”


“Me and the step-sis from hell.”

“Shit…” I sighed, recognizing the insult that accompanied the injury, “that’s a tough break.”

“Tough break indeed.” I said.

“Only three of us might be coming back.” Eleanor offered with the same sad little chuckle.

“Well…if you kill her, make it look like an accident.” I laughed.

“Will do. I’ll call you when I get back to the Villa. Love you.” said Eleanor before hanging up the sudden silence feeling like a deep black void stretching out around me. I lay back on my bed, feeling the void settling into the corners of the room.

Eleanor’s sudden absence had a surprising effect on me…and I was suddenly aware of the haunting realization that she’d become my other half and an intricacy of human existence dawned upon me like blood red glow of an apocalyptic sun, rising across a vast expanse of nuclear wasteland…perhaps love was the only antidote for coming to exist in a mortal coil—a passing shape in an indifferent universe. I closed my eyes and envisioned Eleanor…intensely I envisioned my arm slipping around her waist and my lips finding that spot on her neck behind her earlobe…the one where I felt safe in spite of the universal indifference. I sent it to her through the darkness…hoping she’d feel it.

It was getting late…creeping into those hours when most people were slipping into a deep state of slumber. I rolled over into the covers and turned out the light. I breathed deeply and tried to fall into a pocket of sleep…however, the cogs kept turning too quickly and I couldn’t synchronize the trajectory. Finally I turned onto my back and stared at the ceiling as the police helicopters chopped high above in the blackened sky. Perhaps it was better to drive.

The house was dark and quiet…it was late, and I quietly made my way out the front door, locking it behind me with a reassuring pull. I crossed the street and got into my van. I lit one up and pulled away from the curb. As I cruised at a steady speed through the projects I took note of the prostitutes striking sexy poses as I drove by, hoping for some break lights. I drove on, past the neighborhood pool…the old fire hall…Truman Park high, the old church…the old confectionary store that had been owned and operated by the same Chinese family since I could remember…a broken fire hydrant, a gang of kids standing nearby, hooded and lurking under a neighboring awning. As I was passing the local library branch, admiring it’s turn of the century design, I noticed bright headlights in my rearview. I was driving slowly to admire the library and so it wasn’t quite surprising to me when I loud honk emanated from the vehicle behind me, I veered to the side slightly to let the vehicle pass…and it did with a familiar sounding rev of the engine…as it passed me, I recognized the truck as the one that had chased April and I down the previous night…indeed it was the Michaels brothers. The horn sounded again as it went by, dangerously close and a hand extended from the passenger window flipped an unflinching bird; they didn’t recognize my van because they’d never seen it.

I hung back as they accelerated up 2nd Ave. They made a left turn onto Mango Road and I followed suit, staying perhaps a block behind. With my window open, it wasn’t hard to gauge the direction of their broken muffler which made a hideous racket each time they accelerated. As I tailed them, I wondered if they were in the midst of another late night chase…perhaps this time it was someone I knew. I followed their taillights for what seemed a half hour and realized the extent of their inbred tendencies which seemed to defy all greater logic—they didn’t actually go anywhere…they only circled the neighborhood in a grid pattern, extending a block or two wider each time. If they weren’t scoping the hood for someone…they were certainly joyriding in small circles. Still, I kept trailing them.

Indeed I was starting to wonder if they’d keep circling all night when they finally stopped in the middle of one street. Clicking off my headlights, I pulled behind a Chevrolet parked perhaps a half block behind the Michaels brother’s idling truck. I watched from the dark confines of my van as one of the brothers hopped out of the truck and down onto the asphalt…he sauntered casually to the curb where a perfectly white fence bordered it’s edge. He next removed a can of spray paint from his jacket pocket and shook it up violently. After shaking the spray paint like this for a while, he carefully stepped up and sprayed a design against the fence, standing back for a moment to look at his work…as if he was a finely regarded painter…and perhaps in another life he might have been…in this life however, he was an albino inbred douchebag with a can of spray paint and a knucklehead disposition. When he was through, he sauntered back to the truck and hopped back up into it, sounding a heavy victory cry. When they’d pulled around the corner I ignited the head lights and pulled out from behind the Chevrolet. As I passed the fence I made out the design, which was loud and clear—black paint against white fence boards. Indeed, it was a cartoonish dick with disproportioned balls, squirting a load of cartoon jizz droplets onto a round non-descript head of a stick figure with cartoon boobs. I laughed…wondering why the fuck.

I followed about a block behind the Michaels brothers as they revved loudly through the darkened Truman Park streets…when they passed the three block stretch of prostitutes their brake lights illuminated and they slowed, hollering propositions and garnering a middle finger from one of the working women who’d taken the worst Truman Park could throw at her and lived to tell the tale.

In retaliation a bottle was ejected from the cab of the pickup truck and the small explosion of shards spread outward across the sidewalk at the feet of the unflinching hooker who kept her middle finger upright, shaking it with conviction and hollering after the brothers who peeled away with a loud roar.

They drove a few more blocks west before turning right on Belmont Ave. As they parked the truck on the front street I pulled into a spot half a block down and killed the engine. Indeed, I was surprised to find not two, not three, but four people emerge from the truck. It looked like two of the Michaels brothers and their girlfriends. So, this is how albino inbreds spent a date night in Truman Park, I thought—a wry grin curling the edges of my lips as I carefully got out of my van and made my way up the block, crouching behind the parked cars lining one side of the darkened street.

When I reached the truck I squatted beside it, coming up slowly and peering through the window, finding the Michaels house shrouded in darkness. I lit a cigarette and leaned against the truck for a while as I smoked. Some cars drove by…a police helicopters circled overhead somewhere in the distance…the nearby freeway swooshed with a never ending stream of cars and the sound of gunshots rang out in the distance; it was almost peaceful…between the gunshots that is.

When I was through with my cigarette I dropped it to the sidewalk and stepped on it. I wondered why people stepped on a cigarette…perhaps they felt that to leave it burning was somehow inefficient. The passenger side window of the truck was slightly open and interlocking my fingers into the opening, I dropped my weight, using the force to force the window down enough to wedge my arm in. To do this I had to stand on the running board and a moment later, the door was unlocked. I reached across the long seat and dimmed the interior light. The truck was a tangled mess of wires, articles of clothing, Big Gulp cups and beer bottles. The ashtray was heaping with butts and the smell of burned tobacco had permeated the cab. On the floor directly beneath the ashtray was the can of spray paint Michaels had used to depict the cartoonish dick with the disproportioned balls. Perfect I thought, scooping up the can, which, judging by the heaviness, was still nearly full.

I quietly clicked the door closed and shook up the can of spray paint, looking over my shoulders to make sure I wasn’t being watched. The windows in the houses behind me were darkened and eerily black and I wondered momentarily as I shook up the paint if any of the houses in our district were haunted. Certainly they were some of the oldest in the city. The men who’d built them were all dead now…as were the early residents; the past is ashes while the future perpetually awaits. Though time relentlessly moves toward the future, I was frequently taken by nostalgic contemplation which could entrance me with the intoxication of a reminiscence that wasn’t quite mine…as if the whispers of the old Truman Park ghosts were telling me how it all had been when life was young and lemonade verandas were occupied by happier times. Indeed, Truman Park had seen much better days. I listened for the whispers and they came on the warm desert breeze…they suggested a strategy of semantics…an effective slogan.

Placing the can close to the white finish of the truck I pressed the nozzle down and the hiss was almost gratifying. In proportioned box lettering I spelled a phrase in capitals across the passenger side of the truck, “Ball savvy by nature”, the phrase struck me with a tickle of hilarity and when another slogan surfaced on the whispering breeze I printed that across the tail gate, fittingly it read, “Inbred on board” and across the driver’s side I wanted to go big…to pack some punch with what would inevitably be the first words the Michaels brothers would read when they emerged from their house the next morning, “I’m a load that should have been swallowed”.

I walked back to my van and tossed the paint can into a nearby yard before getting in. Dawn would start to dye the eastern skies in a few hours and I had rehearsal in the afternoon with Walt and the Goblin, at which we planned to tighten up our set for our first show as a band. I didn’t quite know it then but the show at Laura Caldwell’s legendary spring break party would go down as a historical event and etch our names into the annals of Emerald Heights history.

Later, lying in my bed, lulled slightly by the helicopters chopping through the sky I thought of Eleanor having to spend at least a week in Cuba with her loathed stepsister, her removed stepfather and her absentee mother. I wondered if she was awake and thinking of me…I closed my eyes and sent her a telepathic message…hoping she could feel my lips pressing up against that paradisiacal spot on her neck just below her ear.

Tales from Truman Park Episode 6

As Walt, the Goblin and I spent our evenings fully immersed in the concoction of our killer, funkadelic, anarchy inspiring set-list that we’d play publicly for the first time at Laura Caldwell’s party—word spread like a Bel-Air wildfire about the week long spring break bash and it wasn’t only a focal subject at Coronation; Laura’s party had become the talk of the entire west side…as if it was more than a party…which in fact it technically wasn’t.

As it had been explained to me, my understanding of the situation was that Laura Caldwell was a social fixture at Cartwright high…the school which Walt and the Goblin attended. Cartwright however wasn’t at all the anomaly Coronation High was. Though it was a much larger school than Coronation and perhaps more prestigious—Cartwright curriculum was aligned more so with sports and sciences than with the arts; which was a defining characteristic of Coronation high’s enigma.

Though there was a contingency of bands at Cartwright high, the school didn’t officially recognize them as viable contributions to the community…more so they were seen as oddities; kids who loved to make a pointless racket in their garages—kids who’d one day wind up running tech companies in silicon valley, or working for the CDC or sending rockets into space. For all of their extraordinary academic feats however, they seemed to have little interest in their homegrown artists…of which there were many. The draw at Cartwright was the Cartwright Wolverines. Fueled by steroids, rare bloody steak and piss warm Coors lite, the Wolverines were perhaps the most tenacious football team on the west side. As Walt described it, athletes were considered royalty at Cartwright…particularly Wolverine team members who were treated with an all encompassing immunity, no matter how gruesome their social deaths or personal scandals proved to be. There was exactly one school publication at Cartwright which nobody read…and it was mainly published as a formality and for the purpose of informative dialogue and to rouse chalky school spirit about events like hot-dog day, track meets, upcoming Wolverine games and student council announcements; a crashing bore that made one nearly appreciate the sheer dedication to reputation smearing and character ripping the Coronation High publications prided themselves on.

However, in spite of their lack of internal press; Cartwright high was buzzing with news of Caldwell’s week long party extravaganza for days leading up to the grand finale—it was systemically evident and I realized this one afternoon while standing in line at the Venus Arcade down the street from Cartwright high, where I’d stopped for a pre-rehearsal Dr. Zipper, a few puffs and a game of Asteroids. I couldn’t help hearing some Cartwright kids at the Pac Man game next to me discussing Caldwell’s party. There was some speculation about the bands; they were certain that the Vermillion Trees were headlining the evening and that a new Emerald Heights band was co-headlining with the Trees, citing that they’d heard the new band was in fact not the regular whiny, skinny jeaned shoe-gazing Dark Wavers like so many other Cartwright bands were. They cited Walt’s evident mental insanity and predominant psychosis as reason enough to attend the party. Whatever they imagined we’d be like, they’d never guess…for nobody in Emerald Heights had seen the likes of Lusty Lacey Laura.

I hadn’t seen the likes of Lusty Lacey Laura either…I’d only heard of it during passionate and fiery sermons Walt would give after rehearsals, explaining in animated gestures and dire tones the smoke, mirrors and arson based anarchy that would most definitely transpire at all of our future shows. It wasn’t only props that Walt stayed up into the wee hours scheming about—he’d also given a great deal of thought to his stage wardrobe…and certainly when he’d shown up to our last rehearsal before the show, the Goblin and I were perplexed and most definitely disturbed by his attire, which consisted of a torn and well-worn Iggy Pop t-shirt, burgundy combat boots laced to the top and alas, tight fitting centipede shorts. Indeed dear reader, it was hard to believe, for the shorts were basically regular underwear, except for a demonic centipede protruding from the groin.

“I’m not wearing one of those…” said the Goblin, “No fucking way.”

“Come on man,” said Walt, “it will be great for shock value and we all have to wear them or it will be ineffective.”

“Ineffective.” I laughed, turning back to him and observing the ridiculous shorts—they were made of silver material and mimicked the appearance of tin foil. “Where did you find those things?”

“Melrose Avenue man.” he sighed.

“That’s fucked up man.” I said, shaking my head and taking a sip of Dr. Zipper.

“I’m not wearing a pair of those shorts. I thought we were going with the body paint and the black light anyway.” mused the Goblin

“Know what…that fucking black light idea is way overdone man.” said Walt, reaching into the bag he was carrying. From it he produced a wobbly rubber arm that had a strangely realistic presence to it—except for the rubbery wobble, “This my friends is going to go down halfway through the set.”

“Do what you gotta do.” said the Goblin.

“Listen, I’m going to hollow this bitch out…I’m going to fill it with horror show blood and reseal it…then in between songs, around halfway through the set, I’m going to very discreetly insert it into the sleeve of my jacket…then I’m going to lay it across my amp and I’m going to hack it off with a meat cleaver and the blood is going to spatter all over the stage and the crowd…it’s going to be bloody mayhem. They want a horror show…and I’m just sick enough to give it to them—of course this is all leading up to the very ritualistic burning of another, new improved Trent Humbucker effigy—compliments of Kristen.”

“You’re going to do that again?” I inquired.

“Kristen is making a life-sized papier-mâché voodoo doll…it’s going to be a perfect effigy of Humbucker—the pointy nose, the gaunt body…the little fried egg tits he’s got on him…I’ve seen it the thing…it’s amazing! At some point I’m going to go off and give that cunt what he’s had coming for the last three years—I have an entire speech prepared up here man…I’m laying out the terms as we speak brother…as we speak.” said Walt pointing to the madness churning on the inner side of his temple, “I’m going to say my piece I’m going to name my price…then I’m going to take the Samurai sword I got in Century City last month and I’m going to pierce the doll through the chest…then I’ll hack off the head and light the bitch up with gasoline and then soccer kick the head into the crowd so during our next song they can volley it around…brilliant huh?”

“Sounds good to me. But gasoline?” I asked.

“It’s probably going to be lighter fluid if I find a bottle big enough…there’s got to be a spectacle of flames—it’s all good…the bands aren’t going to be playing in the house…they’re going to be set up in the back yard and Laura is cool with all of this…I’ve already run it by her…she’s a fucking maverick and what’s more, she fucking hates Trent Humbucker with a passion. She said he should be shot and pissed on—not necessarily in that order.”

“I like her already.” I laughed, causing Walt to grin.

“I trust Laura and we have no secrets.” said Walt, “We got real close over the summer—if you catch my meaning.”

“How does Kristen feel about you and Laura’s no secrets policy?” I asked.

“Kristen has her own extracurricular activities.” Walt winked.

“How can you even bother being with a chick you don’t love…what’s the point?” I laughed.

“You’re telling me you’ve got nothing going on the side Mr. Lead Singer of Technicolor? I know plenty of ladies who have it bad for you at Cartwright…don’t tell me you don’t have a few chasing you over at Coronation.”

“Who at Cartwright?” I asked.

“Why do you want to know if you’re so in love?” laughed Walt—the Goblin chiming in with his own tisk-tisk chuckle.

“Just curiosity.” I shrugged.

“Well for one Jenna Pierce is obsessed with you—she keeps asking Kristen about you…can’t wrap her mind around something—not sure what though.” Walt chuckled.

“Who the hell is Jenna Pierce?” I asked.

“Cartwright girl…her father teaches Algebra at Cartwright…she’s a looker alright…she’s a Kelly Preston replica…its uncanny actually.” said Walt.

“Yeah? But what’s she like?” I laughed.

“Well…somehow she’s this little miss perfect and an academic overachiever, but yet she’s a basket case and on several psychiatric meds…all said though man—she’s got an ass on her…” said Walt, “hand-crafted by the god’s my friend. I could set that up so easy for you bro.” assured Walt.

“Let me ask you something—what would be the point of having something on the side? Who’s going to compare to Eleanor?” I said, thinking of Eleanor, framing her in my mind, remembering the way she’d gone after Principal Nelson with vampire fangs…and how warm she’d been later, telling me we’d been lovers in a past life and it was a one in a billion chance we’d found each other in this life.

“That’s cool man…you fucking love that girl and that’s something man…but you know, Kristen had been with pretty much every other musician at Cartwright by the time I got with her—she’d even had some of the swim team and basketball guys…she gained a sort of ‘damaged goods’ rep…which I’m okay with…I’m damaged goods myself…but you can never really get very intimate with someone who’s been passed around the campfire like a bottle of whisky; those kinds are more for what Kristen and I are doing—a casual arrangement. I’m not going to marry her. You gotta see it this way Jacko—these are some of the best years you’re going to have…you’ve got so many opportunities right now…if I was you—I’d be taking advantage of that…you may regret it later in life if you don’t.”

“So why be with Kristen then if you feel nothing for her?” I asked.

“Because I can’t be with the one I want to be with.” admitted Walt.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Winona Driver.” he grinned.

“Pure as the driven snow, virginal Winona…” I laughed.

“Look man, Kristen and I mostly can’t stand each other these days.” chuckled Walt, “I’ve grown to loathe her laugh and the fact that she refuses to get braces…the way she snorts…it makes me want to bite into my forearm and draw blood.”

“So why not do that on stage then?” laughed the Goblin.

“Guys, if it were up to me, I’d stage a mass book burning at the show…imagine burning all the textbooks in the world…so we’re all forced to play it by ear.” said Walt dreamily, gazing off into the distance as if following a cumulonimbus moving across a blood red horizon.

“Listen, Walt…we’re a rad enough band that we don’t need a whole lot of props…I like the idea of setting fire to Trent Humbucker’s papier-mâché effigy—he sounds like a subscriber of the worst kind of cuntery…but isn’t there a chance that all this fire and brimstone might distract from the tunes? Also, fireworks are a real shit idea—for obvious reasons.” I suggested.

“Look, don’t worry about the fireworks…the fireworks are going to be during our last song or if we get an encore—and you know we fucking will…we’re going to set them up behind the stage and Kristen is going to fire them off…they’re rapid fire so it’s going to be a barrage to cap it all off. Imagine what that’s going to be like man…it’s going to be like a fucking locomotive crashing through Laura’s parent’s house…right into her backyard…it’s going to be anarchy…complete and total mayhem…and the people are going to go ape shit for it.” said Walt, clenching his fist with passion, as he stood there in his centipede shorts; the Goblin and I had to laugh.

“Whatever you say man.” I said, glancing to the Goblin who only shook his head and leaned in for another bong hit.

Now dear reader, it’s important that I’m not misunderstood on this point. After all it had been my initial goal to make a viable and perhaps important contribution to the Emerald Heights music scene. However, I’d hoped to do so through the power of composition and infectious melodies. I’d hoped to achieve this goal through means of hard work and refined talent. I’d not planned on being catapulted into local notoriety by way of arson and penis underwear.

Walt, though a talented and well-schooled bassist, saw a fast track to popularity and was in fact crazy enough to do most anything to achieve it. What was more perplexing was the fact that Walt actually cared very little for social popularity. It seemed he was entirely motivated by Cartwright domination by his disdain for the many false prophets roaming the halls of Cartwright, winning over hearts and minds. It could be said that Walt’s entire ideology was based primarily on his disdain for Trent Humbucker and his crew of followers—a particularly entitled clique of dilettantes who, though they claimed to be artists, produced essentially zero works of art. If they did produce something it usually lacked that certain twist of madness that makes something great.

They’d all appointed Trent Humbucker their spiritual guru; their pose-striking ring master who had come to despise Walt, the Goblin and their crew of misfit Cartwright artists who easily saw through Humbucker’s special brand of try-hard social campaigning. In short, it wasn’t Humbucker who’d blacklisted Walt…it was Walt who’d volunteered to be blacklisted—going to war with Humbucker was too delicious for Walt to pass up and when I’d inherited Walt, I’d inherited his war with Humbucker…who I personally felt wasn’t even worth going to war with—in fact I didn’t see him as worth even pissing on. In any case, it seemed the burning of Humbucker effigies was a crowd favorite and something Walt was intent on continuing with Lusty Lacey Laura and perhaps I didn’t mind because too much peace and quiet could get rather boring.

In Truman Park there was neither peace nor quiet…rather it was a drone of noise, action, hardened characters and gang violence, amidst a backdrop of roaring freeways and the perpetual presence of overhead helicopters chopping their way through the rust colored skies–it wasn’t a beach community…or the cushy suburban bliss my Coronation colleagues had grown up in, coming to expect the finer things in life and perpetually contemplating their own personality crises and parental dependence.

Nobody contemplated such things in Truman Park…few contemplated much of anything in Truman Park; rather they acted on animal impulse. There wasn’t much politicking or pontificating over afternoon cocktails. In Truman, the only cocktails were Molotov, though public drunkenness was commonplace. There were police lights flickering against verandas and broken picket fences…dumpsters set ablaze…street fights…gang tagged vehicles…dead bodies carted out of tenement buildings…drive by shootings…gangs of morally disheveled vandals roaming for destruction…murderous home invasions…grand theft auto…drug busts…whore house pistol whippings…the unfascinating list droned on.

As I sat at my attic window looking down at it all while chatting on the phone with Eleanor who was still in Cuba and giving me daily updates on her living situation with the family who’d ostracized her, as if she were an adopted child—I looked down onto the street, where a group of stoop drinkers had crossed over to the other side to meet another group of stoop drinkers…there were words…shoving…then all out haymakers…smashing bottles…a riot…a phenomenon of mindless violence which moved down the street until the group was scuffling in the intersection to a chorus of passing car horns. I snapped a polaroid for my scrap book…A pistol crack rang out, dispersing the group. A police helicopter hung obliviously in the distance just above a row of palm trees, spotlighting for a separate group of assailants…I snapped a polaroid of it. 

“My god was that a gunshot?” asked Eleanor.

“Full moon is coming on Saturday…it brings out the crazies.” I sighed, wishing Eleanor was sitting in my lap, running her perfect little hands through my hair, “When you coming back? I’m going crazy without you.” I said.

“Not sure…my mother still can’t fly…she’s got a hemorrhage in the lining of her brain.” said Eleanor, “She took a pretty nasty spill.”

“Terrible.” I said.

“It’s under control—it’s getting better. This place is boring as shit though baby.”

“So how do you kill the time?” I asked.

“We eat a lot…we spend a lot of time in fancy restaurants watching my step-father drink.” said Eleanor.

“Sounds like he’s not taking it too well.” I said.

“Are you kidding me…that creep inherits half of everything if my mom croaks.” gasped Eleanor, “He’s not sitting there drinking to forget…he drinks lavishly and flirts with waitresses and flamenco dancers–right in front of me. I’d tell my mom but she probably wouldn’t care–she’d do anything to keep a younger man. I think age is much harder for women who were once beautiful…it must be like watching yourself die a little each day.” sighed Eleanor.

“She looked ok in the photos you showed me.” I said.

“She’s very aware of her best angles and what to wear, but seeing her in the hospital…without makeup or hair dye…she looks so old…and it scares me.” said Eleanor.

“She was our age once.” I assured her.

“I know…but it makes me think of how one day I’m going to be that old…and look that old.” said Eleanor, solemnly.

“I’ll still think you’re beautiful even when you’re old and your shit is falling apart.” I assured.

“For real?”

“Of course.” I assured.

“I think my worst fear is turning out like my mother…but it’s happening already…slowly but surely. I ordered a daiquiri that matched my blouse yesterday at the restaurant.” Eleanor said solemnly.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“The fact that I didn’t realize it until afterward.” said Eleanor in an ominous tone.

By the time the weekend rolled around, there was really no other subject being discussed at Coronation beyond Laura Caldwell’s Saturday night extravaganza. Indeed Saturday marked the last night of her week long party; a party that had gained planetary momentum with each passing evening—the details of which were headlines around Coronation gossip circles, to none of which I belonged. However, I could not avoid catching wind of the dramantics that prevailed at Laura Caldwell’s parties; and certainly there was no shortage of dramantics.

I’d never met Caldwell, though through the various stories that had been relayed to me on the enthusiastic tongues of my Coronation cohorts—I started to develop an idea of her in my mind…what she might look like, sound like, act like, dress like…indeed there was something of the mystery to Laura Caldwell and it was perpetuated mainly by the spectacle of her existence…which for the most part was an enigma of contradictions. It was said that her family was staunchly Catholic, and though Laura herself sat each Sunday through church service and it was said crucifixes were fastened to various walls throughout her parent’s lavish mansion…and that Laura volunteered her time to various forms of philanthropy and was known for her random acts of selfless generosity. On the other hand it was also said that Laura got herself fucked up on alcohol and various hallucinogenics every weekend and maintained short lived affairs with a revolving door of chiseled, underwear model-like, Cartwright high Vikings which suggested she harbored one self-esteem issue or another. It also made me wonder why she’d been carrying on with Walt all summer. Walt wasn’t a pin-up guy…he wasn’t an arm piece that might bolster social credibility or quell a deep seeded need for personal validation. Walt was a person of sincere lunacy and the lunacy somehow complimented his manic charisma…which often crossed into psychotic soliloquys. Indeed, Walt was a disaster of his own and he didn’t apologize for it…in fact he didn’t apologize about anything and that had earned him some notoriety at Cartwright…as well as the attention, however fleeting, of Laura Caldwell—who it was said was a man-eater. Indeed, she chewed them up and spit them out…and it was said that many a Cartwright men had fallen prey to Laura’s charms and bared the scars across their hearts to prove it.

Walt spoke of Laura as he, the Goblin and I made our way in my packed van, from the Goblin’s rehearsal room to Laura’s estate…which wasn’t much of a drive, but certainly informative. Walt explained mainly how Laura had snubbed Trent Humbucker…who’d opted to suggest that his band headline the Saturday night grand finale instead of the Vermillion Trees—citing that the Trent Humbucker Trio was the perfect band to cap off the night.

Walt went on…explaining how Trent Humbucker was the type of politician who felt that popularity was more important than creating great art and he’d kissed so many asses to establish his position at Cartwright that his lips were perpetually brown and speckled. When there wasn’t a slot to wangle away from another band, or a girl to wangle away from her lover, or a spotlight to throw himself into the center of—Humbucker would situate himself beside the stereo at any given party and appoint himself DJ for the evening—after all, to Humbucker; a spotlight was a spotlight…and he was a moth-man—a fluttering moth-man in skinny, androgynous jeans.

I’d never met Humbucker but had seen his mediocre band once and had on a separate occasion seen him standing out in front of Cartwright High one afternoon while I was waiting on Walt and the Goblin for an after class rehearsal. He’d stood out on the front walk smoking with a group of his minions…similarly dressed kids who were all ultra-stylized, as if they were cartoon characters in a fringe comic strip. They were posing, copping angles and darting their eyes around to make sure they were being noticed. One had looked at me, then said something under his breath…the others had turned to look and for a moment they all gawked at me. From behind his sunglasses Humbucker had thrown a wry grin my way and made a comment that threw his minions into a collective chuckle. The rest had laughed, making clear the jest of his comment.

I’d just sat there with my arm propped across the steering wheel smoking a blunt…giving them the thousand yard stare. It seemed even though I was uninterested in Walt’s feud with a cheese-puff try-hard like Humbucker—it was guilt by association.

In any case, when Laura Caldwell had assured Humbucker that she wanted the Vermillion Trees to headline her party and that there was nothing anyone could do or say to sway her resolve, Humbucker had then tried to convince her to bump Lusty Lacey Laura from the lineup I assumed in order to one-up Walt. However, Laura Caldwell had derailed that ploy as well…pledging allegiance not to Walt or the Vermillion Trees, but rather to a long standing grudge she held for Humbucker over a triangular dating disaster that had transpired the previous year…one which Walt summed up as ‘scandalous’; whatever that meant. The picture dear reader was crystal clear—Humbucker had needed to be eradicated…however, symbolic.

Once we’d parked in the circular driveway of the massive estate we were met by Laura Caldwell herself. She was dressed casually in jean cutoffs that crept up her rather voluptuous ass cheeks and her black snug fitting Dinosaur Jr. Green Mind t-shirt which was low cut, revealing an equally voluptuous display of tanned cleavage, between which hung a gold crucifix to which a tiny golden Jesus was nailed. She wore cork platforms that laced halfway up her caramel calves and in the mirrored lenses of her heart shaped sun glasses, I took note of my face, looking comically distorted by the convex curvature. She tipped the heart shaped rims down to flash me her eyes which were deep coral blue…the long lashes of which fluttered as she grinned, placing her warm, soft little tanned hand in mine…a caramel greeting. As she nibbled at a chocolate strawberry, she instructed us to carry our gear around the side of the house and into the back yard, where a makeshift stage was situated.

The backyard was a massive stretch of Socal property, complete with palm trees and a view of the mighty pacific ocean—the sort of picturesque scene you might find splashed across the glossy pages of some home worship magazine. It was a setting of whimsical non-reality. The stage was situated directly beside a gazebo, which was being used as a backstage area for the bands and as Walt and the Goblin went to work setting up their gear, I scanned the backyard curiously. It seemed hard to conceive the amount of work that must have went into maintaining such a massive, sprawling property. It looked more like a country club resort than a backyard.

Across the vast expanse of perfectly mowed and perfectly green grass was a grand oval shaped pool equipped with a two tier diving board. Beside the pool was a hot tub and further out, across an expanse of blue tile surround was situated a wooden deck upon which a cushioned half-moon sectional wrapped itself around a fire-pit that was already snapping with flames, though the heat of the day was nearly unbearable. The mild breeze carried the acrid aroma of burning wood and I watched two girls I didn’t recognize poke at the logs as they sipped colored drinks from tall narrow glasses. The distant backdrop of the row of beach front houses far below and the Pacific Coast Highway winding around the rust colored cliff drop offs were tinted orange by the sinking sun.

On the south side of the property was a colorful botanical garden with retaining walls made of stone…in the center of which was another seating area, this one centered by a massive circular knee high glass table around which sat a few more kids I didn’t recognize. To my left stood a greenhouse and a shed and just beyond it was a rock fountain trickling into a sunken pond in which colorful fish swam calmly. I stepped over to the pond and locked eyes with one of the fish who floated there, looking at me, mouthing a word…but a word I couldn’t read.

“Iced tea?” came a voice from behind.

Turning I found it was Laura and she held in her manicured tanned little hand, a frosted glass of iced tea. I could see she was a gracious hostess and had even placed the lemon wedges into the glass first before pouring in the ice so they would make their way to the top of the glass slowly as the ice melted.

“You read my mind.” I said taking the glass from her, “I like that you put the lemon wedges in before the ice…nice touch.” I said before swilling the iced tea down in a few seconds and handing the glass back to her. The ice cold liquid went down nicely and left a burn—vodka.

“I’m a perfectionist. Wow…you’re thirsty.” she cooed, placing her tongue lasciviously between her perfectly white and perfectly set teeth that were open just enough.

“It’s sweltering today and that did the trick.” I said.

“I aim to please.” smiled Laura, sipping at her own glass.

I looked over her shoulder to the Goblin who was sipping his iced tea with one hand as he tightened the bolts of his drums with the other hand. Walt was intimately chatting up one of Laura’s friends who also sipped a tall narrow glass of her own.

“You ever get lost around here?” I asked Laura, “Looks like you might need a map to find your way to the washroom.”

“I grew up here so I kind of know my way around.” she smiled, cocking her head slightly and looking at me as if from a distance, “I’ve heard a bit about you from Walt. I also heard the demo you guys recorded…your songs are really special. Have you been writing music long?”

“It’s all I’ve ever cared about.” I said.

“Why does someone choose to write a song I wonder. I wouldn’t know where to even start.” said Laura, peering into my eyes. Her eyes were nearly a spectacle…deep blue and clear as tropical waters…her eye shadow a work of art, “Did you just sit down at a piano one day and start writing a song?”

“For better or for worse…songwriting chose me.” I said.

“For worse? How could it be for worse?” asked Laura, “True talent is rare…and totally hot.”

“When something chooses you…there’s no other option though…you have no real choice…it can lead you to the peak of a mountain…or it can lead you into ruin—you’re along for the ride.” I said.

“Sounds romantic.” cooed Laura, sipping again from her thick red straw.

“Probably it’s a form of mental illness.” I said.

“Walt tells me you’re from Truman Park.” she said, changing gear suddenly.

“You got it…but worry not—I’m not armed.” I chuckled, “At the moment.”

“Oh, I wasn’t meaning that.” said Laura apologetically, “I didn’t mean that at all…I was only saying because Walt had mentioned it…and…it’s just—Truman Park is a bit curious.”

“Curious how?” I asked.

“I thinks it’s a curious neighborhood…so much character—I don’t know…I buy jeans at a store in Truman Park…Danica’s Denim—you know the place?” she asked.

“That’s a girly store…but I’ve driven by it.” I said with a nod.

“They have quite the girly selection there.” she grinned, “And I’m all girly girl.”

“I can certainly see that.” I said, unable to help myself from glancing the twin mounds of caramel cleavage held snugly in her low cut Green Mind t-shirt and immediately after realized I’d fallen into a trap.

“You like what you see?” she grinned, lightly running her nail polished fingers over the crack of her deep tanned cleavage. There was a small tattoo on her thumb I noticed, the Piscean symbol.

“I shouldn’t answer that Piscean girl.” I said.

“Why not? I won’t tell your girlfriend.” said Laura with unwavering confidence, without missing a beat. She’d done this before and was used to getting what she wanted. Though she exuded mystery from every pore, I could plainly see her.

She wasn’t the most complicated study…she was a perfectly put together Palisades girl who’d grown up in paradisiacal luxury and had wanted for nothing; she’d always been the center of her parent’s universe and had gotten used to it…there was something in her that demanded the rest of the world concur with that dynamic and I assumed she sought this through personal validation; this meant her flirtations were loaded—she only wanted a confirming reaction…a gesture of recognition.

“I think you know my girlfriend actually…Eleanor Price.” I said.

“I know who Eleanor is…” said Laura, “How did you meet her?”

“I was infatuated at first sight.” I said.

“Are you saying that for my sake or yours?” she asked.

“I’m just saying.” I shrugged with a grin.

“Oh god…you’re not a Clarence Worley boy are you?” she asked.

“A Clarence Worley boy?” I grinned, “Is that a trick question?”

“Really? You’re saying you don’t work that angle? You can’t fool me—I can see you coming a mile away.”

“Angle?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s a very unfair angle too…Clarence Worley boys like you always work a very unfair angle on us keen ladies…you feel you can’t hide it so you decide to just embrace your bad boy impulses and all the terrible character traits that come with those…but if you did only that, we’d build up an immunity…so you add in this dreamy psychotic lover with apocalyptic devotion edge because you know it gets us keen ladies all hot under the collar…that it appeals to our mother/whore instincts—even if we’d never admit it. When you tell me it was infatuation at first sight with Eleanor—I know your angle.” chuckled Laura, surprising me with her articulation but disappointing me with her inaccurate assessment of my character, “You’re really quite a simple study.” she added, crossing one arm under the other and holding her glass propped beside her coyly grinning face—which was I had to admit, simply and clearly beautiful.

“Thanks, how much do I owe you for the palm reading?” I asked.

“You can’t fool me—I have a sixth sense—I’m psychic; just like you.” she smiled, squinting her eyes at me playfully.

When I laughed Laura asked me why I was laughing.

“I find it funny when chicks think they know everything about me in the first five minutes.” I said, lifting the glass of iced tea from her hand and sipping from it. After downing the remainder of it in a few large gulps I handed it back to her and she took it uneasily, staring back at me in a suddenly very uncomfortable way, her coy collected grin fading into an alarmed expression…as if she’d uncovered an ominous secret beneath the cosmic mystery—a mystery that could have only existed in her head.

“You fucking are a Clarence Worley boy—I just knew it.” she said, “I just fucking knew it—I’ve known guys like you…you always seem to turn up don’t you?”

“Baby, there ain’t no other guys like me.” I assured and the words seemed to run a chill through Laura.

She backed away, looking as if she’d just seen a ghost…her face had turned pale and her expression was theatrical…as if she was auditioning for a part in a horror show. I grinned at the absurd spectacle of it. Perhaps even she, with all of the showered love and luxury around her had ghosts and perhaps I reminded her of one or two. As she backed away from me, I tried to place her expression. It was partly disconcerted and partly perplexed…but there was something more to it…a deep hurt—that was it; someone had hurt her and hurt her badly…someone had torn her little pink heart out of her chest and bitten a big bloody chunk out of it…then chewed it down before howling up at an esoteric moon. It dawned on me then that the same sensitivities the invincibility of such luxury had instilled in Laura, also made her terribly susceptible to grievous heartbreak and the big bad wolves that lurked in the forest beyond the gates of her custom designed world.

“Hey,” I said, raising my palms, “take it easy…it wasn’t me who bit that chunk out of your heart—I’m not that guy.” I said and in response Laura stopped in her backward tracks and twisted her face up.

“Get out of my head boy.” she demanded, drawing Walt’s attention. He strode over sipping his iced tea, “What are you some kind of witch? Just stay out of my head Clarence Worely boy—I’m rolling up the drawbridge right now.” said Laura and indeed, her brimming psychological instability was intriguing…she wore psychotic quite well and I tilted my head at her with a grin…certainly intrigued.

“You’re for fucking cereal? You’re fucking dead cereal aren’t you?” I asked, amazed at her sudden and ominous seriousness amidst all of the sunny rays and oceanic view.

“Do I look like I’m kidding?” demanded Laura.

“He’s not a witch, he’s a wizard of melodic book burning…after alls—you gotsta throw away the textbooks if you wanna breach the confining walls of academia.” said Walt, as if tisk-tisking Laura.

“You’re an asshole.” she told Walt, to which Walt only grinned and shrugged and asked why that surprised her now.

“What else did you tell him about my deeply personal business?” demanded Laura.

“I’ve never told him anything about you.” said Walt, his smile fading as he shot me a confused glance. 

“Dick.” Laura snapped in a hushed tone.

“What the hell is this all about?” he asked me as I admired the curves of Laura’s form as she stood there staring at us both with quiet alarm.

“She’s haunted by ghosts and werewolves.” I said with a shrug, lighting up a blunt.

“You’re such a fucking head case Holden.” chuckled Walt, “You ready for a sound check or what?” he added, shifting back to the task at hand.

As we ran through a sound check that consisted of our best three songs I noticed Walt’s girl rolling a cart down the curving pavement of the walk. The cart was heaping with boxes that varied in shapes and sizes and on the lower shelf of the cart were designer shopping bags bulging with what I assumed were more props. Indeed, Walt had been busy doing some prepping.

A moment later, the Goblin’s girl Jen-Jen appeared and she carefully carried the life sized papier-mâché effigy of Trent Humbucker in her arms which were wrapped gently around the torso, her fingers interlocked for grip and her head bent back in a chuckle when she glanced to the stage and locked eyes with the Goblin who shared her smile. He knew what this meant…we all did; something historical was approaching through the vibration of tectonic plates…vibrations only the animals and Lust Lacy Laura could sense.

As we switched our amps to standby and hopped from the stage down to the soft padding of the manicured grass, Laura approached the Goblin’s girl and as she introduced herself, she ran her fingernails over the effigy’s chest…making a cat claw face and a cat claw sound.

“Nice work ladies…looks just like that glamor queen Humbucker.” she hissed playfully, drawing a laugh from my band and their better halves. However, as if remembering what she’d evidently seen in the center of my being only moments before, her laugh stifled when her eyes landed on me…and indeed dear reader it caused a certain stutter…one which they all picked up on.

Shouldering a few curious glances from Walt and the girls, I stared back at Laura, peering deeply into her eyes of deep coral blue. I held her there in my sites knowing that the peripheral was falling away as her focus intensified.

“Why not take a picture?” I asked Laura.

“Ok…that’s a bit awkward…” said Kristen finally, breaking the tremor of silence that fell upon us, in essence waking Laura from her telepathic gaze…one in which I was certain she imagined reading my soul and all of its nuances—for future reference.

“What’s awkward? There’s nothing awkward here.” sang Laura, placing her hands on her hips and grinning at Walt’s girl, as if Kristen was the most confused little birdy she ever done saw. Most likely it was Laura’s mother who influenced the southern belle in Laura—something that couldn’t be so closely replicated, “Let’s go inside and have some champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.” 

After Laura lured the girls away, we stood there under the baking warmth of the sun passing around a blunt. Eventually Walt approached the cart of props the girls had brought with them, speaking with me over his shoulder, “What is it with you two?” he asked me, “Laura and you?”

“I told you…she’s haunted by werewolves.” I shrugged.

“Well…I guess Laura is as big a head case as you are—so it only makes sense that you’d lock into some bizarre shit. I’ve never seen her thrown off like that. Probably you should just steer clear of her for the rest of the night.” said Walt, looking at me sideways, “I don’t want any trouble.”

“Yet you’re going to stage a mass voodoo ritual on Humbucker.” I said, looking at the giant effigy of the creepy crooner.

I dragged on the blunt and stood there on the grass as Walt took inventory of the props he’d collected. Indeed, he’d thought of everything…a severed arm, a squeeze bottle of horror show fake blood that seemed to have the consistency and texture of raspberry pancake syrup. He unfolded a general’s uniform, complete with a chest full of metals and a matching hat. A machine gun came next…a replica of a Mac Ten, complete with a detachable clip…one which was meant to squirt water through a battery-operated motor. In our case Walt was going to fill the clip with straight vodka. The bottles of vodka came out of the boxes next. Walt had ordered five 40 ounce bottles for the occasion, all of which he planned to machine gun into the mouths of his adoring front-row fans during our show. He’d really thought of everything…and had even remembered to bring with him the razor sharp samurai sword he’d attained at a pawn shop in Century City…the one with which he’d spear through the effigy in hopes Humbucker—wherever he was—would feel the burn.

From the other boxes, Walt and the Goblin produced a line of merchandise; bumper stickers, hood ornament flags, t-shirts, hoodies, skate shorts and toques…all baring the three ‘L’ design he’d evidently patented and printed. I stepped over and took one of the shirts in hand. They were attractive but made of starchy cotton. The emblem was simple, three large letter L’s, burning with orange flames that created a black silhouette; the sleek and sexy form of a naked woman, bent forward slightly with a hand on her hip and the other reaching into the air…it wasn’t a bad design.

“When did you get these done?” I asked Walt.

“Hot off the presses yesterday from Kristen’s dad’s shop—it was a real crunch and I thought for sure we’d never have them for this show—the old man really came through.”

“How much you selling them for?” I asked.

“Selling? Why the hell would I sell these? What you’re looking at Jacko my boy is pure, un-cut promotion. Just when we’ve melted their faces and blown their minds and they think the show can’t become more monumental; I’m going to start throwing these out into the crowd…by the end of next week…every kid in Emerald Heights is going to know our name…if they don’t—they’re going to learn it.”

“Crazy.” I said, picking up a bumper sticker that bared the same design only smaller and seemingly clearer under its glossy sheen. I stuck it on my shirt in the place of a nametag and headed inside, for a sip of champagne.

Inside, I found the house was a marvel of post-modern architecture and interior design…and aside from exuding a museum-like coldness, the perfectly polished surfaces and gold plated contours made it all feel like we were eating barbecued steak in the French windowed dining room of a majestic castle—and Laura was the princess…the damsel who’d undress…protected behind a moat swimming with blood thirsty crocodiles—a moat built to perhaps protect her from guys like me…or at least guys she imagined me to be like.

Ironically however, she’d had her heart torn out and dropped in a blender by some pampered debutante or other who played the Clarence Worley boy part…a suitor she’d more than likely been urged to date by her hard-breeding parents. I thought about this as I watched Laura moving around the dining room and kitchen, playing the hostess.

Looking down at my plate, I saw the steak was nearly raw and the blood ran down my plate and pooled in the mashed potatoes, turning them pink. I pushed my plate away and sipped at my champagne, observing Laura in her element. She wasn’t Eleanor, but she was quite a beauty…and she knew as much. She was a doting hostess, but was also a guest of her own, getting lost in waves of hilarity, ravenously swilling back colored, umbrella drinks, hollering and cackling over the music, fawning over arriving friends and suitors past, giggling, mugging, hugging, posing for the flashes of instant Polaroid cameras. Quite curiously, she kept throwing me deep stares as I sat in my chair at her dining room table…as if I was a single-man audience observing her ensemble production.

Indeed, as I wondered why Laura kept shooting me the stares and why I kept meeting them…certainly I realized just then that Laura’s eyes cast a spell…and certainly this coupled with the collective telepathy 1990’s kids possessed was a recipe indeed. Though her gaze suggested much more…I knew she only wanted to take me to bed…and perhaps it was more to hurt Eleanor than to be ravaged. Indeed, she was correct to assume I was a young man of apocalyptic devotion…but Clarence Worley I was not. For if it had been I in Worley’s place, I’d have never slept with Alabama on the first date—I’d have gotten to know her better—vetting her for herpes legions and perhaps syphilis…secondly, I wouldn’t have used a snub nosed Smith & Wesson to waste Drexl and his boys—I’d have used a sexy Bren Ten; I was a different animal altogether.

As I watched Laura plop herself down into Walt’s lap and do a shot of tequila with him and the rest of the group sitting around the dining room table, I rose and Laura’s eyes followed me all the way to the door, which led out into the backyard, where there were kids showing up in droves. I glanced over my shoulder at her—she was still looking, grinning at me sexily with a finger placed between her perfectly white and perfectly placed teeth as she listened to Walt tell a story; stay away from her Franky—she may be a she devil, came a voice to me through drone of noise.

The sun was nearly set and colliding with the windows of a neighboring mansion in a bludgeoned orange flare that reflected across Laura’s backyard. It was too beautiful a shade to comprehend—I knew however that it was the 90’s and the sunsets were ours and we were going to paint the world up and make them realize the existential gushing…the end of days romance…the heroism of failure and the beauty of the ugly; we were going to change it all—for better or for worse.

From the edge of the yard I gazed out on the Pacific Coast, snaking around the cliff drop offs, and I thought of Hal Ashby and how he’d owned the keys to the city at one point and how he’d gone mad and how in retrospect his was what made his films so great. We’d heard about Mickey Cohen at the hotel Roosevelt…we’d heard about Howard Hughes crashing a test plane into a sleepy Bel-Air neighborhood…we’d heard about the nightmare on Ciello Drive…we’d heard about the way they’d found Natalie Wood floating in the waters just off the shores of Catalina Island…we’d heard about the double homicide on South Bundy…we’d heard about Robert F., lying dead on a hotel ballroom floor…not far away, River Phoenix had collapsed outside a Hollywood night club and never woke up. Marilyn, Disney, Garland…stars burned bright among these ruins…but the dead never stopped coming…nor did the born…and gazing out on the bludgeoned orange coast line where the foamy tides rolled in, I was caught in a wash of fascinated awe, knowing we were part of it all.

By 9pm, Laura Caldwell’s estate had indeed become the quintessential house party setting that so many teeny bopper films had been based on for good reason; such parties existed and were never meant to be anything other than a total spectacle of angst…coming of age rebellion—a fist raised high. The house itself was packed beyond capacity with kids…many of which I recognized but most of which I didn’t. The party goers were made up mainly of Cartwright students as well as Westfield High. The crowd had spilled out into the backyard which was crawling with mad partiers bent on consuming as many substances as they could—hoping for a psychedelic epiphany…hoping for the ground to shake…for the earth to move…for the moon to turn to blood and drip down into the sparkling pool, from which they might all draw a ritual…an incantation…a wolf howl of the unbridled invincibility of youth. There was madness afoot and I watched it from my spot sitting on the ledge of the fish pond with Wes and April.

From a ghetto blaster turned to full volume roared the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage as dozens of kids frolicked in the pool and danced around it, as if the world was coming to an end. Dives, cannonballs, belly flops…a fat kid runs across the tiles aiming to flip into the pool, he slips, falls flat on his ass…a roar of laughter pulls him from his ass and he dances to his feet like a chubby snake charmed by a magic flute…he climbs the diving board ladder and sprints to the end, vaulting himself up and into a half somersault and face-plants into the pool with a loud painful sounding slap; applause.

“Moron.” Wes chuckled, offering a loud whistle of approval in any case.

“What time are you guys on at?” asked April.

“The first band, Colotov Mocktail was supposed to start now…but they didn’t show up. I guess we’re sticking to our ten o’clock start time.” I said.

“It’s going to be monumental my friend.” said Wes, “These kids want a revolution…and it’s probably high time for a changing of the guard over at Cartwright.”

It was then that Walt emerged from the mass of kids crowded around the sectional area…he was flanked by the Goblin and Wilson James. We all knew who Wilson James was…being chief editor of Infringement magazine we’d all read his articles on Emerald Heights bands. He was a senior at and hosted a half hour show which featured many great bands old and new, large and small, pretty and ugly as fuck. He’d been summoned to the closing night of Laura Caldwell’s week long bash to see the Vermillion Trees—the band slated to headline the evening and the band voted most likely to succeed on a national level and of course, the Vermillion Trees had come to believe their own hype.

Indeed, Walt, an ever persistent presence of self-promotion had forwarded James our demo the previous week and had struck up a poolside conversation with James who decided after doubtlessly enduring a few minutes of Walt’s high octane meandering that it might be a novel idea to interview us—just in case we became local heroes…in which case he could say he knew us first and he knew us well.

After this was all explained to me by Walt in rapid fire, James whisked us away into a far corner of the yard, behind a greenhouse shed where the noise wasn’t so intrusive. Walt did most of the talking—explaining to Wilson why Trent Humbucker should be shot and pissed on (not necessarily in that order). I sipped at a shallow gin and lime and listened to Walt, wondering why it was he’d opt to use the platform of James Wilson’s half hour radio show to essentially plug Humbucker and crew, when Humbucker and crew weren’t worth the mention.

I was shaken from this contemplation by the loud pop of a microphone and subsequent squeal of feedback, “Is this thing on?” a familiar voice chuckled. Stepping around from behind the greenhouse shed, I saw Laura Caldwell standing center stage, her curvy from illuminated by the rented stage lights. She held the microphone loosely and addressed the droves of partyers who all at once congregated around the stage…which slightly fascinated me—for I’d never seen such order at school assemblies or pep rallies or even between classes in the Coronation halls…usually there was always a certain chaos…however, on this particular evening, they were all ears, spellbound by the moon, the stage lights and luscious Laura Caldwell, playing the MC on the last night of her week-long bash. We all listened as Laura said her piece.

“Thank you all for making this years party a historical event…I wanted to do something special tonight, I wanted this year’s party to go out with some fireworks.” she cheered, drawing a collective reply from the crowd that sounded high into the night, is if these were Friday night lights and the home team had just scored a game winning touchdown.

I stood there with Walt and the Goblin on the fringes of the sea of heads all facing Laura who was made for the stage lights. She cocked a grin and tipped her head back, “So whatcha want?” she sang, causing the crowd to roar again. “You want some rock and roll?” Another collective cheer, “Well Mama Laura’s got just the thing for y’all. I wanna introduce to you one of the best kept secrets of Cartwright high…a band that is going to blow your fucking minds to Mars and back!” sang Laura, revving the crowd some more and it was then that Walt tapped my arm and motioned with his head for us to take the stage…the Goblin was well ahead, climbing the rear steps of the stage, emerging into the bright stage lights with one fist raised high. Walt was next, taking a bow and blowing a few kisses theatrically as he stepped up to the giant Trent Humbucker effigy that was covered in a white sheet. I stepped out onto the stage and squinted against the bright lights into the crowd that stretched all the way to the pool. There were hundreds of them…pampered Emerald Heights offspring, jacked up on substances and fire water…waiting for the thunderous explosion—one which Walt was determined to offer them. I strummed a fat heavy chord which resonated from my amp and it was made gigantic by the mains, which were two towers of stacked cabinets on either side of the stage…it was then dear reader that I realized something—we were going to be a wrecking ball.

Walt strapped on his bass guitar and gave the Goblin a nod…then they both looked at me. I turned to the crowd who were silent…all that could be heard was the slight buzz of my pickups. I grabbed the microphone with one hand and tipped it down slightly, “Looks like the first band pussied out…but we ain’t ever pussied out…we’re here to melt your faces tonight!” I hollered, drawing roar from the crowd…they were amped and ready…combustible and waiting for the ignition. I turned the key and hit the gas, counting in our opening number which was a funkadelic rollercoaster of smashing crashes, pounding bass and razor sharp guitar riffs. A mosh pit erupted and the place went mad. Projectiles flew into the sky, kids hammered into each other in an uncoordinated pogo, some jumped on the stage and dived back into the crowd, surfing it to the fringes…the Goblin beat his drums so hard he broke two sticks during the first song…Walt at one point also took a running jump into the crowd, landing on his back…as he slapped away at his cordless bass, he was passed around over the heads and deposited back on the stage where he rolled into a ninja stance and nearly perfectly in time to dive into a bass solo…I pressed my guitar against my amp to create an orgasmic scream of feedback while Walt ran up and down the neck of his bass, slapping out a death defying bass solo which matched perfectly the accents and shots of the Goblin’s technical drum beats.

We ended the song in a wash of noise…during which Walt rolled to his back and lay flat on the stage, thrusting upward with his hips as if he was trying to fuck the night sky itself. I turned my volume to full and ran the neck along the microphone stand haphazardly and the Goblin ripped through a succession of mind boggling drum fills. We managed to end at the same time on chord colored with asylum chatter that dissipated into feedback, which was inevitably drown out by the roar of perhaps three hundred drunken, barn burning kids, who’d never been told no in their lives.

The set went on in this fashion, and as intended, Walt incorporated his variety of props into the performance at one point hacking off the rubber arm and whipping it into the crowd who tossed it around for a while before tossing it back onto the stage where it lay, hacked up and still oozing horror show blood; a perfect album cover.

Also…there was the Mac Ten vodka shooter which Walt sprayed into the cups of kids in the front row…he threw blunts into the audience and a few severed heads, decorated to represent certain Cartwright elitists. This got the crowd roaring with hilarity that bordered on destruction…the papier-mâché heads were torn to shreds and what was left was tossed back on the stage. After our fifth song, Walt and I threw some band merchandise into the crowd and it was like throwing food into a piranha tank…there were many tug-o-wars for the shirts which were probably ripped in the process. Then dear reader…it was time…

Walt unclipped his microphone and stepped up to the Trent Humbucker effigy. He removed the sheet drawing a massive roar from the crowd which turned to booing and an organized chant, “Light him up, light him up”. Walt produced the bottle of lighter fluid from the inside pocket of his general uniform displayed it to the crowd who emitted another cheer.

“I think burning the cunt is too easy though.” Walt said into the microphone, “Don’t you think Jacko?”

“I concur.” I said into my own mic, admiring Kristen’s work. The effigy was a near perfect replica…she’d even gone thrift store shopping for Humbucker-esque clothing…skinny jeans, converse runners, ironic t-shirt and all. The effigy also wore shades—another Humbucker attribute.

“No…we’re going to most certainly light the bitch up—but I wanted to try something out first…” Walt said, stepping over to his amp and taking hold of the Samaria sword laid across the top…he wielded it and swung it through the air a few times, and the vision of the wonderfully polished sword catching the colored glint of the stage lights sent a murmur through the crowd.

“Let’s make this effigy a voodoo doll…whadya all say?” hollered Walt, drawing another cheer from his adoring Cartwright public. This couldn’t fare well for Humbucker—Walt’s theatrical bits. Not everyone in the audience was enthralled by this display…in fact perhaps only half of them were and from my vantage point on stage, I could literally spot the divide. However, as it was now part of the spectacle, everyone watched in suspense as Walt mumbled through an incantation he’d improvised, pretending to speak in tongues, not unlike Max Caddie at the end of Cape Fear, all before wielding the sword high and plunging it through the chest of the Humbucker effigy, piercing the ironic silkscreened face of Rick Asley in the process.

“What do ya think Jacko—did X mark the spot?” Walt asked me.

“I think our good man Humbucker is going to have a bad case of heart burn tomorrow.” I said and it drew a laugh, but strangely it also drew some boos of disapproval…indeed, it seemed there were still some undecided voters in the audience.

“Oh, he’s going to feel the fucking burn alright.” Walt specified as he doused the effigy with a large bottle of lighter fluid. As he pulled the sword out of the effigy’s chest the Goblin broke into some fancy jazz fills. Walt handed me the sword, next…gesturing for me to do the honors. With a shrug I swung my Stratocaster around my back and took the heavy sword in hand and as if winding up for a home run bat cracker, I swung the sword at the effigy’s neck, popping the head off easily and perfectly.

As the crowd cheered with fanaticism and graduating year angst, Walt lit a match. We were suddenly warmed by a surge of heat as the effigy went up in a massive puff of flames that reached high into the sky…we all watched it burn for a few seconds as the Goblin brought in the beat which opened the next song…as we broke into the heavy intro the mosh pit exploded again and the flames burned high and Walt, as planned, picked up the decapitated effigy head and soccer kicked it into the crowd after which Walt turned to me and chuckled a deeply psychotic chuckle as the flames illuminated his face in an orange flicker of madness—and for just a second I could have sworn his eyes glowed red—the evil bastard.

We didn’t bother pausing between songs…rather we rolled directly into the next and the next and the next, until finally we were at our grand finale…the farewell blast of anarchy that was meant to be back dropped by fireworks. Indeed, Kristen and Walt had worked it all out previously and I’d assumed, as we all did that they’d worked out any kinks. As Walt turned and gave Kristen a hand signal…the Goblin and I started in on the last song, which was essentially a locomotive collision…a train wreck of heavy chords, pounding double bass drums and perhaps the most dashing bass line Walt had ever mustered. I was caught up a whammy diving, pick raking guitar solo when the fireworks started exploding in loud pops and cracks. Their falling light illuminated the expanse of the crowd which was seemed to stretch all the way back to the pool. Directly before us the mosh pit bounced with youthful rage at the colorful explosions spread around across the sky above us…indeed, it seemed we’d achieved the anarchy and chaos Walt had so meticulously and carefully planned. It was then that it happened…the pivotal point…where the evening changed course and with the suddenness of funnel clouds emerging from the underbelly of a blackened super-cell. The fireworks took on a mind of their own suddenly and started exploding all at once and shooting off in all direction. One collided against the back of Walt’s amp in a colossal explosion…another missed my leg by an inch or two…it ricocheted across the stage and into the crowd of moshing kids. The sound was like machine gun fire and the projectiles like a napalm attack, the fire shooting out in all directions, sending sparks and fire ricocheting against the house, the surrounding trees…one even taking out the stage light directly behind Walt. I stopped strumming and ducked for cover…taking shelter behind my Marshall stack as the machine gun tattering went on and the fireworks shot outward in all directions. The Goblin jumped from behind his drums and crawled beneath the stage and Walt squatted behind his amp and shielded his face with a forearm as he peered around it and took note of the fireworks which had somehow been ignited all at once. I felt a few collide with the back of my cabinet and smelled next the chemical burn and acrid clouds of smoke. Screams rang out from the crowd of kids who had all ducked for cover in the same way as the fireworks ran their course, cracking and popping…whistling over our heads and forming tracers across the night sky. Glancing at Walt, who was still squatting behind his bass cabinet, I shook my head with a grin that reiterated what I was thinking; a shit idea.

Walt concurred with a dry nod, returning my grin.

Soon enough however the deep hissing sound of a fire extinguisher sounded…the spray went on until the canister was empty and when it was…it was only then that I realized how silent it had gotten all at once…how quickly the runaway fireworks had stifled our mighty wall of sound and the ravenous energy of a crowd of moshing kids…through the clearing smoke, I saw people now rising cautiously from the lawn, to which they’d dropped moments earlier—as if they’d been caught in the crosshairs of a drive by shooting. Walt and I got to our feet as well and the murmuring of conversation spread across the crowded backyard.

Standing at my Marshall Stack, I observed the Goblin and Kristen crawling out from beneath the stage as if they’d taken cover from a WWIII invasion. Indeed, I’d assumed it had been Kristen who’d extinguished the fire but I was mistaken…rather it was Laura Caldwell herself who’d doused the wayward fireworks with extinguisher foam…a heroic gesture indeed, being that she could have been lit up in the process. She held the extinguisher in one hand as she helped Kristen up with the other. The Goblin meanwhile dusted of the lap of his jeans and hopped back up onto the stage with his signature expressionless gaze—as if nothing had transpired. It was then that I heard a patter…and the patter soon grew to a downpour and when I turned back to the crowd I was met with few hundred kids I didn’t know facing the stage and showering us in thunderous applause, whistles and cheers, and a chant arose in three distinct syllables, “One more song, one more song, one more song!” Though I realized we’d slayed it in ways I wouldn’t quite comprehend for weeks; it was all hard to believe. There was a surreal sheen to the experience, as if it was a scene from an REM dream.

I glanced at Walt, who was standing proudly behind his bass guitar in his general’s uniform, his hands wrapped around the five string neck and his grin cocking his head to one side…he raised his brows at me as if to say that he’d told me so…that we’d be an impossible act to follow and that I should never ever doubt his judgment again. Indeed, how would the Vermillion Trees follow the fabulous disaster we’d created? 

As the chant for one more song grew louder and more demanding, I shrugged toward Walt and glanced back at the Goblin. I turned back to the crowd, grabbing the microphone in my palm and pulled the entire stand on a tilt as I spoke into it, addressing their call for another song.

“One more? But that’s all we got.” I said, drawing a disappointed groan from the crowd.

“Well…we do have one more…but it’s not ours…it’s one we play well however…I guess we could play that one—if you really want us too.” I said, drawing this time a roar from the crowd that wanted more than anything in that moment an atomic explosion of chaos.

Indeed, it was a rhetorical statement and perfectly punctuating it, Walt started in with a familiar bass line…it was a song we’d figured out one afternoon in case we needed it for an encore. As Walt repeated the descending intro bass line for Holiday in Cambodia, the Goblin joined in after a few bars, eventually rolling off a ripping snare fill that kicked it all into high gear…I hit the Eastbay Ray guitar line and within seconds, it was back on…the mosh pit exploded and the kids pressed up tightly in the front banged their fists against the stage with such ferociousness the vibration of which I could feel through my Vans as I stepped over to the mic, “So, you’ve been to school for a year or two and you know you’ve seen it all, in daddy’s car thinking you’ll go far back east your type don’t crawl…” I sang.

The song was a classic and though we could never play it better…we played it strong and somehow Heavier and groovier than the Dead Kennedys…and in fact I’d become so thrilled I’d turned to the Goblin and locked in hard with his pounding beat…a beat that, just when it was getting downright lethal, suddenly…abruptly… stopped…along with the bass guitar and the moshing. Like a jump started locomotive, we were derailed; again.

Opening my eyes and looking up at the Goblin, I found him sitting on his drum stool, enthralled by a bright orange spectacle that flickered across his face and the windows of the Caldwell homestead behind him. Was it another of Walt’s stunts? One could say it was a derivative. Indeed, it was a full force inferno, but it wasn’t a Trent Humbucker effigy or another of Walt’s extreme props set aflame. Spinning around I found that the greenhouse shed was ablaze and glowing a flickering blood-orange from behind its windows. We all stood there watching the smoke billowing from windows and the loosely latched front doors. The flames had eaten through one corner of the shed flames rose from the rear side of the shed as—we all stood there, mesmerized by the spectacle…it seemed this night would not end until there were police lights.

Laura Caldwell suddenly appeared in front of the shed, ushering, in her low cut Dinosaur Jr. Green Mind shirt, the crowd of kids back and back further…there was a caramel calm to her and from my vantage point on the stage I was certain I saw a small grin crooking the side of her sexy mouth as she urged everyone to stand back even further.

I hopped down from the front of the stage with my black and white USA Stratocaster slung over my back. I stepped up beside Laura and she turned, meaning to move in my direction. She jolted back, surprised to find me at her shoulder.

“What’s in there?” I asked her.

“Where?” she asked.

“The godam shed.” I said.

“Well, I think what’s burning is the woodchips.” she said scratching her head, “Obviously one of your fireworks shot in there through a window…I’m not sure we’re going to be able to put this thing out.”

“I told Walt those fireworks were a bad fucking plan.” I said, raising my palms.

“You think?” she said, rhetorically, twisting up her face with a satirical grin.

“What else is in there? If there’s gasoline or chemicals…we oughta call the fire guys.” I said.

“Gasoline? I have no idea. Could be…there’s a gas powered lawn mower.” said Laura, “I was thinking to turn on the sprinkler system but the sprinklers don’t point toward the shed.”

“Don’t you have a garden hose we can attach?” I asked.

“In the shed.” chuckled Laura, closing her eyes…seemingly loving the calamity of it all and being caught in the middle of it.

“Looks like we’re fucked.” I nodded.

Suddenly Walt was pushing through the crowd, his general’s outfit soaked and his long hair dripping wet…in his arms he carried a massive flower pot, one which was filled with water from the pool. Behind him was the Goblin and he too was drenched in pool water, carrying another flower pot full of water. Combined the pots carried at best ten gallons each. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

“Jacky boy…unlatch those doors will ya.” commanded Walt and as I moved toward the shed, Laura headed me off and made it to the doors first. Smartly, she removed her t-shirt and wrapped it around her hand before, lifting the latch and pulling one of the door handles. A barrage of cat-calls sounded for Laura as she stood there in her black lacey bra and jean cut offs, sexily pulling unlatching the doors and pulling them open. Certainly Laura’s moving the crowd back had been a great idea or at least some form of innate common sense…for a waft of flame blew out from behind the door as it opened, sending a cloud of fiery smoke and heat billowing toward us all like a blast furnace…the fire warmed my face as I lit a cigarette watching it all burn to the ground…the pool water I realized was pointless…it was like throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.

I stood there beside Laura observing the billowing inferno engulf the shed in roaring flames. The flames were ravenous and were alive, but not…adhering completely to the combustible laws of nature with zero regard…somehow mechanical—like a terminator. Indeed the several bags of woodchips went up in flames one by one like acorns in a fireplace, flaring out in bright flames and sending glowing embers up into the black sky like a thousand and one fireflies. The crowd huddling around the spectacle sighed and cheered and whistled at the woodchip display…and applauded each time Walt and the Goblin returned with their pots of pool water. Still, others joined in, finding various receptacles to fill with water and carry over to the shed…one intoxicated chap had unscrewed the glass lantern of one of the walkway lamps and tossed it’s water against one wall of the shed, where it steamed away almost immediately.

One of Laura’s friends emerged from the crowd with Laura’s instant polaroid and started snapping photos…the flashes, freezing in time the elements, the poses, the expressions…photos that would make it into a scrapbook somewhere and remain as photographic proof of Laura Caldwell’s historic backyard soiree that set fire to the night in question. Appropriately, Laura grabbed hold of the polaroid and pointed it up toward the night sky, stepping over to one side of the shed to capture the flames licking at the full moon…as if the ethereal beige sphere was close enough to be singed by the symbolic inferno of our Gen X rebellion. 

Eventually, sirens could be heard in the distance and as they grew louder, the crowd around us grew thinner…indeed, though everyone was enjoying the spectacle and the fiery send off of another Laura Caldwell spring break bash…the reality of the authorities arriving stoked fear in our fellow attendees…for the last thing any of them wanted was to have their parents contacted about their being drunk at a barn burner; everyone talked in Emerald Heights…and certainly the gossip ate faster than the flames engulfing Laura’s shed. By the time the sirens arrived and abruptly cutoff, the back yard was nearly clear, except for a few dozen kids lingering in the far corners of the yard who had nowhere else to go. By this time I was sitting on the stage with Laura Caldwell and Wes Milton III…April had joined the diligent contingency of volunteer firefighters using pool water to quell the flames that by then had collapsed the roof of the shed, sending a large plume of flame, smoke and embers billowing into the night. When a few firefighters clad in heavy gear appeared and trudged across the lawn toward the burning shed, Walt stopped, dropped his flower pot and bent forward, balancing his palms against knees as he panted and chased after his breath. The Goblin tossed one last splash on the shed and then tossed the pot to the side, seemingly unphased, as if he’d just completed a relay in gym class and was awaiting further instructions.

We sat and listened to Laura explain her version of it to the fire chief who listened with a suspicious glare in his beady eyes. The way Laura told it, we’d all been having a grand old time when a saboteur in attendance decided to shoot off some fireworks…she played the victim well, posing as a damsel…crinkling her brows, shaking her head in disbelief…even bringing herself to the verge of tears…concocting an entire dialogue with the imaginary saboteur she’d had removed from her party—unfortunately all too late…for it was, she insisted, the saboteur’s wayward roman candle that had lit the shed up and subsequently led to the inferno. In a show of selfless regret, Laura produced her finest performance yet…citing that had she only acted a few moments sooner and ejected the saboteur from the party—her mother’s beloved greenhouse shed might still be standing. Indeed, it was such a convincing story—even I almost believed it.

Rolling it around in his head for a moment, the chief turned to Laura and asked her why anyone would want to sabotage her party, to which Laura, without missing a beat, replied that she was hated for being beautiful, popular and most of all catholic. The chief only nodded and suggested she report the assailant to the police who were en route. Wes glanced at me with a surprised grin, “That girl is going to own this town one day—that was an Oscar worthy performance.”

What had appeared to us a towering inferno that might stay eternally ignited, turned out to be a matter of little consequence to the firemen, who in the end dragged in a single hose and smothered the blaze in a few seconds flat.

As the shed sat in a pile of charred rubble dripping with foam; we went to work tearing down our gear as well as the stage itself which came in attachable segments. Walt’s girl Kristen and the Goblin’s girl Jen-Jen helped us dismantle it all; there wasn’t going to be a headliner…there wasn’t going to be a grand send-off for Laura’s party goers. Indeed, we’d been the send-off and we’d sent them off in a barrage of explosions, fire and emergency sirens…set to the soundtrack of Holiday in Cambodia—we’d done it like pros.

As we dismantled the stage, Laura navigated her way through a conversation with a pair of officers who asked and double asked her many questions, few of which had anything to do with the fire itself. When they were satisfied that she was either lying or that there was little more they could do, they left her their cop card and vacated the scene, leaving us all to our business in the backyard which was swathed in a layer of smoke and the thick acrid aroma of burned woodchips.

After a couple cans of beer, I ventured into the house, looking for a toilet or a sink into which I could piss. Inside there were a few people in the dining room, seated around the large glass table, playing with Uno cards. In the sunken living room 10,000 Maniacs live on MTV played on a large screen. I stood in the sunken living room for a moment watching Natalie Merchant introduce croon Hey Jack Kerouac. Their performances were perfect…studio takes all around…and the revelation chilled me to the bone…witnessing the real thing often had that effect on me; real magic. I stood there mesmerized, watching the performance unfold, sipping a fresh can of beer and wishing I’d been there to see the Maniacs in concert. There are things in life that mean something and others that seem to, but don’t really.

A hand smoothed softly over my shoulder and shook me from my trance and when I calmly turned, I found it was Laura Caldwell at my side. She was carrying a frosted glass in one hand and a long thin cigarette in the other. There were flowers placed in her hair and she’d lost her platform shoes…she was still shirtless, standing under the soft glaze of the living room fixtures in her black lacey bra and jean cut offs. She was now barefoot and looking sandy somehow, as if she’d walked up from a sun washed beach.

“Hey, come with me…I want to show you something.” she said and motioned for me to follow her upstairs.

“Show me what?” I asked before moving from my spot.

“I have a great photo album upstairs.” she said, “Come.”

Reluctant to leave the warm soundscape of the recorded 10,000 Maniacs performance, I followed Laura up winding hardwood stairs that led to the second floor of the house. I then followed her delicious looking ass down a long hallway and into the master bedroom which was equipped with a walk-in closet and full bathroom. I gathered it was her parent’s quarters. The bed was a four post and made impeccably with perfectly placed throw pillows and a velvety bedspread. There were many tropical plants and smooth ivory ornaments scattered around the room, as well as what looked like ancient artifacts that had been dug out of the ancient desert sands. I flopped down onto the bed and found the ceiling was mirrored. I stretched out on the bed and stared up at my reflection in the mirrored ceiling tiles, inevitably imagining the atrocities the mirrors had had to reflect; parent sex…a creepy notion. I sat up, discovering another mirror, this one massive and post-modernly cut, situated on a vanity just beyond the foot of the bed; indeed, Laura’s parents were kinky old buggers it seemed.

“This one…” said Laura, sitting on the bedside beside me, placing a large photo album in her lap and opening it slowly to the first page.

I propped myself up on one elbow and she explained the context of the photos to the best of her recollection. Many were old but perfectly maintained behind the clear plastic sleeve. The second page consisted mostly of Laura’s childhood photos…a birthday party, a trip to the Los Angeles Zoo…little Laura standing on a sandy section of Malibu beach squinting against the sun as her dog, certainly now deceased looked up at her loyally. In the photo she was smiling, making a face funny face. The photo was a postcard—in which Laura had grown up. She’d never known adversity and probably never would…no matter how terribly Laura failed in life…no matter how miserably she might fall from grace…no matter how far she strayed; she was set for life…coming out of the gate. I wondered what that might be like and drew a complete blank. She flipped on, showing me more…a Hawaii trip, Laura holding a sand dollar…her mother fawning from above. We then came across various Halloween snapshots of Laura, in which she was dressed up in elaborate costumes…posing for photos in the back yard. Flipping on we came across a section of ballet performances—action shots of Laura contorted into various ballet poses.

“You did ballet…” I said.

“I did…and it destroyed my feet…look.” she said, raising both her pedicured feet and placing them together.

“They look ok to me.” I shrugged.

“They’re bent up. Probably I’ll have problems when I’m older.” she said.

“Maybe.” I said, “But they may not be the ones you’re expecting.”

“Look at me…” she said and I looked, “What do you see when you look at me?”

I moved my eyes over her lips, they were thick and coated in gloss…her nose was petite, slightly upturned and across her cheeks ran faint freckles, above which her eyes nearly vibrated with the stunning shade of deep coral blue…her eye shadow was also blue and bordered by perfectly sculpted brows.

“A portrait.” I shrugged.

My eyes moved down to her ear which dangled with large vintage earrings beneath which hid her neck that looked like warm caramel. I could feel her spell trying to breach my walls and I sat calmly, experiencing the sensation and wondering about it.

“Will you kiss me just once?”

“I shouldn’t.” I said.

“Shouldn’t or won’t?” she asked.

“Both I guess.” I shrugged.

“You want to…I can feel it in the way you look at me.” she whispered.

“Right because you’re such a psychic.” I replied.

“So are you…” she said.

“Sometimes.” I said.

“Kiss me with those lips.” she said, her coral blue eyes moving from my lips to my eyes and back as she moved in. Her lips pressed against mine suddenly in the close silence of her parent’s room…with our reflections all around us. Her lips were warm and soft and tasted of her gin.

“Hey…I just said…I shouldn’t.” I said, pulling away.

“Don’t be silly…this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” she said, her eyes locking in on mine with the intent of hypnosis.

“I really shouldn’t.” I said.

“Why? Because of Eleanor?” asked Laura.

“Mostly—but no solely.” I said.

“Listen, she can have your heart—I just want your body.” she smiled, revealing her perfectly white and perfectly placed rows of teeth.

“Just my body huh?” I told her.

“No strings attached.” said Laura playfully.

“That’s not fair.” I said.

“What’s the matter—don’t you like me?” she finally asked me.

“Look…thing is…I’m not going to be part of this vendetta you have for Eleanor.” I said.

“What vendetta for Eleanor?” demanded Laura.

“You may be a great actress…but you’re a terrible liar.” I assured.

“More riddles…”

“That thing with Locksmith…yeah…I heard about that. The way you stole him from Eleanor…I heard all about it.” I said.

“What? My one night stand with Locksmith? What do you care? I did you a favor.” she said, tilting her head, “I was his strike two with Eleanor—had he not cheated with me…she might still be with him—you should be thanking me. Do you really think she’d have left him for you? No offense but Gregory is a Disney prince. You’re a Clarence Worley boy.”

“Yet you want to take a roll with me…interesting.” I said.

“I never claimed to want a Disney prince. But if you look at Eleanor’s track record; he ex’s are all Disney princes…and like I say, a Disney prince—you are not.” shrugged Laura.

“I wouldn’t want to be a two dimensional Disney prince. And I’m not a fucking Clarence Worley boy either.” I laughed, “But I do have to wonder…”

“Wonder about what Clarence Worley boy? Tell me…” said Laura.

“Well for starters, I wonder why you hate Eleanor so much.”

“Eleanor isn’t even on my radar…she was casualty of romance…that’s all.” said Laura.

“A casualty of romance…” I said, fanning out the words before us so that we might examine them closer.

“Look, I get with who I want, when I want to…I take no prisoners.” Laura shrugged.

I sat there looking at her for a moment.

“What are you wondering now?” she asked.


“No, I want you to lie to me.” Laura grinned sarcastically.

“Honestly, I’m wondering what number I’d be for you.” I said, stroking my chin and wandering the ceiling with my eyes for a number.

A look of disdain washed over Laura’s face and she widened her eyes, “Hey fuck you Worley boy…I can date whoever I want to. I don’t have to justify myself to you or anyone else…who the hell are you to judge me?”

“Calm the fuck down.” I said, “You asked what I was thinking and I told you.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down…you’re not my priest and this isn’t confessional.” said Laura, “It’s not my fault guys chase me the way they do…it’s not my fault that every single guy makes a pass at me. Blame the guys. And anyway…are you really that serious about Eleanor Price? You’re really going to spend the rest of your life with Eleanor? I mean, in twenty years is any of what we do now really going matter?”

“How should I know? I could catch a bullet some night just walking home. I’m not thinking that far ahead.” I admitted.

“This is the time we’re supposed to be sowing our wild oats. And you—you’re not going to be young and sexy forever; you’re going to get old, baggy and saggy…and then you’ll be wishing you’d have taken advantage of opportunities like these.”

“You sound like Walt; another of your conquests.” I said.

“Get out…” she said.

“You mean that?” I asked, amazed at the sheer speed in Laura’s escalation from seductive to vindictive. 

“Just fucking leave, you ginormous dick…just go.” snapped Laura, sliding off the bed and standing sturdy, whipping her pointing finger toward the doorway, “Get!”

“Get? What am I—a stray dog?” I asked…when Laura didn’t answer I turned and left her there in her parent’s room surrounded by reflections of herself in the sex mirrors.

“Fine…Laura Caldwell; I don’t want to be in your house.” I said with a charming bow and left her standing there.

I made my way down the hallway, lighting up a blunt in the process. When I was halfway down the hall I heard Laura’s voice call out to me. I turned and found her hanging halfway out of her parent’s bedroom doorway, “Take your godam beer with you too!” she hollered, whipping the near full can at me like she was pitching a fastball. Though I covered up, the can flew toward my knee, where it exploded into spray of foam, falling to the ground a second later with an aluminum crash that resonated loudly in the long empty hallway. As I felt the cool of the beer seep through the fabric of my jeans a voice came from behind.

“Nice shot.” said Locksmith, appearing out of thin air like a vampire.

“Well, well, well…if it isn’t Coronation’s resident douchebag.” I said.

“What are you doing up here Holden?” asked Locksmith.

“Hey, I have a novel idea—why don’t you go kill yourself…do us all a favor.” I said.

“Looks like maybe you were trying to get with Laura…and looks like she sent you packing.” speculated Locksmith.

“Locksmith…I hate to be the one to break this to you—but you really are a load that your mother should have swallowed.”

“You leave my mother out of this.” he warned.

I looked at him for a moment standing there in his white blazer and matching flood pants, his pompadour and his ironic Madonna t-shirt which by the way was tucked into his pants. I wondered what sort of man tucked his t-shirt into his pants…perhaps it took a sick mind. As I tried to step by him in the hallway, Locksmith got in the way. Stepping in front of me he placed a hand against my chest, “Not so fast, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.” he issued, “Especially if it involves Laura.”

“Let’s not do this shit man.” I said, batting his hand away…he just looked back at me, his drunk gaze trying desperately to fix on me.

“You’re not going anywhere until I know what went on in that bedroom.” slurred Locksmith, intoxicated beyond his own rational comprehension and because of this fact I realized things weren’t going to go as she should. It’s been said that you should never argue with a drunk man or a crazy man.

“Watch me.” I said trying to step by him again…and again Locksmith pressed his hand against my chest, nearly leaning against me for balance.

Indeed dear reader, I could have reasoned with Locksmith…I could have stood there and explained the entire debacle to him. I could have cited the many reasons why we should conduct ourselves like viable and upright members of society and perhaps not drink so much if we can’t handle the buzz. Perhaps I could have lectured the old chap on the virtues of moderation. However, just then Locksmith lunged, wrapping his skinny arms around my torso and pushed forward, trying to take me to the floor.

“What the fuck are you doing Locksmith?” I asked him as he bucked like a malnourished bronco.

“I’m gonna kick your fucking ass! You’ve had this coming Holden.” he gritted as he struggled against my sprawling resistance.  

Somehow I’d luckily gotten the leverage right and shifted my weight to one side, hurling Locksmith around me. He flew, like a flailing ragdoll and tumbled over his drunken pigeon-toed feet, landing against a small seemingly purposeless table topped by a powder blue vase. Grabbing at the table for balance, Locksmith pulled it down onto himself as he fell to the floor so the vase shattered against the hardwood in a thousand and one small shards. As I strode down the hallway his shriek of drunken rage ricocheted after me and dissipated into the closeness of the long museum-like hallway. Strangely I didn’t hear a clattering of footsteps giving sudden chase…I’d expected the footsteps but none came…there was only the 10,000 Maniacs chiming from the living room as I descended the winding hardwood staircase.

Certainly it was time to leave and leave I did—on the double, stopping in the backyard to grab my guitar and stack which I loaded into my van before pulling away…leaving Walt, the Goblin and their girlfriends to dismantle the rest of the stage.

I headed down the PCH on the long drive back to Truman Park. The moon was full and hovered above the eastern horizon like a brilliant hole punched in the ceiling of night. It reflected across the mighty pacific in a sparkling sheen, and ducked periodically behind peninsulas of shoreline trees.

I lit up a blunt and puffed it slowly. Replaying the scene over and over again in my mind I finally decided that I’d reacted poorly and would have been much better off playing it cool with Locksmith—as I had been doing up until then. I’d surrendered to my inner chimp it seemed and allowed a primal impulse to take shape…in effect undoing the months of previous restraint—I’d been wanting to haul him over a table for months. Certainly though—the luminousness of my inner being shone some light on the reality…I’d traded morality for instantaneous gratification. Indeed I admitted to myself the gratification of sending Locksmith careening into decorative hallways table was soothing on some level. Though I couldn’t muster an apologetic soliloquy; I recognized my reaction was in bad taste. However, I didn’t quite see it as being the wrong reaction. There was only one thing I felt inherently wrong about and that was my denied attraction to Laura—one that seemed to exist even in the all-eclipsing infatuation I felt for Eleanor. Laura cast a spell and she cast it well…so in fact my falling into her snare wasn’t a rarity or a mystery. Perhaps the mystery was that I hadn’t fallen into Laura completely and taken advantage of the multi-mirrored surfaces. I decided to see my reaction as heroic, though I was certain Eleanor wouldn’t see it that way—especially if Locksmith injected the art of embellishment into the equation.

Certainly Eleanor would hear about it all…if not from me…from Locksmith or Laura herself…or worse, through the Emerald Heights grapevine which tended to distort the actual facts. All was fair in love and war to these Westside kids—they played a dangerous game and they played it well because none of them, I was convinced, cared about much beyond their own desires—they lived a well rehearsed façade but were secretly sociopathic; theatrically adoring, but blissfully removed. To them, it was all about perpetual pleasures—a concept almost foreign to a Truman kid like me.

When I got back home, I climbed up onto the roof of the house. The night was clear and the lights of the downtown skyline were crisp. The palm trees swayed slightly in the Santa Ana winds that were picking up and a police chopper circled the skies a few blocks south, its spotlight casting a beam down onto the street grids, searching for assailants.

I had the cordless phone with me out on the roof—in case I stayed up and watched the dawn break across the eastern horizon and wanted to catch Eleanor when she woke up, being the early riser she was. As looked up the moon, trying in vain to contemplate it’s presence; the phone started ringing.

It was too early to be Eleanor and it was too late to be anyone else I knew.

“Yeah…” I said.

“You’re fucking finished Holden.” Locksmith slurred into the phone.

“Yeah? Finished what?” I asked.

“I’m going to destroy you. You should have just stayed in Truman Park—where hood rats like you belong.” Locksmith gritted before clicking off.

I sat there on the roof, looking over Truman Park…admiring the full moon sinking behind the Hills and the glowing haze of Hollywood washing out the stars, some of which were dead but still sending their light to us…they weren’t unlike the stars lining the sidewalk tiles on Hollywood Blvd. A gunshot cracked in the distance…or maybe it was a backfire…I decided it was a back fire as I trailed off to sleep—for another night of rooftop dreams.

Tales from Truman Park episode 7

The next day was a Sunday and it started as perhaps the most gloomy Los Angeles day I’d witnessed in years. Indeed, without its sparkling luster, Hollywood nearly became reminiscent of just another American city, full of freeways and cars and buildings filled with stuff. Only it wasn’t just another American city. Indeed, Los Angeles was an anomaly…a mystical energy spot that drew magnetism from the earth’s nickel core in cosmic rays. Everything is from the earth after all. Airplanes, street lamps, cardboard boxes, computers, telephones, lawnmowers, billboards, TVs, Lamborghinis, refrigerators, golf clubs, stiletto heels, frozen dinners, calculator watches—a wall of innovative junk comprised of earthly elements; man had figured out how to build a rocket to the moon from earthly elements but hadn’t figured out how to eradicate the criminal mind. Three dead in Truman Park shooting read the Sunday morning headline. The names of the victims weren’t yet released—I wondered if I knew any of them.

I’d woken up late and found there were a dozen messages flooding the answering machine. I listened to them as I ate a bowl of Graham Nuggets with the half and half my mom diluted her coffee with—Golden Nuggets were great that way. Many of the messages were in congratulation for the previous night’s performance. There was a message from Walt, who called a band meeting for later that day, another from Wes who wanted me to meet him for lunch at a nearby restaurant, there was a message from Clare Foster—a Coronation High girl who had borrowed an old skate board of mine and wished to meet me to return it…and the last message was from Eleanor, who was livid, having heard, all the way in Cuba, about my little mishap with Laura and Locksmith. As I wondered from whom she’d heard the certainly embellished or perhaps entirely fabricated tale—her tone changed from what sounded like sarcasm to pure, uncut resentment, which at first I’d passed off as antics…some snazz to pizazz. However, I realized quickly that Eleanor wasn’t poking fun in jest…she was indeed wielding a hatchet—and though with a certain innocence in her tone, all the same—she meant business.

When I dialed her hotel room in Cuba, there was no answer—any of the four times I’d redialed. I gave up finally; deciding Eleanor was either purposely not answering or simply not in the room. I examined the latter possibility…deciding it was the more likely of the two. I listened to Eleanor’s message again:

“It’s me…I just want to ask you if anything you said to me was true? Was any of it real? How could you? How fucking could you Jack? Especially with Laura fucking, slut-face Caldwell. And beating up Gregory? I’m not sure I even know the person you are. Yeah, I heard then entire gross story. What I don’t understand is how you thought none of it would get back to me. Or perhaps you wanted it to get back to me. Perhaps this has all been an elaborate charade to you? You bastard…” she croaked, trailing off into sobs before clicking off.

A wave of dread washed over me as I redialed her room again, to no avail. Certainly I’d expected it all to reach Eleanor at some point, but I imagined that it would reach her when she got back to LA and by that time would have already been dispelled by Laura herself…who I realized was one of only two parties who could have floated the lie in the first place. There was also the possibility that Laura Caldwell and Gregory Locksmith had synchronized their stories, in hopes of matching their concoctions for maximum collateral damage. After all—it seemed all was fair to Laura and Locksmith.

I met Wes who was without April. He was sitting in a corner booth made of worn and torn red leather. His pallor was alarming and his hands slightly shook as he dumped a number of sugar packets into his steaming cup of coffee. He looked up at me with an expression of concern.

“April is cheating on me.” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked before taking a sip of my ice water.

“Dude…I’m sure.” he said, seemingly ready to explode into a vindictive tirade.

“With who?” I asked.

“You ready to wretch? You ready to fucking wretch? She’s been cheating with Emerson Tillman.” said Wes, nearly coming apart at the seams.

“Who the fuck is Emerson Tillman?” I asked.

“You don’t know who Emerson Tillman is?”

“No.” I shrugged.

“Emerson Tillman is probably the biggest low life at Coronation. He’s part of Locksmith’s entourage…you’ve seen him…he’s always wearing pink shirts or pink pants…when he’s not wearing brightly colored cardigans he wears sweaters draped around his shoulders—as if he’s on a yacht cruise. The guy wears his pants rolled up so his ankles are showing…I mean what sort of man likes to show off his ankles?” demanded Wes, banging his fist down on the table.

“I don’t know him—sounds like a douche though.” I said.

“Oh…Jacko…he’s a real piece of baby-boy-shit. He stands around with this cutesy little grin on his face all the time—all the ladies think he’s such a sweet guy…that’s what they all say, ‘Emerson is the sweetest…’, but they don’t know what a fucking douchebag Tillman is.”

“What kind of douchebag is he?” I asked.

“The take advantage of a chick when she’s drunk kind of douchebag.” said Wes.

“That’s actually called a scumbag—it’s a few shades worse than a douchebag.” I said, “How did you find out about this?”

“Lacey Silver told me.”

“Lacey Silver?” I said, slightly surprised.

 You see dear reader…the dramantics at Coronation were hard to keep track of and so I didn’t quite bother. I was however well aware that Lacey Silver had at one point been April’s best friend. In fact, it had been Lacey Silver who’d suggested I enroll at Coronation High in the first place—the night some of Truman Park’s finest threw a brick through Wes’ father’s rear windshield. April and Lacey had been inseparable but when I’d started dating Eleanor, Lacey had magically vanished…and probably because Lacey had been Locksmith’s third and final strike with Eleanor, who’d started dating me directly after…there was that and the fact that I’d told Eleanor about Locksmith’s affair with Lacey Silver. I’d not thought about the repercussion—I’d just sold Locksmith up the river…and I’d done it in hopes that Eleanor would give me a chance…which she wound up doing. I’d made my bed and gladly slept in it.

I assumed Lacey telling Wes about April’s indiscretions was solely revenge on April for telling me about Locksmith’s indiscretions with her. I didn’t bother mentioning this to Wes as he elaborated…explaining in great, meticulous detail every nuance he found disgusting and loathsome about Emerson Tillman.

“And you believe Lacey Silver?” I asked.

“Why wouldn’t I? She has no reason to lie to me.” said Wes.

“Well, I guess Lacey already hates me…so there’s nothing I can really lose by telling you what I’m about to tell you.” I said with an ominous grin.

“Tell me about what?” Wes asked after taking a deep sugary sip from his hot coffee.

“The night you and Foley got busted on Hollywood Blvd.” I said.

“What about it.”

“I walked April back to Emerald Heights…she didn’t tell you about it?” I asked.

“No…she said she caught a bus home and that was that. What are you telling me—that April and you…” Wes asked, his expression pinching into perplexity.

“Look man, I’m not a scumbag…I don’t hook up with my friends’ girlfriends.” I said.

“I know you wouldn’t…but April has her own agenda…evidently.”

I explained to Wes about April and I being chased through Beverly Hills backyards by the Michaels brothers and of course had to backtrack to explain the sort of inbreds the Michaels brothers were, but I eventually came to the point, “So we were holed up in this old moldy camper parked in someone’s driveway…April suddenly confesses to me as if I’m her priest. She tells me that you’re cheating on her…that you’ve been carrying on a clandestine affair with some trollop from Cartwright…no names were mentioned. Point is…she declared that she was made privy to the situation by Lacey Silver…who had allegedly spotted you and said Cartwright trollop walking hand in hand at Beverly Center, sharing an ice cream. Aw, aren’t you just a world class sweetheart.” I chuckled, watching Wes’ expression turn to protest, but his words didn’t come so fast…rather he looked out the window and gazed across the cracked asphalt toward a strip of boarded up shop fronts across the street.

“That never happened man.” he finally said, then a moment later turned back to me. “And you believed it?”

“I didn’t believe it and I didn’t not believe it. I simply absorbed it and carried on.”

“Why didn’t you fucking mention this to me directly after it happened?” demanded Wes.

“It’s really none of my business what you do and who you do it with—you’re a big boy.” I shrugged.

“Of course it’s your business…I’m your friend.” he said.

“Exactly my point.” I said.

“Well, it didn’t happen.”

“If you say it never happened then I believe you.” I shrugged.

“Ok good…and for the record, I don’t believe that you got with Laura Caldwell last night—even though that’s the word.” said Wes, glancing seriously at me before turning to gaze across the street again.

“Fuck…so that shit is front page news today?” I sighed, “These people really have nothing better to talk about?”

“It’s not front page yet…but it will be tomorrow…when everyone is back in class. I heard it through Lindsay Branson who heard it from Laura herself.” said Wes.

“It’s an extraordinary fabrication.” I assured.

“I know you’d never cheat on Eleanor…but that’s the word—already.” said Wes, “What really happened?”

“Really nothing…she was tipsy, made a move, I cited Eleanor…this bizarre conversation ensued and then she lost her shit…told me to get out of her house. Anyway, as I was leaving I ran into Locksmith in the hallway…we had an altercation—if you can call it that.” I sighed.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.” I said.

“Man oh man…that’s really not the word.”

“What’s the word?” I inquired.

“Word is that you and Laura spent a couple steamy hours in her parent’s room, making good use of all the mirrors on the ceiling.” grinned Wes.

“Well…maybe it would have happened like that if I wasn’t with Eleanor.” I shrugged.

“Have you told Eleanor?”

“She already heard about it from someone else.” I said.

“She’s in fucking Cuba!” exclaimed Wes.

“I know, but somehow she heard about it.” I said.

“So what did she say?”

“She called me a bastard on my answering machine.” I said.

“No…you mean she doesn’t believe you?”

“She hasn’t heard my side yet…I gotta talk to her soon.” I said, realizing it was imperative.

By the time I left the diner, it was gorgeously sunny…I had the 10,000 Maniacs on the cassette player and I decided to drive out to the Goblin’s a bit early. I decided not to take the freeway and instead drove Sunset the entire way, smoking one up and feeling fantastically adaptable as the shops and people and cars passed by under the mighty palm trees.

Still however, there was the issue with Eleanor I felt I could clear up easily once I had Eleanor on the phone and she could clearly hear the sincerity in my voice. I rode the edge easily as I parked in the alleyway behind the Goblin’s live-in garage. Rounding the corner I came face to face with a mountain lion…she was rummaging through some trash that had been dispensed beside the postmodern dumpster. She faced me slowly, looked me up and down…I froze and the lioness turned back to the paper Ralph’s bag and continued tearing away at it.

I backed up and walked around the back of my van and once around the corner of the garage I bolted toward the fence with an explosion of adrenaline. I slammed and relatched the gate once on the other side and peered through the spaces in the plywood gate, expecting the mountain lion to emerge with hunter prowess in it’s nimble paws. However, the walkway remained barren.

“Hey man…you hiding from Laura Caldwell?” laughed the Goblin. He was situated on a lawn chair on the deck beside the pool, sipping a long thin glass of red juice. A cigar smoked in an ashtray on an umbrella shaded table beside him as he smiled wide and raised his glass, “Congratulations man…she’s a lookah.”

I straightened up, taking note of Jen-Jen in a bikini approaching from the patio with a drink of her own, “She’s a hose bag.” Jen said, offering a momentary and very malicious grin my way.

“Listen…I want to make one thing clear right now—I didn’t do shit with Laura Caldwell. Where the hell is Walt?”

“He’ll be here. Have a drink…chill back.” said the Goblin, leaning back in his chair and taking a puff of his cigar as if he were T. Boon Pickens.

“Your parents around?” I asked.

“They’re in Vegas for the weekend.” said the Goblin.

I wasn’t a big drinker…but decided an ice cold beer might be a novel idea and so after retrieving one from the double door refrigerator I stripped down to my plaid boxers and strolled back out into the back yard. I stood there under the sun for a while, sipping the cold beer, thinking of the rumor…and contemplating it.

It occurred to me that I’d never had such a damaging lie spread about me and it occurred to me that was because I’d been in Truman Park and in Truman Park people didn’t prioritize the spread lies…if there was an issue, they’d call you out on it—and usually in a densely populated setting where there were plenty of people to witness the confrontation—so nobody else fucked with them…either that or they pulled a knife or they baseball batted your car—nobody cared who you did or didn’t get together with at a spring break party. Still, the predicament illustrated one thing; people in all walks of life could be douchebags.

When I was through with the beer, which had, in the course of a few short minutes, soaked through my empty stomach into my bloodstream, giving me a nicely weighted buzz; I jogged toward the pool and cannonballed into it, creating a large lofty splash. I opened my eyes under the water and felt the burn of the chlorine. In the corner of the pool was a faint outline…a white anomaly perfectly camouflaged against the white basin of the pool. I swam down to it and realized when I was upon it that the anomaly bared a number pad…indeed, it was a cordless phone and I took it in hand before returning to the sparkling surface of the water, through which I could make out the clouds and the palm trees contorting through the disturbed water.

When I emerged I handed the dripping phone to the Goblin, “It’s for you…it’s Jon Stamos and he wants his hairdo back.”

Jen-Jen sneezed out a little laugh, covering her mouth, realizing the truism of my jest. The Goblin took the phone in hand with a perplexed expression on his face and placed the dripping phone to his ear, hearing nothing he looked up at me, “My mom has been looking for this phone for weeks.” he said before tossing the phone back into the pool; it was classic Goblin.

I’d been floating on my back in the pool, staring up at the clouds, searching for shapes and signs of a divine intervention. I’d been deeply contemplating the notion that the world had certainly been a boring place before us humans had arrived with our drama and tragedy and infomercials—for millions of years it had only been spores, bubbling up through the muck. No art, no music, no literature…no industry, no rockets to the moon—just bubbling spores. I’d been curled up in these thoughts when Walt arrived, with Kristen in tow. On this occasion, Walt was clad in a tuxedo and had his hair immaculately slicked back. He looked focused and formal.

“Why are you dressed like a butler?” I asked.

“I was at a funeral.” Walt said with a grumble in his voice.

“You dressed like a butler to go to a funeral?” I asked.

“It was a formal affair.” he nodded.

“Whose funeral?” I asked.

“One of our neighbors—guy was like 96 years old…anyway, Jacko…we need to chat.” he said. He was carrying his bass case and immediately after setting it down, he started in on me. He lifted the remainder of the Goblin’s red drink from the tabletop and tossed it into the pool so the ice cubes cooled against my chest.

“I thought you never wasted a drink.” I said.

“What did I tell you last night?” he demanded.

“You said a lot of shit—I only listen to really a quarter of what you say though.”

“Hey,” said the Goblin, “you just threw a fucking red drink into the pool man…it’s going to discolor the water.” he protested, to which Walt placated him by assuring it the stain of juice would dilute easily, just like his piss.

After realizing that not only the Goblin but everyone else who used his pool may have pissed in the water; I backstroked to the side of the pool and climbed the steps onto the warm concrete surround. Dripping wet I took a seat in a sun chair on the opposite side of the pool from Walt. I lit one up and looked back at him as he glared at me…

“Well? Are you going to say something?” I asked.

“Laura Caldwell? There were a hundred chicks there last night and you had to choose Laura Caldwell?” demanded Walt.

“Are you on acid? I didn’t do shit with Caldwell.” I said.

“I asked you to steer clear of her dude…I asked you to do that much.” he said, causing Kristen, who’d been listening quietly, to turn and storm back into the house, her rapidly retreating strides causing her round ass to jiggle alluringly. The Goblin and I admired it for a moment as Walt burned a glare into me. Jen-Jen, after sneering at Walt, offered a single word ‘Asshole’ and rose from her chair and followed after Kristen, leaving Walt, the Goblin and I alone around the pool that sparkled with the early afternoon sun.

“I asked you to fucking stay away from her man…that’s all I asked…that’s the only thing I’ve ever asked you to do.” said Walt, this time a certain degree of disappointment in his tone.

“I did.” I assured.

“Well, taking her upstairs for a couple hours doesn’t sound like you kept your distance.” said Walt.

“Nothing happened with Laura Caldwell.” I said, “And if you love her so much why the hell are you with Kristen?”

“You’re implying that it’s all a fabrication?”

“I’m not implying it…I’m telling you—it’s a fucking lie. Nothing happened. We got in an argument in fact…she threw a can of beer at me as well…but I guess that’s not the version she’s been telling everyone. And why the fuck do you care? You’re with Kristen…and Kristen is really beautiful, she doesn’t tell you what to do and she’s got a great ass—moreover, she puts up with your shit—which most chicks wouldn’t probably do. What’s more, she made a Trent Humbucker effigy for you to burn—that’s really what true love is all about. I’m not telling you how to run your shit—I’m just saying; I don’t know why you care what Laura does with anyone.”

“You’re right man…you’re one hundred percent right.” said Walt, sitting down in Jen-Jen’s chair and opening his bass case from which he produced a bottle of scotch. He opened it, tipped it back and swilled deeply on it.

“And because of this gigantic lie Laura’s camp is publicizing, Eleanor is pissed as fuck. Okay? So I don’t need any bullshit from you on top of that.” I said.

“No you’re right man…I was wrong to attack like that. Laura has me by the balls though man…I fell for her spell—like so many other guys…how smart am I really?” said Walt with a sad chuckle.

“Nothing happened.” I said, accepting the peace treaty.

“I believe you man.” said Walt, “I’m a real asshole aren’t I?”

“Not breaking news.” I laughed.

“No man…it was wrong…coming in here like this and accusing you of shit before I even hear your side of it is wrong. I’m wrong…and maybe my life is a joke…maybe I’m a joke. Maybe I should just drown myself in this pool.” said Walt, standing up in his pressed tuxedo before taking a large haul from the bottle after which he stood at the edge of the pool for a moment, looking down into the sparkling water for a moment, as if entranced. A moment later he capped the bottle, spread his arms apart as if he might fly and fell forward, tuxedo and all, face first into the water, causing a splash that enveloped him entirely so he sunk to the bottom and stayed there.

The Goblin and I exchanged an amused glance and waited for Walt to resurface. However, he remained at the bottom of the shallow end of the pool, emitting bubbles, like a prehistoric spore. After what seemed a few minutes, Walt suddenly emerged with another splash. He flopped onto the deck, soaked and dripping, his bottle still in hand. Rolling onto his back he opened his eyes and stared up into the sky as his chest heaved in deprivation, “I just had a conversation with God.”

“I thought you were talking to Jon Stamos on the cordless.” chuckled the Goblin, flashing me a grin.

“Gentlemen…I have some news for you.” said Walt, uncapping the bottle again and swilling from it, “Yep, I wanted to let you guys know that Wilson James loved the show…and—and…he’s going to mention us on his show and play a song from the demo—and that’s huge.”

“Wow.” I said, raising my brows, “That is kind of huge.”

“I told you we were going to turn this scene upside down…that we were going to tear it out from the inside. You don’t turn a scene upside down by being nice, corn-fed, clean-cut baby boys like the Vermilion Trees or The Trent Humbucker Trio…you gotta light shit up if you want to make a statement…and we’re the perfect band to do it…and you know why?” he asked, sitting up now on the soaked deck, “Because we don’t give a flying fuck.”

Indeed dear reader, for Walt and the Goblin this was a convenient turn of events…one pivotal in leading us toward our goal of shaking up the Emerald Heights indie band scene. For me however, a kid from The Park, who—if I’d been playing by the rules—should have been spending another dreary spring avoiding calamity in Truman Park; indeed, news of the Wilson James’ show brought about a sense of purpose…of having thrown a wrench into the gears in order to recalibrate my destiny. What Walt and the Goblin didn’t realize was that many kids from Truman Park didn’t make it beyond the borders of Truman Park—if they lived beyond the age of twenty at all. Some wound up like Beatty; bleeding out in a gutter. I’d fled Truman Park with nothing to lose. Though our show at Laura Caldwell’s party would go down in Emerald Heights history as monumental…I realized it was fleeting and we’d never get to do it again—though we might want to later in life when regrets surfaced like buoys in the tranquil waters of middle-aged complacency. For me…the time was now—and I had nowhere else to be.

“That’s great man.” I said, looking up at the Goblin and Walt who were sipping their booze calmly.

“This is just the beginning my friend.” said Walt.

“I concur. Hey, can I use your phone?” I asked the Goblin.

“Who you calling?” he asked.

“Eleanor…she’s in Cuba—that okay?” I said.

“It’s on the counter in the kitchen.” he said, “Don’t stay on for two hours though—my mom will have my balls.”

Once inside I found a bathroom and pissed into the sink as I looked at my face in the mirror…I was full of youth and fire and endless possibilities…I got comfortable in the empty tub and dialed Eleanor’s room in Cuba. This time she answered.

“It’s me.” I said…silence, “Eleanor?”

“I’m here.” she finally responded.

“Listen I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but whatever they told you its bullshit.” I said.

“Don’t lie to me Jack.” said Eleanor, and there was something in her tone I hadn’t heard before.

“I don’t lie to you.” I assured.

“I hoped you wouldn’t.” she said.

“I didn’t. Nothing happened with Caldwell…I’m not sure why you find that hard to believe.”

“I knew I wouldn’t ever be enough for you.” said Eleanor, quieter now, as if she might sob, “Maybe I’m just some silly girl from the ugly new houses to you.”

“That’s preposterous. You’re the only one I’ve ever really wanted Eleanor…I don’t care where you’re from.” I said.

“Then why were you with Laura last night in her parent’s bedroom?”

“I went up there because she wanted to show me a photo album.” I said.

“And you didn’t know what that meant?”

“I thought it meant she wanted to show me a photo album.” I said.

“If you wanted to hurt me—you succeeded…high marks…anyway, I have to go…” said Eleanor.

“Go where?” I asked.

“Down to the restaurant to meet my pathetic stepfather and his creepy daughter.” Eleanor Sighed, “I’m going to need some time to sort this all out.”

“Sort what out? There’s nothing to sort out. Nothing happened with Caldwell godamit.”

“Right…guys don’t exactly turn down Laura Caldwell.”

“She wasn’t exactly shattered,” I said.

“Look, I need some time to sort out what I’m thinking.” said Eleanor, “Okay?”

“I guess if you want to agonize over nothing…over a ridiculous lie…it’s your call.” I shrugged.

When she clicked off, I sat there in the empty tub, staring at the shower nozzle. I contemplated the situation with Laura Caldwell and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around her extraordinary allegation or the motives behind it. Though certainly, I did realize upon meeting her that a certain degree of psychosis was present within her agile personality—I hadn’t suspected it’s particular shape—which at that point, appeared to be a vain form cast in a shadow against the wall of my suspicion; something didn’t add up. Though Laura may have been slightly mad, it occurred to me that most girls were in some way or another…and Laura’s madness seemed more run-of-the-mill…a shade of drama queen-dress-up-party girl rather than rumor-spreading-social-assassin—but one never knew about people…especially the more popular they wanted to be.

However the point of her popularity in fact didn’t credibly support the action of floating such a deniable lie. To me it made sense in a clear cut way…like the iridescent razor edge of a freshly broken pop bottle; for Laura to risk a messy situation and the repercussions of which over a trespass that hadn’t occurred, seemed pointless. Certainly, the discovery that such an allegation was false wouldn’t cast her in a flattering spotlight—one she perpetually sought. Perhaps there were more devious motives at work.

Perhaps it was an invitation for retaliation directly solely at Eleanor…a hidden snare…a hole in the ground camouflaged by branches and leaves—down which Eleanor was meant to fall; after all Caldwell hated Eleanor for her own clandestine reasons. But again, my gut suggested something else…that Laura wasn’t the sole proprietor of such a damaging lie—there had to be more to it; Laura was too obsessed with her well-refined reputation to directly tarnish it with despicability. 

When I returned to the back yard I found Walt and the Goblin sitting with their respective girlfriends…it seemed everyone had made up and they were now having a wonderfully introspective time, sitting around the pool, sipping drinks and staring into the hypnotizing waters of the pool that sparkled under the Socal sun while a Swervedriver cassette played on a nearby ghetto blaster. I collected my clothing and fit back into my jeans and t-shirt. My boxers by then were nearly dry and after slipping back into my checkerboard Vans, I bid my friends farewell and left them to their trance like state.

Needless to say, questions of the Laura Caldwell lie occupied my thoughts the next morning as I puffed on a blunt and rounded my way through sunny day gridlock to Coronation High—the first day back in class after Caldwell’s spring break party. Certainly around the halls of Coronation there was sure to be talk of the party and maybe even mention of my minor altercation with Locksmith and my alleged indiscretion with Caldwell herself. Perhaps there would even be another character smearing article published in Locksmith’s personal gossip column through which he waged an array of vendettas—Coronation kids were ravenous for even the most incidental gossip, true or not—boring or more boring.

I was sifting through these thoughts as I made my way through the crowded main hallway of the school. There were the usual arm taps and finger guns, shooting me a cordial ‘what’s up dude?’…there were congratulations on the show…citing the fire as the high point of the evening…there were congrats for finally losing my cool with Locksmith…there were the usual whinnying schools of kids chartering an oblivious course to nowhere…there was the chatter and the sounds of lockers locking and laughter…and then there was the sound of first bell, which within seconds, cleared the hallway like a pistol crack.

I found my first class, which was Mrs. Wallace’s typing class, which I’d only taken for a credit, mainly because by that point I’d been dabbling with the short story and well on my way to a novella…I felt becoming a better typist would aid me in my quest to write the next great American novel. I arrived in Wallace’s class prepared for some deep dedication to the keys and their accompanying exercises. I took a typewriter near the back of the room and slung my backpack over the back of my chair.

“Mr. Holden…” called Mrs. Wallace from her desk, at which she sat sifting through notes.

“Yeah?” I said.

“You’re wanted in the office.”

“I just got here…I haven’t even had time to do anything wrong yet.” I said, prompting some chuckles from my classmates, “Why does she want to see me?”

“You’ll have to ask Principal Gavin.” she said, looking back down to her notes.

Amidst a murmur from my Coronation classmates, I unslung my bag from the back of the chair and hung it over one shoulder and made my way back out into the hallway which was barren and silent enough to hear a pin drop. The floor was impeccably clean and polished and the morning sun burst through the French windows in brilliant rays, illuminating posters and murals on the opposite wall; I had a bad feeling about the call to the office so early.

When I made it to the office I was directed by the secretary to see Gavin in her own personal office. Gavin was dressed as usual in earth tone office wear and this time was conversing with her vice Principal, Mr. Ellis…a man few of us ever saw but had heard existed. Gavin, looking stoic, gestured with her hand for me to sit in the hot seat. As I did, I noticed a fresh box of Kleenex sitting on the corner of her desk beside which her rustic wood name plate sat, it read Principal Natalie Gavin.

The name plate was new and I’d not known Gavin’s first name until just then. It cast her in a less formal shade and for the first time I realized that Natalie Gavin was only human after all…she was a wife, a mother, a principal and a city resident who paid her taxes, did her laundry and perhaps dressed up in sexy lingerie for her husband, who smiled back at me from a photo hanging on the wall behind her. The photo also featured Gavin in a sundress, her masculine looking daughter smiling under her square graduation cap with the family Yorkie held snugly in her arms; another true Hollywood story—but one that wouldn’t be told.

When Gavin was through discussing the seemingly deeply personal details of an unnamed student’s mid-term scores; Gavin turned to me and offered a professional smile of greeting. I’d expected the vice to leave; however, he remained standing there, leaning against the water heater with his skinny hairy arms crossed against his chest, peering back at me through his cloudy spectacles.

“Jack, you’ve met Vice Principal Ellis I presume.” said Gavin, gesturing to the man who didn’t offer his hand.

“I haven’t, but I can’t see it making much of a difference at this point.” I said, my own words uttered on instinct, cluing me into the fact that this wasn’t a social call.

“How was your weekend?” she asked me, ignoring my comment about Ellis, who hovered like a vulture beside her desk.

“Unusual.” I said.


“How was yours?” I asked.

“As usual I took the job home with me.” said Gavin, flashing a small grin toward Ellis who didn’t return it on account of his trance like stare that sought to burn a hole into my forehead.

“You don’t say…” I said, staring back at Ellis, wondering where a man like him was hatched.

“Well, Jack…I won’t take up too much of your time or ours…I really regret having to do this…” she said.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Jack…I have to expel you this morning.” she sighed.

“Have to?”

“I have to.”

“On what grounds?” I asked.

“Well, we can choose from a long list I suppose.”

“What list? I’m a straight A student.”

“Where that might seem like a great argument—on our side we could officially cite your smoking weed on school property…or we could perhaps cite your absences…your comments in school publications. There are several other alleged infractions as well. But drinking alcohol is really what tipped the scale for me.”

“Drinking alcohol?” I asked, absolutely taken off guard—I rarely drank alcohol.

“It’s been said that you’ve been drinking in the bathroom during breaks.” offered Gavin.

“That’s an extraordinary allegation.” I laughed, “Ridiculous really.”

“It’s been said.”

“By who?”

“Sources we’ve deemed reliable.”

“Do I look like the kind of guy who’d drink alcohol in the bathroom during breaks?” I asked with an innocent grin—after all, alcohol wasn’t my bag…I much preferred bags of a dime nature.

“Jack, this isn’t a witch hunt…and we’re not stereotyping you…or labeling you in any way…but when a number of students approach me with the same allegation; it does ring suspicious.”

“You’d believe anything Locksmith tells you.” I said, knowing who floated the heinous fabrication.

“I’m not at liberty to say which students informed us about it.” said Gavin in a long hopeless sigh.

“This is all about what happened with Locksmith over the weekend isn’t it?” I said.

“Off the record—I heard that you assaulted Gregory over the weekend and left him with bruised ribs. That’s not the sort of thing we’re about here at Coronation.” said Gavin, returning to her serious tone.

“But I didn’t assault him…he’d drank far more than he could handle and he attacked me…I merely vaulted his drunk ass into a table so I could leave the party—which by then had become a real drag. Besides, that didn’t happen on school property Mrs. Gavin—your office has no jurisdiction beyond school property—does it?” I said.

“No, it didn’t happen on school property, but it certainly doesn’t lend you any credibility. Now let’s just say we exclude the assault and the ‘alleged’ drinking in the bathroom…there’s still the issue of smoking dope on school property and we do have photographic proof of that Jack. The Coronation Gazette has forwarded several photos of you and Wes Milton smoking dope on school property—do you think this is a movie about the 1960’s and everyone should walk around smoking dope? I lived through the 60’s and there was a lot more to it—it wasn’t all about ‘dope’. In any case, the dope smoking is worthy of expulsion. And also, spending so much time with a delinquent like Wes Milton hasn’t earned you many allies here.”

“What were the 60’s like?” I asked, drawing an expression of surprise from Gavin who leaned forward and interlocked her fingers on her desk.

“Well, frankly it was a lot more…conservative—a bit like the Wonder Years.”

“The one with Winnie Cooper and that kid with the fat head?” I inquired.

“I don’t know that his head was particularly fat, but yes…that’s the show Jack.” grinned Gavin, shooting a glance at Ellis who stood stoically, waiting for more, “Anyway, the boys I went to school with didn’t drink booze in the bathroom and assault other students and smoke dope during school hours.”

“With the exception of the dope smoking—I didn’t either.” I said.

“Word is that you did all of those things.”

“They’re baseless rumors—really I’m a victim of circumstance here.” I said, “Collateral damage.”

“I don’t see you as the victim here…and neither does the rest of the faculty…and certainly neither does Gregory Locksmith who was too afraid to come to school today—because of you.”

“Aw…poor little Gregory. What a crock…this is such a crock!” I laughed, “He’s playing all of you and you’re falling for it.”

“Nobody is playing anybody here.” piped in Ellis, his voice gravely and his aerodynamic head slightly tilted.

“Dude, I just said…I didn’t assault Locksmith…as I say, he attacked me, I vaulted him…and the thing about the drinking is sad and quite preposterous—it’s obviously a smear campaign by Locksmith and his band of Rick Asley fans.” I assured, “And you guys fell for it.”

“Principal Gavin isn’t embellishing any of this. Gregory Locksmith didn’t come today because he was afraid you’d assault him again. We take that very seriously here.” said Ellis.

I laughed, “He certainly wasn’t afraid on Saturday night when he attacked me in a second floor hallway. I tossed him aside…that’s it. It was nothing—I bit of horse play.”

“Maybe that’s the type of ‘horse play’ students in Truman Park subscribe to…but here at Coronation, there’s no room for that sort of vile behavior.” said Vice Principal Ellis.

“Vile? Look, don’t talk to me about Truman Park…I’m sure you live up in Altadena in some bungalow with 2.5 kids and a dog and a white picket fence and an astronaut-wife who loyally accompanies you to PTA socials. You know nothing about Truman Park—you’d get eaten alive in Truman Park, Ellis. So stick to what you know…save the jive for a sucker who’ll buy it. We both know that Locksmith is full of it and we both know that you’re going to choose to believe him.” I told him to which he only shrugged slightly and looked back to Gavin, who sat patiently, studying me intensely with the eraser end of her pencil pressed into the divot of her chin.

“I like you Jack. But you really have the wrong idea about a few things. Regardless, the point remains; when a student makes a mistake—we offer a warning…when the student makes repeated mistakes—we offer a suspension…which you’ve already had. When a student becomes a potential liability, we offer an expulsion. I don’t see a reason to suspend you again. I think we’ve given this a try and it’s evident that it’s not going to work out.” Gavin shrugged.

“So in other words, Locksmith can throw his weight around…and when someone throws back…his old man gets on the phone and demands that I be suspended.” I stated, “That’s so unfair.”

“You’ve put me in a very difficult situation.” said Gavin, “But in spite of that, I really do wish you luck in all that you do. I truly mean that—it appears you’re going to need it.”

I sat there for a moment, staring back at her, hoping this time there would be some other option offered. However, Gavin only buckled her lip apologetically; it was done and wouldn’t be undone.

“Well, I’m sorry you believe that Locksmith is such an angel…but I can assure you; he’s a total dick wad. Maybe one day you’ll see who and what the Locksmiths really are.” I assured Gavin, “But then again…maybe not.”

“And if I do, I’ll be the first to apologize to you Jack. But at this point my hands are tied—I warned you to stay away from Gregory…I tried to warn you…but you didn’t listen.” she shrugged, “And it seems we’re out of time.”

I nodded and rose from my chair giving her a long last look of wounded resentment before I stormed out, slamming the door behind me and hoping the glass would break. However, the loud slam only caused the secretary to jump in her seat, after which she wished me an apologetic nice day. Don’t you mean nice life? I corrected her in my mind as I stormed out into the barren hallway. For the first time the place felt like Locksmith’s school…a public institution that in essence belonged to he and his father, and those like them. Indeed, there was a separate set of rules out here in the middle of utopia; they didn’t stick the knife in your chest with a snarl…they stuck it in your back with a sweet smile. There was a game at Coronation and I’d opted not to play it—it was that simple.

However, being expelled exactly when I had been seemed to put me directly in line with an encounter, which, at the time didn’t seem to resemble any familiar or recognizable stroke of luck. In fact, when I’d passed the Ice Cream truck only a few blocks from the Coronation Parking lot, I nearly kept driving…however, there was something about the old man in the ice cream truck uniform standing on the street beside the flat tire…scratching his head and wrinkling his brows in a genuinely disconcerted fashion—I stopped in the middle of the lush green lane. The Stone Roses blared from my stereo and the smoke billowed from my window as I rolled it down.

“How’d that happen?” I asked of the flat tire which seemed to tilt the bulky truck to the front driver side—where the flat was located.

“I may have run over some glass…but these tires are old. Should have changed them ten years ago.” the old man said, looking at me as he replaced the uniform cap over his sweat beaded baldness.

“You have a spare?” I asked.

“I do…but it’s fastened under the truck in the back…I can’t really remember how to remove it. It’s been so long.” he said.

“How long ago?” I asked.

“Why I’ve had this truck since before you were born.” he said, squinting back at me.

“Yeah? Cool…” I said.

“I was rounding these streets selling ice cream with my wife in the late 1960’s.” he said, squinting now a warm smile down the street, perhaps recollecting the scenes and faces that had now evaporated into the nooks of his fading memory.

“Really?” I said.

“That we were…that we were…but I lost Hilda in 83’…boating accident out near Catalina.” he said.

“That sucks.” I said. I raised a finger and pulled over to the curb to let an approaching car pass. I killed the engine and got out of the van and strode across the street wanting to get a better look at the vintage ice cream truck. It was a Commer ice cream van from the 1960’s—it had patrolled the streets of Emerald Heights for 30 years and now sat stalled in the middle of the road with one of its illustrious whitewalls flattened to the rim.

“She’s a beautiful machine.” I said.

“Ah, she’s a pain in the neck!” said the old man, “I had to rebuild the engine, the freezer conked out on me a few years ago—had to redo that…transmission blew last January…sure she’s beautiful but a pain in the neck…as most beautiful women are.” he added with a chuckle.

“How do we get the spare out from underneath?” I asked.

“Well, if I remembered that—I’d be selling ice cream right now.” he said, his chuckle trailing off.

“How did you get at it before?” I asked.

“Last flat the truck had, one of my employees fixed it…and I believe the time before another employee did it. I haven’t changed a tire on this thing since the 70’s. But I have no choice now—I drive this truck now and I don’t mind that all my employees quit.”

“Why did they quit?” I asked.

“Business isn’t what it used to be…I don’t make a lot of money with this anymore. I keep it going because this here truck is the last of a dying breed—it’s a historic part of this neighborhood…but these young people now…they don’t care jack diddly about history…and now people buy ice cream in bulk…from the supermarket. I think some of the guys I had working for me quit also because of the music.”

“The music?” I inquired, puffing on the blunt.

“The tunes the truck plays…some of the guys said they were hearing them in their sleep.” said the old man.

“You could change the music…I mean, ice cream truck music is kind of creepy isn’t it? Why not acquire a new ice cream truck music catalog?” I said.

“Is it really that important?” he asked scratching his head again.

“Sure…music is important. I’ll bet if you could get The Beatles Abbey Road in ice cream music—your business might turn around.” I speculated.

“I wouldn’t even know where to find  something like that—is it even legal?” he said.

“Probably you can order it from China.” I said.

“China?” said the old man, looking back to the flat tire.

After some discussion it was decided that I would fit myself under the back of the van and investigate the spare tire which, though suffering from sidewall cracking, was there and filled with air. Using a wrench I unscrewed the fastening bolt and removed the tire. It wasn’t a whitewall however and once we swapped the flat for the spare the truck looked strange somehow…as if it had acquired a black eye. Still, there was a charm to the old machine.

Feeling I’d done my good deed for the month, I was about to head back to my van when the old man invited me into the truck to choose an ice cream, citing that it was the least he could do to repay me for my help. I shrugged and followed him around the side of the truck. On the other side was a menu with small photos and I looked it over, finally deciding on two scoops of maple-walnut in a waffle cone.

As I stood there eating it and admiring the smooth vintage lines of the truck, the old man joined me on the hot asphalt. The name patch sewn into his uniform read Clark, “Is that your name or is it a left over uniform?”

“It’s left over…I’m Bob.” he said, offering me his hand which was like mine, covered in soot and grease from the filthy tire iron.

“Jack.” I said, giving his hand a quick shake, “Listen, if you’re looking for staff, I’m thoroughly employable at this point. I just got expelled from Coronation High school and I guess I’ll have some time on my hands.”

“Expelled for what?” he asked.

“Smoking on school property was one reason they cited.” I said holding up the blunt.

“Principal Jeffries still there?” asked the old man.

“No…they fired his ass.” I said.

“Good…he was a real asshole to my girlfriend’s granddaughter during her grade 12 year.”

“Not surprising.” I said.

“You ever have a job before?”

“I was working a few times a week at a Sinchell’s Donuts over on Vine St…but it closed—then the semester started.” I said, “Before that I had a paper route.”

“Well…this is sort of the same thing as a paper route now isn’t it?” he said lighting up a cigarette.

“Kind of…” I said.

“You can follow a route if you like…a route is the best way…gets to be that people know when to expect you.” he said.

“Automatic transmission?” I asked.

“Yes sir…had it switched over when I got the transmission redone.”

“What kind of hours are we talking?” I asked.

“I’m usually not out this early; I was on my way to hose her down at the wand wash. Eleven in the morning until four in the afternoon is what I usually drive…if business is slow though, you might pack it in around three—if business is booming—like in the summer months, you can theoretically sell until dusk—summer’s just around the corner too.”

“Do I get free ice cream during the shift?” I asked.

“Of course.” said the old man, “Listen, my busiest season is coming up—I could use the help, if you’re interested in working this truck.” he said.

“When can I start?” I asked.

“Just like that?” he asked.

“Just like that.”

“You haven’t asked about pay.”

“What do you pay?” I asked.

“Minimum wage…with tips.”


“Sometimes people will tip you…let you keep the change—it can add up by the end of the day.” he said.

“Sounds good.”

“The music won’t drive you crazy?”

“I’ll see what I can do about that music. I’ll see if I can get some Beatles or better yet, some Beach Boys.” I said.

“Now you’re talking.” he grinned and pulled a pad of paper from the chest pocket of his uniform and wrote down an address, “Here’s the pickup address…stop by at around noon and we’ll get you started this Saturday—fair enough?”

“I’ll do that.” I said, shaking the hand he offered again as a verbal contract.

Indeed, I drove along the PCH, puffing one deep and absorbing some Stone Roses as the sun sparkled across the mighty expanse of Pacific Ocean. The beaches were already full and it wasn’t even 10am yet. It was going to be a scorcher. As I passed the Malibu bluffs and the camper van dwellers I wondered what I’d tell my mom about my expulsion from Coronation. Certainly there was an elaborate explanation to it all but the cold hard summary bared no deniability; I’d not only not participated in their elaborate game of chess—I’d upended the board and all of its pieces, upending myself in the process as well. Certainly I was smarter than that—and I knew it would be that particular fact that would irk my mom mostly…that I knew better…but did it anyway.

I’d never been expelled before and wondered if my mom would be so upset she’d disown me…in which case, I might join the contingency of camper van dwellers parked for miles along the PCH—at least until I got myself enrolled at another school. I wondered also about that as the true gravity of my situation surfaced through the foggy haze of dread. I would not only have to enroll at another school in the fall, but would also have to redo an entire semester to make my graduating credits being that I was going to miss finals at Coronation.

After some contemplation, I opted not to divulge the specifics to my mom…in fact I avoided the subject altogether. There were only three months left in the semester and I decided I’d spend the time driving the ice cream truck; instead of going to Coronation, I’d round the lanes of Emerald Heights in the old Commer van selling ice cream to the heat stricken suburbanites. It was always cooler near the ocean…and if it was 110 degrees downtown, it was bound to be 95 in Malibu.

Later that evening, when I’d returned home after a day of not being in school—though pretending I had; my mom sent my brother to pick up some Chinese, from Triple Happiness Bowl and we sat around in the living room watching TV and eating with forks from the small oyster pails. KZLA aired Magnum PI reruns around dinner time and we caught the last half of one, after which the movie of the week came on. I’d seen A Nightmare on Elm Street before, but after stepping out for a few puffs in my van, I was fully content to immerse myself in the film, lick my wounds and regroup with the aid of some good old fashioned 80’s gore. As I lay dormant, sprawled on the couch, feeling the Chinese trying to give me heartburn, I surrendered to the film and the buzz and the sound of the central air conditioning blowing through the vents. As I watched a body bag pull itself down a school hallway leaving a trail of blood behind it; there came a knock on the front door. The knock persisted. Too content in my position, I opted to let the door knocker stand outside, knocking.

“Is someone going to get the door?” asked my mom from her stately chair at the head of the living room.

“I’m too comfortable…and the Chinese is trying to give me heart burn.” I said.

My brother who was heading out for the evening anyway, made his way across the living room floor, adding when he was passing me, “It’s probably your fucked up friends anyway.”

Indeed, it seemed my brother was clairvoyant because a moment later, Walt and the Goblin made their way into the living room…they were with their girlfriends and the four of them stood in one corner of the living room removing their shoes.

“What y’all watching?” asked the Goblin.

“The original Nightmare on Elm Street.” I said.

“This movie is sick! I love it.” said Walt, brimming with enthusiasm.

“It gave me nightmares.” whined Kristen.

“I’m your boyfriend now Kristen.” said Walt in his best Freddy Kruger, leaning in and licking her chin with his disgusting pierced tongue that had pronged who knew what.

“You guys want some cushions.” I said, remaining on my place on the couch.

“Jack, get up and pull some chairs in from the dining room for your guests.” urged my mom.

“That’s okay Mrs. Holden; we’re okay sitting on the floor.” Walt assured as he, the Goblin and their girls sprawled out on the living room rug in front of the TV. I tossed them some cushions from the couch and they seemed content.

During a commercial break my mom made popcorn and brought us all ice cold cans of Dr. Zipper. We all smoked cigarettes and sipped pop and finished watching the movie as the light drained from the sky. When the movie was over, Walt sat up on the rug and didn’t bother waking Kristen who’d fallen asleep on her side beside him. As she snored lightly, we all chuckled at the whistling sound.

“Imagine how hard it is to sleep beside her.” said Walt with a devilish grin, slapping Kristen’s voluptuous jean ass and jolting her awake.

“What the fuck dude?” she slurred, looking around the room, disoriented for a moment before realizing she was on my living room floor…after which she snuggled back into the cushion—content to fall back to sleep.

“She’s like a cat.” said Walt and we all chuckled.

“Tell him the news already.” said the Goblin who sat up against the wall with Jen-Jen’s sleepy head in his lap.

“What news?” I asked, bracing for more of the bad, but hoping for it to be good.

“Ok, but firstly, I want to apologize for yesterday. I shouldn’t have made accusations.”

“Whatever.” I shrugged, “What’s the news.”

“I wanted to tell you this in person man…news like this needs to be delivered in person.” said Walt, lighting up a cigarette and waving out the match with a slight wince having burned his finger, “I got a call from Tommy Sims today…”

“Yeah…who the fuck is Tommy Sims?” I asked.

“Tommy Sims my friend is in charge of band booking at the Backyard…he said we’ve officially been selected to play at the battle of the bands…you’re be all—end all dream gig.”

Walt kept talking, but I didn’t quite hear any of it…rather I sat there on the couch in a wash of disbelief, relief, elation and amazement; it had been the only real professional goal of my teenage life…one that in the beginning had seemed a million  miles away—a million to one shot…yet here it was, a lush oasis reality in this desert life; a stroke of divine intervention. I knew Walt knew what it meant to me and he grinned back at me from his place on the rug, squinting smoke out of one eye.

As he explained the magnitude of the show to my mom who’d inquired, noticing my stunned reaction to the news, I peered out the bay window at the silhouettes of the palm trees distantly lining Glendale Blvd against a vermilion sky. Sometimes LA gave you what you wanted rather than what you needed and sometimes she gave you both—the Backyard battle of the bands to me was both and it was one of those moments in life you never forget…a truly brilliant moment you wish could be bottled…one you’ll return to in your mind for the rest of your life to gaze at with wonder; as if it was a magical amulet you’d uncovered in an ancient desert and kept wrapped in a burlap sack, hidden under an attic floor tile.

“I can’t believe it…” I finally said, “If you’re putting me on, I’m going to be crushed.”

“No joke man…he called me today to give me the news. Evidently there will be an official letter put in the mail, but I know the guy well and he wanted to let me know. And you want to know the best part? Our slot is second to last…and you want to know why that’s the best part?”

“Why?” I asked, humoring the old chap.

“Because the last band on is the Magnolias…otherwise known as the Trent Humbucker Trio.”

“Humbucker.” I sighed, recalling the cow licked hair, the skinny androgynous jeans and the gaze of slight retardation in his beady eyes, “Jagoff.”

“Well, that jagoff is going to get quite the surprise when we destroy him. Humbucker thinks he’s a big shot landing that last slot…but he doesn’t realize how boring and lame they’re going to be following us…I mean, you saw what happened last time—we destroyed the place and everyone loved it…it’s all anyone is talking about at Cartwright—an instantaneous legend. The Backyard is going to be even crazier—I’ve been brainstorming.” grinned Walt psychotically, pointing to his temple.

“This is great news man.” I said, and immediately wanted to share it with Eleanor, who was taking some time to sort things out after the Laura Caldwell rumor. I was contemplating dialing her hotel room in Cuba when a loud crash sounded so loud it seemed to shake the entire house.

“What the hell was that?” asked the Goblin when Jen-Jen’s head jumped from his lap. Strangely Kristen didn’t budge. The rest of us got up and made our way onto the front steps.

There was always some form of mishap transpiring in Truman Park and on this night there was no exception to that rule. Certainly I’d come to expect such debacles but to Walt and the Goblin the spectacle was a thing of movie magic…or movie mimicry. It is said that life imitates art, just as art can imitate life or at least bad made for TV movies. Truman didn’t imitate anything…Truman was a nihilist after all—subscribing to nothing at all. The old houses lining the darkened streets knew though; they’d seen it all, built first in a long forgotten era when families frolicked on lemonade verandas and in sprawling sunny front yards…when women wore sun hats and rode in horse drawn buggies and men went to work building Mulholland’s water system. Mulholland was dead now, lying up in Forrest Lawn—a layer of dust in a decomposed coffin. The streets and houses lived on though…and would maybe outlive us—the 90’s youth; the last of the Mohicans.

As we filed out onto the front lawn, we noticed the LAPD had fish tailed a Bentley up onto the curb where the car knocked loose a fire hydrant and crashed through a neighboring fence. The water from the hydrant shot up out of the sidewalk with hissing pressure…the water arched high and cascaded down like a massive fountain, splashing out in a radius around the jet and mesmerizing the neighborhood residents who’d also wandered out into the front street to check out the commotion.

Four squad cars had been in pursuit and they sat parked in the street, shiny and unmanned…their lights flickering against the old facades of the old houses…a helicopter chopped the air above and cast down a bright spotlight beam, as if it were an alien mother ship, hovering above in curiosity of human behavior.

Three men in t-shirts and shorts lying flat on their bellies with their hands behind their heads waited for a female officer to cuff them. As she went along, cuffing the car-jackers, the crowd of spectators grew…indeed it was another Monday night movie of the week in real time.

“What do you think happened?” asked Walt.

“Car-jackers.” I shrugged.

“How do you know?” asked Jen-Jen.

“Cause, that’s the only way you’re going to see a Bentley in Truman Park.”

Eventually a tow truck arrived and the cops stood around comparing notes as the tow truck driver secured the front end of the Bentley and hoisted it up onto its back wheels. After consorting with the officers, he pulled away slowly, leaving the rear bumper tangled in the mauled fence; a fence that would, I was certain, never be fixed. It was the way things worked around Truman Park…such a fence would be propped back up as best it could and the damage would become another mark of character on the neighborhood…and would in time become an unexplained anomaly through which kids would traipse and dogs would trot and mailmen would take a short cut; Truman kept her scars and nobody was the wiser.

Once the occupants of the stolen Bentley were carted off to the nearest precinct, the crowd started to disperse, “Well…guess the shows over.” I said.

“That was some Bentley though huh?” said the Goblin.

“She damn well was.” said Walt, “That’s what our next song should be about.” he said, suddenly gazing toward the moon which hung brilliantly above, not quite full anymore, “A high speed chase in a hot car. Something that will really turn our next gig into a madhouse…know what I mean?” Walt snarled rubbing his hands together lasciviously, “Something that will cause a riot!”

“You know Humbucker probably loves it when you guys burn his effigy and stand around ripping him to shreds—he’s a whore for any attention…I wouldn’t give that douche the satisfaction.” remarked Jen-Jen.

“We burn the effigy because every time we do it…it curses him just a little bit.” Walt laughed, “It pleases the spirits. Speaking of which, Jacko…how would you feel about joining the Goblin and me for a desert ritual by moonlight?”

“What desert ritual?” asked Jen-Jen.

“We’re going to get shamanistic…next Sunday, we’re going to spend the night out in the desert, howling at the moon and drinking cactus juice and snake venom…we’re going to put the war paint on…we’re going to ready ourselves for battle…let me tell you something—we’re going to shake this scene up…and we’re going to make a lot of enemies. We need to evoke the ancient warrior spirits.” said Walt, his eyes nearly glowing red, “So you game or what?”

I looked at the Goblin who hovered there in my front yard looking at me very seriously…then back to Walt who shared the same expression, “Cactus juice and snake venom huh?” I asked, raising a brow.

“And that’s just for starters.” said Walt.

“Sounds like a plan—count me in.” I said.

The following Saturday a knock appeared at my bedroom door and by the positioning of the sunray leaking through the curtains and lighting up a narrow sliver of light on my wall; I gathered it was all too early for anyone to be wrapping at my bedroom door, which clearly stated in the form of a sign I’d bought in a shop on Hollywood Blvd., ‘Do Not Disturb’. My mom argued however that I was already disturbed and that waking up early was the key to a prosperous day. I however felt when possible—sleep until noon.

As the wrapping continued I glanced at my bedside clock, which told me it was 930am, “What!” I called out.

“It’s Clare…your mom let me in.” said a quiet voice through the wooden door that I always kept latched when I slept—in case of burglars. By the time they kicked in my door—I’d be ready to knock a hometown homerun with a nail spiked baseball bat.

“Clare?” I asked.

“Clare Foster…” said the voice.

Indeed, I’d nearly forgotten I’d loaned her one of my old skateboards to practice on.

“Just a sec…” I said, rolling out of bed and pulling on a pair of jeans…my dog tags jangled from my neck as I pulled the jeans on and moment later I unlatched the door, letting a blast of light and fresh oxygen into the room, which still carried the scent of the incense oil I’d burned to fall asleep.

“Sorry to wake you…I was in the hood and figured I’d just drop the board with you.” she said, holding it up. Her nails were short and the red nail polish was chipped and worn…her makeup was punk style…green eye shadow and dark purple lipstick…her dyed red hair was spiked to match her idol Johnny Rotten and she wore a shirt baring Charles Manson’s psychotic face that was branded by a swastika.

“What are you doing up so early?” I demanded, dumfounded by her diligence on a Saturday.

“Sorry…” she repeated.

“No worries…have a seat.” I said as I opened the curtain which flooded the room with brilliant sunshine; if I’d been a vampire, I’d have been dust. I slipped into my checkerboard Vans and took a seat on the edge of the bed as Clare sat in the chair at my boxy computer. The skateboard looked more weather-beaten than I remembered…it was heavily stickered but the stickers had been worn over with scrapes and chips and runner scuffs. Clare held the board between her knees as she looked around my bedroom, scanning the posters covering the walls.

“That Psychocandy poster is hella rad…how much you want for it?” she asked, smacking her bubble gum. I realized for the first time that underneath her spiked red hair and her punk makeup and her rough and tumble attire; Clare was an exceedingly pretty girl and I wondered why she wanted to hide it; there must have been reasons.

“Come on Foster…you don’t really think I’m going to part with it—especially when it ties the room together so well.” I told her.

“Yeah…” she said, thoughtfully staring at the poster in regard to the rest of the room, “I guess it does really tie the room together. But it would tie my room together much better.”

The poster in question was the classic Psychocandy album cover…blown up to a proportion that would cover half of my wall. I’d found it in a record store on Melrose and paid a pretty penny for it, “Maybe we can trade for something…what you got?” I asked.

“Comparable to that one? I have a huge PIL poster with John Lydon’s face on it…he’s got dreads sticking out all over and it says Public Image Limited in red lettering at the top.”

“Is the photo black and white?” I asked.

“Photo is black and white.”

“I’ve seen that one…in fact.” I said, reaching down into a pile of clothing beside my bed. I sifted through the pile of shirts I pulled off every night and dropped beside my bed and rarely bothered to fold up and set neatly in my dresser which was mainly empty. After a few moments of searching I produced a T-shirt bearing the exact description of Clare’s prize PIL poster, “That the one?” I asked, holding up the shirt.

“What? There’s a fucking shirt of that poster? Where’d you get it?” she gasped.

“Record store near Sunset and Highland.” I said.

“If we’re talking t-shirts I would trade you a limited edition Psychedelic Furs t-shirt for that one.” said Clare.

“But…I’m not even really into the Furs.” I laughed.

“I have a yellow Bad Brains t-shirt.” she said.

“I already have that one.” I said.

“I have an old Billy Bragg t-shirt that used to belong to my older sister. It’s the ‘I would rather be listening to Billy Bragg’ one.” Clare suggested.

“What else you got?” I asked with a grin.

“I mean I have dozens…what are you looking for?”

“You got 10,000 Maniacs?” I asked.

“I have a Natalie Merchant Tiger Lilly shirt—got it on a weekend trip to San Fran with my mom…I never really wear it—it’s a larger size…it’s black and has the album cover with the orange and green on the front.”

“I’ll take it.” I said.

“Really? For the Psychocandy poster?” Clare asked, slightly amazed.

“Of course not…but how about I trade you that skateboard for it?” I offered.

“You would trade this skateboard for that shirt?” she asked.

“Is it not a fair trade?” I asked.

“Not for you I don’t think.” she said.

“Going once…” I said.

“I mean, are you cereal? I feel like I’m taking advantage.”

“Going twice…”

“Ok…if you’re really serious…I’ll trade you the shirt for the board.” said Clare.

“Cool.” I said, moving to the window and lighting up a blunt. Truman Park glimmered under the desert sun…the street was cracked and the neighboring houses had bars on the windows and even though some neighbors had tried to paint over the bars so they matched the trim of their houses…the bars were still there and it made me wonder what it was like in the 1960’s…as Principal Gavin had told it—like the Wonder Years. It seemed hard to picture; our predecessors hadn’t seen any of it coming…they had no idea what the 90’s would bring…and I wondered where we’d be in thirty years…I wondered who would be president…or if there would even be a president…maybe there would be only a lawless landscape of murderous Mad Max marauders, roaming a nuclear wasteland and taking no prisoners.

“Hey…can I ask you for a favor?” said Clare.

“What’s up?” I asked, leaving my contemplation and peering back at her.

“Can I have a package sent here to your house?” she asked.

“A package?”

“A parcel.” said Clare.

“What’s in the package? Anthrax?” I chuckled.

“Yeah, their complete discography.” Clare replied, rolling her eyes, “It’s from my dad in San Diego. I’m not supposed to be in contact with him…but he wants to send me a parcel for my birthday and my mom will shit if she sees me getting a parcel from him. If it’s cool…I’ll pick it up when I bring the shirt next time.”

“I guess you can send it here.” I shrugged, looking back to the street where parking patrol was writing a ticket for a red Datsun.

“You drive a red Datsun?” I asked.


“Never mind.” I said.

When Clare left, taking the board with her, I showered and shaved and drove across town to Marina Del Rey, where my new employer lived. By the time I pulled up in front of his condo it was 10:45am and the sun was brilliantly high, edging toward noon and throwing a gleam over anything reflective. The sky was the same shade as the ocean and a fine mist hanging over the surface of the salt water blurred the definition between sea and sky…the air smelled of ocean and the breeze played tunes on wind chimes hanging from sunlit balconies; a sea-side paradise.

I found Bob out front, on the opposite side of the Commer truck lathering up the windows with a mop and a bucket of suds. He nodded and offered me a smile—perhaps he’d expected I wouldn’t show up. I had shown up though and I’d shown up early. As Bob lathered the windows I took note of the van, indeed, it was amazing what a good wash did for the old beast.

“Looks ten years younger already.” I said of the truck, “We just gotta fix that black eye.” I said, taking note of the regular tire among the whitewalls.

“It’s not the mileage kid, it’s the make.” laughed Bob, “There’s a uniform on the passenger seat for you. My girlfriend washed it for you last night.”

“That’s nice of her.”

“Strange way to address her—girlfriend; when she’s actually 62 in May. Anyway, she washed it and even ironed it. Go try it on—hope it fits.”

I shrugged and retrieved the uniform. It wasn’t like the one Bob had been wearing the day I’d helped him change the flat. Mine was a black and grey bowling shirt made of polyester. The name patch was oval and embroidered by the name ‘Carlito’ in swirly lettering. The shirt went on smoothly over my Exploited T-shirt and as I buttoned it up in the reflection of the window, Bob stopped to size me up.

“Looks sharp on you kid. I’ll get you a proper name patch if you decide you want to stay on.” said Bob, crossing his arms and grinning a satisfied grin.

When Bob was through rinsing down the rear side of the truck, he handed me the keys and we both climbed up into the cab. She started easily and pulled away from the curb smoothly…she was surprisingly quiet and the large steering wheel and height of the truck made me feel as if I was driving a city bus. Bob tested me on a few corners, rounding which I hopped a few curbs with the rear tires before making the proper adjustments. Once I did, cornering was easy. When Bob was satisfied I could handle the truck, he had me pull over to the side of the road. He then showed me the switches for the exterior lights as well as the music. There was also a switch for a reserve gas tank which held five gallons—in case I ran out of gas in the middle of the street in Compton, he joked; indeed, Bob had thought of it all. We moved to the back of the truck and he gave me the grand tour. There were two freezers in the back, one containing popsicles, fudgsicles, creamsicles, drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches and any other individually packaged items and in the other freezer were the buckets…8 in total which varied in color and spanned an array of flavors. He showed me cake cones, waffle cones, sugar cones and waffle bowls. In the cupboards were boxes of spoons and refill for the toppings; strawberry sauce, chocolate sauce, candy sprinkles, chocolate chips, gummy bears…you name it; Bob had it. He even had a small sink with running water and a large cooler with iced down pop cans and juice boxes…it was hard to believe.

“This is quite the set up man.” I said.

“Oh I don’t do anything halfway—they know Bob Baskerville’s ice cream truck from San Clarita to Long Beach.” assured Bob, bringing me to the next matter of business, “Ok, this requires special attention.” he said, producing the cash float from a drawer, “There’s 200 in bills and change in here. As I told you—a lot of people will let you keep the small change, but when you have to make the change it’s here for you. Everything you sell, mark it on this paper.” he said, handing me a sheet listing on a graph his entire inventory, “You’ll weigh your sales against your opening inventory—the cash float should total up…but you might miss a few items on your first go around. The ice cream that you eat, mark it at the bottom, just so we know if it was a missed sale or not. Sound easy enough?”

“Pretty basic.” I nodded.

“Ok…then I’ll leave you to it. Take a few hours today as a practice run and I’ll see you back at the condo around 3?” asked Bob.

“You don’t want me to drive you back there now?” I asked.

“No, I’m going to walk down to the beach and get a beer.”

“Ok. I’ll catch you later.” I said.

“One more thing…” said Bob, leaning back into the truck.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Don’t put the music on until your cash float is ready to sell—the last thing people want is to wait for the cash float to come out. Once that music is on—it’s show time.” he said, moving his palms outward as if he was spreading out two decks of cards.

“Got it.” I said.

When Bob was finally gone I drove the truck up Lincoln. Finding I could easily weave in and out of traffic, I stayed in the slow lane, deciding to enjoy the ocean breeze blowing in through the open windows. I lit one up and synched into pace with the slow moving Saturday morning traffic. I could have been anywhere…I could have been in Truman Park, lying in my bed writing a song on guitar, or down at Galaxyland arcade feeding quarters into the machines and setting high scores…I could have been at Malibu Lagoon diving into waves…however, I only really wanted to be with Eleanor and her face crashed into my mind with a tremor of dread; I had to look her in the eyes and explain the entire Laura Caldwell debacle to her…only then would she believe me.

By the time I was in Emerald Heights, I was flying high on a puffy cumulonimbus. I decided I would wait until next time to plot a course; the day had become sweltering and I realized there wasn’t an air conditioner in the truck—perhaps another reason Bob Baskerville had lost so many staff. I rounded the lush green lanes randomly, admiring the tall palms that lined the streets and the Spanish villa style houses tucked away behind tall hedgerows and gated fences. Movie stars, rock stars and studio heads lived in some of them…oblivious to the droves of homeless withering away in gutters and makeshift shanties only a matter of blocks away.

After pulling over for a few minutes to arrange the cash float and to reorient myself with the set-up, I returned to the driver’s seat and flipped the music switch…the music was obligatory—as Bob had doubtlessly wanted it…and indeed it did inspire an air of killer-clown creepiness. Beyond that, the volume which the music was to be set at, a level marked marked on the dial by a strip of black tape cut into the shape of an arrow, seemed unconscionably loud—making nearly a ruckus of the suburban calm.

I drove on, relighting the blunt, waiting for patrons to make themselves known. After a few blocks I noticed a family in the large side-mirror fastened to the door, waving me down. The parents stood between two cars parked along the curb, shading their eyes from the sun with one hand and waving with the other. I slowed the large truck to an eventual stop and waved them over through the driver side window. I was perhaps a half block away and indeed, though the parents seemed apprehensive about walking the distance to the truck—their children bolted into a sprint.

Leaving the truck idling, I went to the serve window in the rear of the truck and waited. The kids arrived first, a boy and girl and they were dressed smartly and talked even smarter; future entertainment lawyers. The girl wore a small plastic tiara and tongued at her braces as she scanned the menu posted on the side of the truck. The boy knew what he wanted without a glance, “I’ll get two scoops of vanilla chocolate chip in a waffle bowl…I want chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce on it too…can you put gummies on it too? And cookie crumbs as well?” he asked.

“We got it all kid.” I said setting a waffle cone down on the counter. As I scooped out the vanilla chocolate chip, the parents arrived.

“What did we say about running in the street?” asked the mother who at one point had been a trophy…she was now half plastic and her lips puffed up like pillows when she spoke. Her breast were hard round spheres held snug in her black short sleeve blouse; some guys had all the luck, I thought, glancing at her husband.

“Hey…you’re new.” said the man who was short and bald, yet ironically hairy as a beast in his yellow Lakers jersey, “What happened to Bob? He finally retire and move to Costa Rica?”

“Bob took a walk on the beach today. I’m filling in.” I informed.

“I see…well, glad someone is manning the truck today—it’s a scorcher.” he said, making a face.

“Anything above 70 is too hot for him.” said his trophy wife from behind her sunglasses with a wide grin that showed off her perfectly tended teeth.

“We got you covered.” I told them.

“I want one scoop of double chocolate and another scoop of strawberry cheesecake…I’d really like strawberry sauce—but not too much and can you sprinkle almonds on it?” said the girl.

“You got it.” I said, preparing her order and wondering how it was possible that such an easy work detail could actually pay money.

The parents both ordered fudgsicles bringing their entire bill to 12.50. The father paid with three five dollar bills and as I made change he waved it off, “Put it in your jar.” he said, pointing to a jar on the counter sitting in a cup holder. In the jar were a few paper clips and without removing them, I dropped the $2.50 into the jar where it landed with a clink.

I was about to sit back down and pull the truck away from the curb when suddenly droves of patrons were upon me…they trickled in slowly at first, a few pairs, then a handful, then scads—as if I’d formally invited them to a block party I’d thrown without a city permit. As the lineup grew, I peered out the window and down the street in the direction they were all coming from. Indeed, on the opposite side of the street a half block down was the fenced mouth of a park, which was crawling with humans.

“What’s the occasion in the park?” I asked a sexy mother of three who was recoating her lipstick in a small gold compact mirror.

“It’s a farmer’s market…with some arts & crafts.” she smiled, her sweet polite demeanor not matching her harlot lipstick, halter-neck blouse and miniskirt. These Emerald Heights mothers certainly kept the paint wet.

I served her and her kids some maple walnut cones, realizing that indeed I could conserve gas by remaining parked. Certainly the word would go around once people were seen reentering the park with ice cream bowls heaping with Baskerville’s colorful toppings. It seemed the best plan of attack and indeed dear reader, it certainly was. In the space of two hours I’d sold out of popsicles, fudgsicles, maple walnut, double chocolate, strawberry and cake cones. After two hours however, the sales tapered off and I needed to find a urinal. I drove up the PCH taking in the sprawling coast line foaming at the sandy shores and the people, spread like ants across it, wading into the surf and scattered in bunches on the hot sand; there was no place on earth like Malibu.

When I got back to Bob’s place, I balanced the float and found that I’d sold $735.50 in ice cream and made exactly $67 in tips. It was hard to believe. Certainly $67 in the 90’s could afford a kid like me endless wonders, or at least a heavy supply of sativa and a few dates to the movie theater with Eleanor…Eleanor—the name would not leave me alone…her face haunted me. Though it had only been a week, I felt like I’d given her enough time to figure things out. It was time now to talk…seriously.

After Bob balanced the float, he paid me my wage for the day and asked me if I was going to return. I said I would. I left him and took the uniform with me, telling him I’d return the next day for another round of ice cream trucking. I didn’t drive back to Truman Park, I didn’t stop at the beach for a quick swim and some sand baking; I drove straight to Eleanor’s place and pulled up out front of her father’s house at 3:45pm. Her father was in the front yard pulling the garden hose to adjust the sprinkler that chopped a water jet into long lines that created iridescent mist under the sun. He nodded to me as I made my way up the walk.

“I’m here to see Eleanor.” I said.

“Go right in…she’s in the living room watching TV…she’s under the impression that she’s jet lagged…though Cuba is only in the Eastern Time zone.” he chuckled.

I let myself in and found Eleanor sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, sipping a bottle of Perrier and flipping through the satellite channels. When she saw me her eyes lit up and a smile started to creep up the corners of her mouth before it abruptly faded; when the memory of why she hadn’t seen me sooner crept in.

“Don’t do that.” I said.

“Do what?” she asked.

“Look at me like your dog just died.” I pleaded.

“It’s good to see you? What the hell are you wearing?” she said, this time, the smile breaking through.

“I got a job.” I said.

“As a professional bowler named Carlito?” she laughed.

“As an ice cream truck driver named Carlito.” I grinned back.

“When did that happen?”

“Pretty much directly after I got expelled from Coronation.” I said.

“Nooooo.” said Eleanor, deflating even more than she appeared to be.

“Yeah…Locksmith.” I nodded.

Eleanor sighed and closed her eyes, “I knew that Laura Caldwell party was going to be trouble.” she said shaking her head in a disappointed way.

“Look,” I said, sitting down on the couch next to her, “I don’t care about being expelled…all I really care about right now is that everything is okay with us. You have to believe me…nothing happened with Laura.”

“You went up to her parent’s room…” said Eleanor, looking back at me, hurt.

“I guess it was a set-up…but nothing happened.” I said.

“She has a pesky habit of stealing boys from me.” Eleanor stated, tilting her head, “And boys seem to have a pesky habit of falling for her.”

“I didn’t fall for her. Nothing happened.” I assured.

“But you think she’s beautiful.” said Eleanor, “Admit it.”

“She’s alright. But I was obsessed with you for months before I got with you…I still am obsessed—clearly. It’s on an entirely different level with you.” I said, causing Eleanor’s eyes to redden and tear up.

“Then why did you go up to her parent’s room?” she demanded in a whisper.

“Because I knew there was no danger of anything happening.” I said as Eleanor peered into my eyes deeply, spotlight searching for a lie. Finding none, she shook out of her gaze and looked at the TV.

“Well, I’m not sure why she’s obviously telling everyone something else.”

“Listen, I have to head to rehearsal…but I’ll drop back by later and take you for a drive up Mulholland…we need to talk more…let’s say 8pm.” I said.

“Ok…drive carefully.” said Eleanor, reaching over and touching my hand, “I’ll be here.”

After stopping in at the Goblin’s for a rehearsal, I felt rejuvenated somehow. On top of this, seeing Eleanor had been good; she’d been gone for two weeks and I’d been having withdrawal, like an opiate addict on the dry. Indeed, after putting out one fire with Eleanor, the smoke had cleared momentarily, only to reveal another fire…this one the shape and form of Laura Caldwell, and I suspected Locksmith as well, somewhere behind the curtain.

As I snaked through the winding lanes, I became well aware of Locksmith. He’d been raised with an entitlement complex that demanded he win at all costs. Families like the Locksmith’s viewed power and influence as currency and viewed currency as power and influence…they were well insulated with a deep sense of self-importance and entitlement and it was this illusion that propelled their imperialistic competitiveness…Locksmith hadn’t become Coronation’s star debater because he loved to debate or even believed in his arguments; he’d joined the team to win…and to perhaps prove to his father his formidability and perhaps also, in some twisted Oedipusian way, arouse his mother on some level. I was certain that behind the closed gates and shuttered windows of the Locksmith estate, a deep and creepily secretive darkness prevailed.

In any case, the contemplation was exhausting…and I wondered how it was that these west-siders were invested in the drama enough to process, assimilate and sort out the multifaceted mind-fucks that they concocted as perhaps a personal distraction from their own temporary existences…their own fleeting mortality. I was wondering this as I wound my way into Laura Caldwell’s neighborhood…a colorful sign advertising a garage sale tipped off my recollection and though it seemed I was following a map seen through a mirror, I made the right succession of turns and came upon the Caldwell estate and it’s circular driveway centered by a golden horse raised on his two hind legs.

There was a man in the driveway loading equipment into the back of a rusted out pickup truck filled with more landscaping equipment. Two others were milling about the hedges, tending to their growth with clippers and a miniature buzz saw. Another rounded the hedges a moment later, piercing the peaceful calm with the belligerent whine of a leaf blower.

The mansion looked different in the mid afternoon sun, sprawling and full of windows and vines that climbed trellises toward the Spanish tile roof. On the other side of the driveway, old man Caldwell lathered down his red sports car in his checkered golf shorts and incidental t-shirt, squeezing suds from a large yellow sponge over the windshield of the car sparingly. Behind his car sat Laura’s…or at least I assumed it to be Laura’s—a small pink compact caked in dust and bent in numerous spots by small collisions and parking mishaps. I pulled to the curb and got out of the van.

As I made my way up the side walk old man Caldwell smiled and bid me hello in an English accent…he bared a striking resemblance to Remington Steele and I assumed he ran with his doppelganger status…knowing people would expect a certain shade of dashing from him, as if he were a Remington Steele surrogate.

I nodded with the intention of continuing on toward the front door. Old man Caldwell stopped me however, setting down his sponge and coming around the car to meet me, offering his hand after drying it off on a rag hanging from the waistline of his golf shorts. His hand was moist and cold from the suds and his grip was firm, but not too firm; it could be said he’d mastered a neutral grip—one which neither tried to assert dominance or declare weakness.

“Hi Carlito, I’m William.” he said, “You’re a friend of Laura’s I assume?”

“You could say that.” I said, “My name is Jack actually…Jack Holden.”

“Well, well, well…with my first name and your last name, we make quite an iconic ladies man.” grinned Laura’s old man.

“Is Laura here today?” I asked.

“Laura is here. She’s in the backyard…just follow the cobblestones.” he grinned, promptly gesturing toward the walkway that led around the side of the house and into the backyard, as if he sensed there was some urgency.

“Thanks.” I said, “Are you going to give Laura’s car a wash down too? Looks like hers could use it.”

“She’d only mess it up a week from now…I’m not sure where she finds so much dirt in LA.” chuckled William.

As her old man had said, Laura was in the back yard and I found her sifting through the burned rubble that used to be her mother’s greenhouse shed…as I approached I watched her lovely behind bend forward as she pulled free a few more charred pieces of wood and dump them in a large red wheelbarrow. After dumping the pieces in, she looked up at me and rather than sneer as I expected she would, her eyes lit up with a smile and her eyes widened in surprise…one she was seemingly pleased with.

Removing her gardening gloves she moved toward me and embraced me in a warm hug, “Hey…” she said looking at me for a moment with her large clear coral blue eyes, “How are you?”

“A little concerned.” I said.

“Listen, no need to be. Get this…my mother today said that she’d been meaning to have a larger better shed built…what a relief.” sighed Laura, “Why does your shirt say Carlito?”

“Long story—and I’m not concerned about the shed—but its good news that your mom isn’t pissed about it.” I said.

“Oh…what’s the concern then…” said Laura, the brightness in her eyes fading a bit, “shall we chat?”

“We should.” I said.

“Ok…let me fix us some iced tea. Have a seat…” she said, gesturing toward a large glass table nearby beside which a few pallets of plywood sat, waiting to be built into a bigger better shed.

I took a seat in a cushioned chair at the large glass table and took note of the sprawling property which had somehow gone from looking like a disaster zone the previous Saturday to looking prim and proper—except for the construction materials and the charred area where the original shed had stood.

When Laura returned with the doubtlessly vodka-spiked iced tea, her mood had changed and she sat across from me like a pretty female journalist with her pen poised, waiting to take notes as her long lashes fluttered and her golden crucifix dangled between the tanned cleavage of her large breasts that were held snug in her low cut shirt. We sipped on our drinks for a while before I came to the point.

“Let me ask you something.” I said.

“Shoot.” said Laura, removing her long straw and balancing it between her perfectly white and perfectly placed teeth in a lascivious manner.

“How do you wear that crucifix without it sizzling through your skin?” I inquired.

“Pardon me?” she asked, giving her head a small shake.

“You heard me.”

“Sizzling through my skin? Are you implying that I’m a demon seed?” she asked.

“Why are you trying to ruin me? What did I do to you that was so unforgivable that you’d want to ruin me?” I asked.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you even know–Carlito?” she grinned coyly.

“Somehow everyone knows about it. Worst of all, it got back to Eleanor and she was really upset about it. If you were trying to hurt Eleanor—you succeeded. High marks.” I said, “I guess that makes you real proud doesn’t it?”

“My side of what? Nothing happened.” said Laura.

“I know…but that’s not the word on the street.” I said.

“And what is the word ‘on the street’ Carlito?”

“That you’ve been telling people that we spent a couple of steamy hours up in your parent’s room with the mirrors on the ceiling.” I said.

“Shhhh, for god’s sake…my mom has the window open.” said Laura, pivoting in her seat to glimpse the sliding living room door that was indeed fully ajar.

“Oh…I see; it’s ok for you to talk jive about me…but I’m not allowed to say shit. That’s how it is?” I said.

“What the hell are you on about Jack,” Laura nearly whispered, “I haven’t said anything to anyone about what happened. I’ve been here every day this week, slaving around and cleaning…that was the messiest party I’ve ever had here and there might not be another after the shed thing—and that’s not all. Do you know that someone took a poo in a glass pitcher and left it in the bushes…I can’t imagine what would compel a person to do such a thing. I won’t tell you what other lovely surprises I’ve been finding on the daily…but I can assure you—it hasn’t been pretty.”

“So you’re saying you had nothing to do with the lie?” I asked.

“Look, Jack…I feel there could be something between us…but something—between us…you see? I don’t publicize my personal life—that’s what everyone else does…and they’re wrong mostly. Had you been with me last night, not only would you have seen the stars…it would have stayed between us—that’s all I wanted…a night—or two. Maybe three…but I wasn’t looking to steal you from Eleanor—you’re much too crazy for me.” she smiled.

“Right…so if you didn’t say anything then who did?” I asked.

“Well, let’s think back; who did you beat up in my upstairs hallway the night of the party?” asked Laura, raising her perfectly plucked brows.

“I didn’t beat anybody up—I’m not a monkey-guy…for the record, Locksmith was shitfaced…he cornered me in the hallway…I tried to reason with him…then he attacked me and I basically hurled the asshole into a table.” I said, “Not one of my finest moments but certainly not the worst…and, I got suspended from Coronation for that little maneuver too—just so we’re clear.”

“Shit…how can they do that? It didn’t even happen at Coronation.”

“Locksmith said he was ‘afraid’ to return to Coronation as long as I’m there—at least that’s the bullshit story he’s going with.” I said.

“What a pussy-boy.” Laura laughed, “And yeah, you idiots wound up smashing a priceless family heirloom into a thousand pieces.” Laura added.


“No…not really…actually my mom bought it last year at Bloomingdales but still…the point remains; you guys were acting like monkey-men. And Gregory is an asshole for getting you expelled…there are lines none of us should cross no matter what—its just an unspoken understanding…you should never go that far. It’s weird that he went that far.”

“Well, he did.” I said.

“It’s not surprising…he doesn’t believe in anything; he lives a guiltless life—why do you think he wears white flood pants?” informed Laura with a wry grin.

“Locksmith can go kill himself.” I said.

“Don’t say that.”

“Why not?”

“Because what if he did kill himself?” asked Laura, her coral blue Piscean eyes filling with empathetic softness.

“In that case I’d try to find the address of the funeral home.” I admitted.

“Why, to send flowers?” she asked squinting her eyes with sarcasm.

“No, to piss in his coffin.” I grinned.

“Aren’t any of you boys housebroken?” she squinted, restraining a definite grin.

“That’s how little I give a fuck about Locksmith.” I told her with a shrug.

“Look, I can’t help you with the Coronation thing…I didn’t see what really happened. But I believe you didn’t beat him up…he didn’t look beaten up…he looked drunk and embarrassed. I’m cool with talking to Eleanor though…she should know the truth.”

“You’d do that?” I asked, surprised.

“It’s the right thing to do. And I think you’re a good guy—in spite of you being a Clarence Worley boy.” she said, offering a grin, “Also, she should know that Locksmith basically stalked me for three months before I agreed to finally make out with him. He was beyond persistent. I’m not a tramp in spite of what everyone says about me—my heart bleeds red and I go to church on Sunday—sue me.” said Laura, leaning back in her chair with her frosty glass, crossing one knee over the other and swinging her foot slightly.

So, it was Locksmith…and it came as no surprise to me. The only surprise in fact was that I hadn’t seen it coming a mile away. I finished my iced tea that stung with the bite of stiff vodka and opted to make my way, on loose legs, back to my van which was parked in a warm sunny spot on the road in front of Laura’s house. When I rose to leave, Laura’s mother emerged from the house, her face shaded by a sunhat with a meshy brim and a flowered skirt, bare feet and bangles up to her elbow. She was perhaps in her mid-40’s but could have passed for early thirties.

After introductions went around Laura’s mother Alicia invited me to stay for dinner, as if it was an idea that made the most sense—lacking context of the situation, Alicia smiled innocently and posed a single question, “Do you like pot-roast?”

“Who doesn’t Mrs. Caldwell?” I said.

“Call me Alicia…Mrs. Caldwell is so…formal—and it makes me feel so old.” she chuckled—her words acting as a jab in the ribs to Laura who jolted upward in her chair and widened her eyes with a wide bashful grin.

“You should stay for dinner…but don’t let my mom obligate you if you have other plans.” smiled Laura.

Looking at my watch I realized it was getting late and Eleanor would be waiting for me to pick her up for a drive on Mulholland, during which I suspected I’d have to do some heavy explaining.

“I should go—I don’t want to be late.” I said, rising from my wooden chair.

“Is everything alright?” asked Alicia.

“Will it really ever be?” I asked her, assuming the actual meaning of my rhetorical question would sail innocently over her head and into the colorful sunset.

“Of course it will be…” Laura answered for her mother, running a warm hand down my back.

“I’ll take a rain check if it’s all the same to you.” I said, “I just can’t be late tonight.”

“Anytime.” smiled Alicia, “You’re welcome anytime.”

As I made my way down the cobblestone walkway I heard the murmur of their conversation trickle away. Once around the corner of the house and making my way toward the street, where my van was parked slightly crookedly against the curb, I could hear only the distant sound of a jet plane cutting through the quiet crickets. I glanced up into the darkening sky to find the jet and was mesmerized by the intoxicating spectacle of the sky, which was overhung with a thin covering of broken clouds, the underbelly of which was dyed vermilion by the setting sun. A V of geese flew across the cottony scene, perfecting the portrait; a spontaneously occurring postcard…a natural event of effortless splendor. I stood at my van, admiring it toward the horizon, where I imagined great and amazing artistic feats and existential adventures awaited. We’d all age, wither and eventually crumble to dust—but it was the 90’s and sunsets meant more…everything meant more.

“Jack?” came a voice from behind.

Turning I found Laura trudging toward me, a glass of chardonnay in her hand and her blonde mane somehow unstained by the vermilion glow of dusk that dyed the façade of the sprawling estate a deep apocalyptic shade; we’d chased it to the end of the earth, beyond which was an ocean of mystery—a leap of faith.

“Hey.” I said, “A work of art every evening.” I sighed, gesturing toward the sunset.

“God is the greatest artist of all.” she concurred, taking a sip of her wine.

“What’s up LC?” I asked.

“I just wanted to walk you out. You’re my guest after all.”

“I get it.”

“…also, just so we’re clear, I didn’t float any rumors about our ill-fated encounter last weekend. And I’m sorry for throwing a can of beer at you…I got caught up in the moment.” Laura smiled, gazing off into the vermillion sunset, “Where are you heading in such a rush anyway?”

“I’m taking Eleanor up to Mulholland for a drive.” I said, “I’m supposed to pick her up soon.”

“She doesn’t live far from here…you’ll be alright.” said Laura, reaching into the back pocket of her khaki shorts. A moment later she produced a small oval shaped gold medallion that glinted brilliantly in her palm. Though there was a loop for a chain, the chain was missing and I noticed this when Laura held out her palm.

“I want you to have this.” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s St. Christopher. Its good luck.” she insisted.

“What do I do with it?” I asked.

“You can wear it around your neck—but you’ll need a chain.”

I took the medallion from her palm and gave it a closer look. The inscription was too fine to read in the low, vermilion light the sky threw down, but I could make out a man holding a child against his chest. The medallion was heavier than it looked and was still warm from sitting snug in Laura’s pocket against her lovely ass.

“Good luck huh?” I said.

“With some faith…yeah.” Laura nodded.

“You think I need this?” I asked.

“Everyone needs a bit of good luck now and then.” she smiled, “…and I’m going to call Eleanor and have a chat with her tomorrow…Janet Lawson has her number.”

“Who the hell is Janet Lawson?” I chuckled.

“She’s a Coronation girl. A hip happening Coronation guy like you doesn’t know her?” laughed Laura.

“I’m not hip or happening…I’m the same misfit I ever was.” I said, “But I guess that means something over at Coronation.”

Stepping in, Laura enveloped me in a deep, warm, unflinching hug…she pressed her entire body up against mine and I could feel her large breasts squeeze against me; indeed, though she meant well—she was all kinds of trouble. Still, I liked that she’d wanted to give me good luck and when she was gone and I was back in my van with ALL’s prolific ‘Trailblazer’ album blasting on the speakers, I slipped the gold good luck medallion into a pocket in my wallet—directly behind my driver’s license. I lit one up and gave the Caldwell house a last look before I slipped into drive and pulled away from the curb…feeling the song ‘Postage’ pounding in the dashboard and clearing out the cobwebs.

When I arrived at Eleanor’s house, I found her sitting on the front steps amidst her step mother’s perfected landscaping masterpiece; a botanical garden. The sun had sunk into the ocean leaving a faint shade of violet against the enveloping night sky. I pulled up to the curb and waited for Eleanor to get in. However, she only waved and remained sitting on the front steps cradling the cordless phone between her jaw and neck as she took a long thin cigarette from her European pack. Her face illuminated momentarily with a dim orange glow when she sparked her zippo lighter. When she still didn’t approach my van, I shifted into park and cut the engine.

Curiously I made my way up her front walk and when I drew closer I heard her side of the conversation. It was a lot of ‘I see’ and ‘okay’ and ‘I realize that’. I took one of her long thin cigarettes from her pack and lit it before lying down on the front lawn next to a perfectly planted yellow and red flower bed. I gazed up into the sky as Eleanor talked on the phone.

I couldn’t find the moon in the sky but could make out a few early stars twinkling against the twilight; their light perhaps long gone, but still making it to us across the universe. It sometimes isn’t the wisest thing for a man to gaze out into the universe during intensely contemplative moments…indeed for men like Sagan the universe was full of wondrous mysteries…cosmic anomalies…interstellar possibilities. However, for some men, sometimes—staring into the void of space brought about existential meanderings the volume of which could shatter a strong sativa buzz with mind boggling questions that conjured no answers.

As Eleanor went on with her conversation, I wondered about Laura and her old man and her sassy mom who could still throw it around a bit. I wondered about their backyard dinner and what they’d said after I’d so abruptly walked out. I wondered why there was anything at all out here in the middle of infinity rather than nothing at all. Why there was a universe filled with things rather than nothing at all. Existence was something…space was something…darkness was something. Eleanor’s voice was something. The cordless phone she spoke on was something…the frequency the cordless phone was operating on was something…the dog barking down the street was something…the jets flying over…the helicopters chopping in the distance…rising smoke…the slam of a car door…the rolling tides in Malibu…the motion of the earth…solar wind…northern lights—all something…working in perfect synchronicity in our little neck of the universe.

But why? I asked myself and wasn’t sure which chilled me more—the question, or the potential answer. Perhaps the awe of our humanity is inspired by our inability to grasp the meaning…perhaps we are dullards, morons, knuckleheads; the whole bloody lot of us—using only a small percentage of our brains which were perhaps meant to bend spoons, cure leprosy and carry on conversations telepathically. Perhaps we are the mentally challenged stepchildren kept hidden in the attic.

When Eleanor was finally through with her conversation she clicked the phone off with a small beep and let her head fall so her chin touched her chest. Looking back up a moment later she ran her silver nail-polished fingernails through her hair and grinned at me, “That was the strangest conversation ever.” she said, her expression half amused and half confused.

“Who was it?” I asked, leaning myself up on one elbow on the lawn that was still damp from a recent watering.

“It was Caldwell…she called me to plead your case…but really I think she called me to explain about Gregory.” said Eleanor, “She said Gregory stalked her for months and she only got with him because he assured her that he and I were on the rocks and destined to break up…news to me.”

“What did she say about me?” I asked.

“She confirmed what you already told me. She apologized and cited a weakness for ‘Clarence Worley’ boys.” said Eleanor, placing another of her long thin cigarettes between her lips. I tossed her the lighter and again her face illuminated in a soft orange glow as she lit it.

“I’m not a fucking Clarence Worley boy.” I said.

“I know…but sometimes people can make someone into something if they want it bad enough.” said Eleanor, a hint of a defending tone in her words.

Though the grass was still damp, Eleanor rose from the stairs and joined me on the lawn. Shoulder to shoulder and holding hands we lay on our backs, staring up into the cosmos that wasn’t time stamped by fashions, technologies, medical breakthroughs or political agendas; the universe remained untouched by humanity—an unconquered frontier stretching out into infinity.

“Sorry I doubted you.” she said.

“You should be.”

“I am.”

“I was just at Caldwell’s place.” I said, “I gave her shit for the whole situation.”

“I know…she told me. She told me everything.”

“So it’s settled?” I asked.

“Not yet…” said Eleanor, “it won’t be settled until Gregory pays for getting you expelled. Nobody fucks with my man…”

“Look we don’t need both of us being expelled. Forget about that jackass.” I said.

“I can’t…I just won’t be able to do that. He went too far this time.” said Eleanor.

“Listen, I’ve got 67 dollars burning a hole in my pocket…let’s forget about all this jive for tonight and head down to House of Pies on Vermont for some a la mode.” I said, “We’ll think better with some a la mode. After that we can catch a movie at Second Sight theater downtown.”

“I love that idea. They got anything good?” asked Eleanor.

“They’ve got Harold and Maude and Dog Day Afternoon—I’m thinking Harold and Maude?”

“And we’ll drive up to our spot on Mulholland after?” asked Eleanor.

“Oh yes.” I assured.

“I almost went insane in Cuba without you—I just wanted to be here with you.” she said.

“Tell me about it—I’d have gone crazy if I wasn’t already crazy. What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?” I said and we both chuckled, lying on Eleanor’s front lawn under the Milky Way. It was the 90’s and the night belonged to us.

Episode 8

The following week I called for Walt, looking for a rehearsal. I’d composed a couple new songs I wanted to showcase at the Backyard battle of the bands, and I wanted to get into them as soon as possible. However, Walt wasn’t anywhere to be found. In fact, there was no answer at his house and though I’d left a message on the answering machine; it wasn’t returned. After a couple days of radio silence from Walt, I called the Goblin who hadn’t heard from Walt either. The Goblin stated that in fact, Walt had missed his classes at Cartwright four days in a row. He’d gotten in touch with Kristen, but Kristen wasn’t talking…she’d merely told the Goblin that Walt was ‘going through some shit’. Indeed, the phrase suggested everything and nothing all at once and I wondered if perhaps Walt’s sudden absence was only more shenanigans. I’d heard of Walt’s ever blossoming shenanigans in recent weeks. I’d heard that he’d gotten himself thrown out of Terminal City for doing a jig on a flimsy table top. There were other stories circulating as well…one which placed him in the crosshairs of a dare, one dealt to him by a fellow player during a particularly asinine game of truth or dare. As it was told to me, he and Kristen had been driving around Hollywood in her father’s Cadillac with two other couples. They’d all taken E for an illegal rave that had been shut down shortly after they’d arrived, which left them with a head full of mischief and a tank full of gas. They’d stopped at a Sinchell’s donuts and after polishing off a box of raspberry jellies, the group was buzzing with sugar and when one of the girls dared Walt to pinch the last donut between the cheeks of his ass, walk into Sinchell’s kitchen and moon the two bakers on staff, subsequently letting the donut fall from his ass to the floor—Walt had contemplated his choice between truth or dare. Though I’d been told the truth would have been an easy and rather harmless one—Walt had chosen to drop a donut from his ass in the Sinchell’s kitchen.

Needless to say, the women on staff had first whinnied in horror, crossed a Hail Mary over their hearts and subsequently proceeded to call 911—an emergency indeed. Of course I’d chuckled when I’d initially heard about this particular antic. For to me, the great comedy was in the fine details; a couple officers standing by, listening intently as the two Sinchell’s employees explained in a flurry of distress how seeing a wrinkled jelly donut fall from Walt’s hairy, crunchy ass cheeks would certainly traumatize them for life.

Indeed, Walt seemed to be losing it—but as long as he wailed on the bass and kept up his psychotic stage presence—I was convinced all would be well. Still, I felt a call to Kristen was warranted and I dialed her at the number Walt had given me if for any reason there was an emergency and he wasn’t reachable at his parent’s residence.

Kristen answered promptly with a tone of unease, not recognizing my number in her call display.

“Hey, it’s Jack…” I said.

“Jack…Hi!” she sang, “How are you?”

“I’m wondering what’s up with Walt? He’s been MIA for a number of days. Did his parents finally have him committed?”

“You can’t say a word to anyone…but Walt’s been staying at this shithole hotel on Sepulveda.” said Kristen, “It’s really nasty…cockroaches and something rotting in the shower drain…I think it might be a human hand in there.”

“What happened at his parent’s place?” I asked.

“Without getting into too much detail—Walt finally lost it on his old man…he left home, vowing to never return.”

“I see…what’s the name of the hotel?” I said.

“It’s called the Sundial Inn…he’s in room 5. He won’t answer the phone though. I think he pulled it out of the wall.” said Kristen.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” She said.

“Did he really drop a donut from his ass in the kitchen of Sinchell’s?” I chuckled.

“I’m afraid so.” Kristen said, her voice tapering off into a sullen silence.

When I was off the phone with Kristen, having gained Walt’s coordinates—I contemplated paying the old chap a visit…after all, keeping the songs skin tight took precedence over his personal meltdowns and home-life dramas, of which Walt had hinted to from time to time. Certainly there were more pressing matters than privilege based teen angst.

I decided that I would pay the old chap a visit. It was a marvelously sunny day and the LA skyline seemed to sparkle as if the downtown sprawl of skyscrapers were crystal obelisks reaching toward the sky, continuing on where the Roman leagues had left off, promising another thousand years. It was our place in time…we could have been born in any era and never known any better. We could have been born into a 1700’s nightmare of candlelit reading, collective body odor, bucket shitting and zero electricity. However, it was the 90’s and things seemed as advanced as they possibly could be. After the 90’s—what else could be new? I contemplated this as I made my way out of the house in my bowler-shirt uniform that still bared the name Carlito. It seemed Bob didn’t mind me being Carlito and to me, a name tag was incidental at best…offering, if anything, a shade of incognito which helped perpetuate the air of mystery I liked to think prevailed when I drove the ice cream truck. Nobody ever wonders about the dude who drives the ice cream truck—for the ice cream truck eclipses any curiosity about the driver…for he in essence becomes part of the ice cream truck…as if he were a door, or a tire or the steering wheel; another working part of an elaborate machine. Opening the front door I noticed the mailman approaching up the walk.   

“Perfect timing.” he said.

“I’d say.” I said.

“Sign.” he said, holding out a clipboard to which was fastened a form of receipt. I glanced it quickly and signed it, noting that though it had been sent from San Diego, there was no return address. Stranger still, the parcel was addressed to me, beside which small marker scratch lettering specified ‘for Clare Bear’, below which my address was properly intact, down to the nuance of my zip code—which I suddenly recalled jotting down for Clare the previous week when she’d stopped by early to return my board.

Knowing that I was going to be patrolling Emerald Heights in the ice cream truck for the greater part of the afternoon, I decided to take the parcel with me.  Perhaps it wasn’t a bad idea to roll by Coronation High with the creepy-clown music jingling through the speakers and pay my ex-classmates a visit. Certainly Clare Foster would be in attendance and perhaps she’d have the Natalie Merchant shirt we’d agreed on trading for the skateboard…in which case I could also unload her parcel which was strangely light weight for a birthday gift.

As I made my way down the 405 toward Marina Del Rey, I wondered about the parcel and why Clare’s father had not included a return address. Was it that he didn’t wish me to know where he lived? In which case, what would become of the package if he’d have not gotten the mailing address correct? I wondered where wayward parcels went as I glanced the box wrapped in brown paper sitting on the passenger seat of my van.

Before arriving at Bob’s place in Del Rey, I stopped at the 7-11 to pick up a bottle of Dr. Zipper and a cheeseburger. I crossed back across the sweltering parking lot as I ate the cheeseburger, relishing the grilled taste, yet wondering in the back of my mind how long ago it was that the cow from which the patty had been made was alive and roaming in a pasture, chewing cud and perhaps contemplating the meaning of its existence. Though the contemplation momentarily brought my mind to ‘cowschwitz’ the slaughter house north of Los Angeles one could smell from miles away; the grilled juiciness of the burger somehow nullified the reality—placating my prehistoric carnivorousness and absolving me of the guilt; meat after all was murder…unless you were hungry and in a hurry.

When I was back in the sweltering van I was intrigued by the scent that had settled in the close confines slowly enough to not be noticed during the drive over and had in fact been accentuated by the contrast of outdoor air when I’d gotten back into the van.

I carried my personal stash in a sealed film canister in order to avoid being enveloped in the tell-tale scent. After a quick check of my stash which I kept in the front pocket of my backpack, I found it sealed and again wondered about the origin of the scent. Perhaps I’d driven over the remnants of a skunk that had been flattened over the asphalt by a morning worth of commuting tires or perhaps one of my many passengers had lost their own stash in my van somewhere, in which case, finders would definitely be keepers. In the parking lot of the 7-11 I went through the van, searching under the seats, behind the seats, in the seats, in the many compartments and even in the earthquake supply box. However, I came up empty handed…yet the distinct smell was still present. There could only be one other source I realized.

I picked up the parcel and shook it but it produced no sound. It did however seem hollow when I squeezed it. Smelling the package my suspicions were confirmed; the grassy scent was emanating from the parcel. Fucking Clare—where did she get the tits to have a stash sent to my house? I wondered, shaking my head with a slight grin.

I got back in the van and turned up the stereo…it was Dag Nasty and as Under Your Influence blasted away, I tore the surrounding paper from the parcel, ripping through the pointless and tattered tape-job Clare’s father had done—if he was trying to conceal the smell of the contents—he’d indeed done a terrible job. Like opening a Christmas gift, I was amused to see the box of choice—a blender, which in the photo was set against the white backdrop of a post-modern kitchen and surrounded by fruits and vegetables.

Cracking open the top of the box, a pungent waft of grass filled my van. I removed the contents which was made up of two, 1 gallon sized Ziplocs holding within them perhaps the largest quantity of weed I’d ever laid eyes on. I wasn’t sure of the exact weight or even a ballpark weight, mainly because I’d only ever experienced dime bags and blunts. The sheer quantity evaded my scope of comprehension as I sat there with Dag Nasty blasting, staring back at the bursting Ziplocs of green in a slight state of shock there in the Marina Del Rey 7-11 parking lot. 

By the time I made it to Bob’s it was closing in on noon. I’d told Bob I’d be there around 11am, but traffic and the discovery of the grass had made me late. Bob didn’t seem to mind though…I found him in his backyard reclined in a sun chair, soaking up the high noon sun and smoking a cigarette and listening to a Roy Orbison album; the good life. Perhaps it was the Orbison, but Bob wasn’t much for talking—as he usually most definitely was. On this day, he was content to gesture to the metal cashbox upon which sat the keys to the truck, from which always dangled a plastic ice cream cone that had been worn over the years from chocolate to chocolate marble.

“Go and give em’ hell kid. I’m not sure how much time the truck has left.” he said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked him.

“The Murphy truck…that’s why.” said Bob.

“What’s the Murphy truck?” I asked.

“Godam Ben Murphy and his kid…they’ve been sucking up all the business in these parts. They have a new truck…flashing lights…they’ve got frozen yogurt and fruit bars…smoothies…they appeal to all of these yoga mat, tree hugging fruitarians that are taking over this town…you just wait and see…in twenty years that’s all there will be around here.” Bob assured, pointing toward the future with his cigarette, the ash of which was long and bent and ready to fall, “The worst part is that Ben Murphy and his son, Ben Jr.—who is a meaner, more tenacious version of his old man—they’ve been trying to oust me for years…I think this year they’ll finally get their wish…I’m sure it was them who reported my truck to the DMV…emissions, codes, licenses…poppycock.”

“Your truck is rad Bob…there’s a certain vintage to it and anyone with any style at all can see that. I mean, the giant ice cream cone fastened to the top…it’s legendary…it’s kind of like that huge donut on the roof of that donut shop in Inglewood.” I said.

“Randy’s, I know that one.” Bob smiled.

“Shit like that never gets old…it just acquires a certain vintage.” I assured, “LA needs a truck like yours.”

“But if everyone is buying Murphy’s…how can I keep the truck going? Everyone wants Murphy’s ice cream—if you can even call it ice cream. I took the truck in yesterday…the alternator is going, the spark plugs are going, the brakes and rotors are going…the timing belt keeps slipping. There’s smoke billowing out of the muffler. Know what I’m saying kid?”

“I get it…” I said and watched Bob trail off into sleep. His head went back and his hat fell to the grass behind his chair, “Bob?” I asked, but he didn’t answer.

Leaving Bob behind his mirrored sunglasses and his deep contemplative state, I bid him farewell, to which he replied with only a grunt. I stopped at my van on the way to the truck and grabbed the 1 gallon Ziplocs. I stuffed them into my backpack which contained most anything I’d need in case of an emergency; a bottle of water, a few protein bars, Charles Bukowski’s ‘Hollywood’, a warm can of beer, a change of clothing, ten dollars in loose arcade change, a stick of ocean mist deodorant, a pack of wintermint, a flashlight, a Swiss Army knife…and now, a two 1 gallon Ziplocs full of sunny lanes. I took it all with me and hopped up into the truck which started with a roar and calmed a moment later to a lulling purr.

When I made it to Emerald Heights I pulled the truck over to a sunny curb as I normally did before starting a shift. I counted out the float and prepped the serve station, checked and double checked the inventory and marked it as well as the cash float opening balance. I was about to turn the music dial when I realized that the music ran off of a cassette player which was amplified by a sound system which ran through the ceiling of the truck out onto the roof. The speakers were bolted to the base of the giant double stacked ice cream cone fastened to the roof of the truck.

Though I’d turned on the music a number of times, I’d never before noticed the cassette player hiding just below the console. I pressed stop and ejected the cassette tape and found that it was an unmarked Memorex with a torn sticker upon which was written in sharpie, jingles. Then, a bulb went on in my head. Indeed, I carried a few cassettes in my backpack to change up in my sport Walkman during long commutes or involved study halls. I dug through the bag and fished out one cassette at random. It was Never Mind the Bullocks and I walked it back to the console, feeling a freeze of elation tickle my core as I slipped it into the player. With a grin, I dared turn the dial to the required volume…and after a few seconds the sound of marching boots led their way into the opening guitar strike of Holiday In the Sun; this was going to be epic, I thought, sitting down in the driver seat and pulling away, tapping the large steering wheel to the beat.

Indeed, dear reader, it was a moving spectacle and not necessarily just because of the Pistols blasting through the rooftop speakers…indeed, something so out of the ordinary seemed to strike a chord of slight awe in the faces I passed which stared back at me with the same shade of curiosity—as if I’d somehow colored outside of the lines and nobody was sure if it could be called a great work of art or a sinister manifesto—suggesting perhaps there was a fine line between the two. If somehow the sight of a kid clad in a bowling shirt, driving a vintage ice cream truck to the tune of Bodies evoked enough wonder to catch on some curiosity and in turn draw some attention to the menu posted on the side of the truck; it was going to be easier than I thought.

It was in this fashion I rolled up to Coronation High. The lunch break was still in session and the front lawn was crawling with students. They milled around or stood in groups, hacky sacking, and sitting in circles smoking cigarettes and sipping from pop cans. Indeed, the sight of them all filled me immediately with a hollow sensation—for I knew deep in my heart of hearts that attending Coronation meant far less to them than it had to me…and in the end I’d been banished from the kingdom—according to tribal politics.

As I moved slowly along the curb toward the auditorium entrance on the north side of the school I noticed heads turning and conversations halting…I noticed hacky sackers lose their turn and dead stares and open lips dangling with cigarettes…I watched their expressions moving in a wave across the vast lawn…and indeed, dear reader, I’d have been remiss not to at least add a shade of theater to the spectacle. Firing off a few two finger salutes from my brow-line, I couldn’t help grinning, seeing all of their mugs again                                  staring back at me, doubtlessly wondering what the fuck I thought I was doing.

Noticing Wes and April standing on the sidewalk smoking a blunt with a few others, I brought the truck to an idle and turned in my seat, leaning my forearm across the large steering wheel. I grinned back at them as their jaws dropped.

“What the hell?” said April after taking away the hand she’d clasped over her mouth in surprise, “Oh my god.” she cried stepping up to the window. Wes was directly behind her, grooving his head to the Pistols soundtrack that was blasting Seventeen in all directions.

“Dig the soundtrack man…when you land this detail?” he asked.

“The day the fuckers threw me out of here actually.” I said.

“I hate them for doing that…” April frowned, making a long, long face and rolling out her bottom lip, “Fucking Locksmith should hang.”

“Don’t I know it.” I said.

“Fucking Locksmith man…” said Wes, shaking his head.

“Is Eleanor here?” I asked.

“Somewhere.” said April, “Probably in the library—that girl is a schoolaholic.”

“That’s my Eleanor.” I said.

“So you just drive this puppy around all afternoon selling ice cream?” asked Wes.

“Yep…” I grinned.

“What they pay you? Maybe I’ll get expelled next and we can work this truck in shifts.” Wes chuckled.

“Minimum with tips.” I said.

“Tips?” asked April.

“Yeah, I made like 70 bucks the other day in tips…it was a good day.” I nodded.

“You’re kidding me.” said Wes and he was about to say more when he was interrupted by Seymour Lewis, a Coronation basketball star who, just then, felt he’d snag a heroic opportunity to buy ice cream for his entire crew which consisted of perhaps ten.

“Nice set up…you open for business Holden?” he asked.

“Locked and loaded.” I said.

“Okay…” he said turning to the small crowd that he enjoyed being the center of, “what is everyone having?”

As he collected the orders, and called them off to me over his shoulder as if we were in a gym class basketball drill, I offered to make April anything she wanted if she could deliver Clare Foster to the ice cream truck before the bell sounded and ended the lunch break. Widening her eyes enthusiastically April darted off to find Clare as Wes climbed into the truck and joined me in the back, at the serve station. When Lewis was through with his order I noticed a crowd had gathered around the truck. A few more people ordered waffle cones and I made them with a smile.

There was a collective energy of rebellion among us as the Pistols album played on and the small crowd became a small party—a sing along fueled by double scooped waffle cones, sugary toppings and British punk rock from the 70’s. It was a spontaneously combusting social event suddenly and between the volume of the loud music and the volume of the loud conversations, laughter and singing along—it was no wonder nobody heard the bell. Or perhaps they had heard it but decided they hadn’t. Either way, after a while of free-form oblivion, vice Principal Ellis emerged at the fringe of the large crowd that had gathered around the truck.

Smartly, he made his way around to the driver side door and leaned his head into the truck, “Exactly what do you think you’re doing?” he demanded. His face was lobster red and his eyes beady and intense just beneath his bushy furrowed brows. His statement was reinforced by the demand in his eyes which expected an actual answer—though I’d initially assumed the question had been rhetorical.

“Selling ice cream sir.” I said.

“You turn that music off at once! If you can call it music!” he demanded.

Reluctantly I turned and switched the music off and the sudden vacuum of silence was filled with a collective groan of disappointment voiced from my ex-classmates who though realizing they were all late for next class, remained congregated around the truck, enjoying the jolt of surrealism and certainly wanting to see where Ellis was going to now take things.

“Looks like the fun police just crashed this party folks…shop is closed.” I told everyone through the serve window.

“It’s one in the afternoon on a school day—not party time.” snapped Ellis, “Now you get this bucket of bolts out of here or I’ll call the authorities and have you removed at once…and you,” he added toward Wes, “Get your butt out of there and back to class Milton, or it’s going to be a write up for you.”

“Sorry Jacko—looks like the Gestapo is sending me back to the camp.” he said when Ellis ducked back out and rounded the front of the truck. When he was upon the crowd again, he spoke with professional loudness and explained with the help of theatrical hand gestures that he wasn’t above dishing out detention to every student who didn’t immediately abandon their ice cream cones and return to class.

Though reluctantly, everyone fell into step, abruptly heading back up the walkway and into the glass entrance doors, taking their voices, laughter and teenage angst with them. When they were gone, I organized the cash float which had become a disorganized mess of mismatched bills and change.

As I set the bills and change in their respective slots, Ellis stepped up to the serve window. He looked at me for a while as I organized the float, trying to ignore his looming presence. His yellow golf shirt reflected the sun brightly, like a neon banana poised in my peripheral. Finally I looked at him and saw he was scanning the menu. Noticing me looking his way, Ellis looked at me again, his brows intensely furrowed and his gaze beady with malice…I wondered where a man like Ellis was hatched and decided that though I wasn’t quite sure where I saw myself in thirty years—I certainly wouldn’t want to wind up like Ellis.

“What?” I asked him.

“I told you to leave.” he said.

“I heard you but you don’t own the street and I’ve got to arrange the cashbox before I go…so why don’t you just waddle back into the school and find some more fun to squash.” I suggested.

Ellis looked at me for a moment before speaking, “I’d expected more from you.” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

When he couldn’t readily articulate an answer, Ellis slipped away, leaving in his absence a dramatic air that loomed like a spray of cheap cologne. After organizing the float I slid the cashbox back into the drawer beneath the serve window and got back behind the wheel. As I started it up I noticed April half jogging across the expanse of lush green lawn. She dressed well, usually in school girl attire; knee length skirt, knee high socks and usually smart looking short sleeve shirts beneath thin sweater vests. On this afternoon she was all of that minus the sweater vest and when she was at the passenger window she informed me that she’d looked for Clare Foster but hadn’t been able to find her.

“That’s fine…thanks.” I said, distracted by my conversation with Ellis.

“Do I still get an ice cream?” she asked.

“Help yourself.” I said, gesturing for her to hop in, “But don’t let Ellis see you…he’s out for blood.”

“Fuck Ellis in the ear…I’m on a spare and I’m contemplating cutting the rest of the afternoon altogether.” said April, “Need an assistant?”

“Assistant?” I asked.

“Yeah, I can handle the cash while you make the cones how about?” asked April.

“That could work.” I nodded.

I waited for her to make her cone before pulling away from the curb slowly. I told her to hit the music and she did, after which she joined me in the front, easing down into the leather passenger seat with a long sigh.

“So…why did you want to talk to Clare? You like her or something?” asked April.

“Look in my backpack.” I said, gesturing toward it with my head as I rounded the lush sunny lanes of Emerald Heights.

April reached down and opened it slowly and curiously. She dropped her jaw theatrically when she produced the 1 gallon Ziplocs filled with grass. She placed a hand over her mouth and when she removed it a moment later she was smiling.

“What the fuck Jack?”

“I was going to ask her that very question—she had that shit sent to my mom’s house. Can you fucking believe the tits on her to do something like that?” I said.

“Sure…Clare Foster is crazier than a shit-house rat…everyone knows that.” chuckled April, “Why would she have this sent to your house?”

“I guess her dad sent it…and if her mom found out—the shit would hit the fan.” I shrugged.

“Yeah…Clare’s dad is a real fuck up…I’ve heard stories.” said April absently as she lifted the bag from the cupboard.

“I wanted to hand it over to her but not before raking her over a coals a bit.” I said.

“Or you could just deny having received it…don’t you think that would be the best revenge?” suggested April.

“I don’t want revenge…I want to give her shit.” I said.

“And giving her shit will benefit you exactly how?” asked April as she ate away at her cone.

“Keep it?” I asked, the notion occurring to me only then, “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” said April.

I glanced at her trying to articulate in my mind a viable answer to her question—however, I drew a blank. Certainly it was highly believable that such a package would be intercepted at the post office and therefore a viable possibility that might explain exactly why I hadn’t received the parcel when Clare eventually inquired.

“It’s just not right my dear.” I said.

“Was it right for her to have a huge stash sent to your mother’s house? What if your mom would have opened it by accident? Think about that. How would you have explained that shit to your mom?” said April before taking a seductive lick from her cone.

“So just tell Clare ‘No, I didn’t receive your parcel’? That’s it? Simple as that?”

“Pretty much…I mean that much shit could last you easily until next fall.” April suggested.

“But it was meant for Clare.” I said.

“Yeah, and Clare risked your ass to get it sent to her.” said April, “Wake up Jack…you don’t owe her anything.”

“It’s got to stay between us then.” I said.

“My lips are sealed.” she sang in her best Belinda Carlisle, tickled with a large grin as her strawberry cone hovered before her mouth.

“Sure.” I said.

As I rounded the lanes at a perpetual school zone speed, with the Pistols blasting from the speakers, April, using the rolling papers from my ashtray, prepared a perfect roll from Clare’s father’s Ziploc stash. She lit it on the dashboard lighter in a plume of heavy blue smoke before handing it to me.

I hauled deep a few times and handed it back as I saw a family waving me down. I pulled over to the curb and shifted the truck into park. I took a few orders and made them as best I could—with a little art and a sparing hand. I made a two dollar tip, which clinked into the jar nicely.

By the time I was back behind the wheel I felt a strange buzz arising and it was strange in the way that it didn’t quite glaze my surroundings in a soft-focus slow motion camera pan from 1970’s Hollywood…rather it made me think of the overcast winter peaks in Oregon…I could nearly smell the burning wood and hear the rain pattering the roof.

“I don’t like it.” I said.

“Why not?” asked April between licks of the cone she seemed to be savoring.

“It’s not a sunny buzz…it’s rainy.” I concluded.

“Its sunny enough.” she laughed, gesturing to the sun drenched lane down which we were driving, slowly but surely—searching for ice cream truck customers.

“I don’t know…it’s a strange buzz.” I mused.

“Hey, if you don’t want it…I’ll be happy to take it off your hands.”

“Well in that case why wouldn’t I just give it back to Clare?” I asked.

“How you gonna do that now? You already opened it.” smiled April, “Silly nilly.”

“You’d love it if I gave you all of that shit.” I laughed.

“I would. But maybe we could sell half of it.”

“I sell ice cream.” I said, “I’m legit.”

“Legit…” she trailed off in a long laugh, “but how much ice cream can you really sell?”

“I sold 700 the other week.” I said.

“And since then?”

“It’s been slow.” I admitted.

“So…maybe what we need is a marketing strategy.” said April.

“We?” I asked.

“Hear me out…we could try this; equal partners—you drive the truck and make the cones…and I’m the pretty face who handles the cashbox when the sales start rolling in.” she said, “I’d also be head strategist.”

“Yeah? When are the sales supposed to start rolling in?”

“When we introduce the buyer’s incentive.”

“What incentive?”

“We spread the word that sales over ten dollars include a blast from the past.” April said, holding up the Ziploc, “But only when they make a purchase ten dollars or over.”

“And how are we gonna promote that? A fucking ad in the Coronation Gazette?” I chuckled.

“Word of mouth spreads like wildfire in Emerald Heights…you should know that by now. Listen, I have a spare after every lunch hour…so theoretically we’ve got two hours to make the rounds…you can pick me up from Coronation at noon, we hit the crowd there…then drive over to Cartwright, then to Douglas…we can hit every high school in this district in the space of two hours; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. ”

“Chrissake April, I’m not going to peddle grass out of a fucking ice cream truck.” I laughed, shaking my head at the absurdity.

“Did you hear what I just said? You’re not selling grass; you’re selling ice cream—the grass is just incentive to buy the ice cream in quantity…like when they sometimes give you free coleslaw at Kentucky Fried when you get a bucket.”

“Free coleslaw huh?” I grinned, still shaking my head.

“They do it because it helps sell the buckets. It’s marketing 101 Holden…get with the program. In fact that can be the code word…they can order whatever and then ask for their free side of coleslaw…its perfect…and the more sales you do—the better the tips will be—it’s simple mathematics.” said April and I could see she was entirely serious this time.

“…I don’t know…sounds a bit far fetched.”

“Listen, all you need to do is drive the truck and make the cones…I’ll handle the rest.” said April.

“And what do you get out of it?” I asked.

“An equal partner.” she said with a negotiating tone and a small wink.

“I guess we can try it out…see what happens.” I shrugged.

We were stopped at a red light and I was gazing across the intersection toward an abandoned baseball diamond across which a dog ran, chasing a Frisbee. I was lost in contemplation about April’s business proposition when I noticed in my peripheral, a hand waving at me from a neighboring vehicle. When I turned I saw that the vehicle beside us was another ice cream truck, only this one was brand new—chrome mags and the paint job was flashy…along the side of the truck was a collage of fruits scattered around a professionally photographed depiction of their wares; a cup of frozen yogurt, three transparent plastic cups heaping smoothies of varying color, beside which was a turtle looking girl in red sunglasses taking a bite of a fruit bar. Indeed, it was the Murphy truck.

“Who the hell is that?” asked April as I rolled down the window.

“Nice truck,” I said, “but the girl taking a bite of fruit bar looks like a turtle.”

“That’s my sister.” said the man.

“Makes sense.” I said.

“I get plenty of dates, asshole.” he said.

“Well—turtles need love too.” I offered with a shrug.

“What happened to old man Baskerville…he finally overdose?” asked the man in the passenger seat. He wore mutton chops and a painter cap and he wore his long sleeve shirt rolled up just enough so that we all might be awestruck by his Swatch.

“Business has been booming—he had to hire more staff.” I shrugged.

“Booming…right.” laughed Ben Jr., “Do the ozone layer a favor…retire that bucket of bolts to the wrecking yard.” he laughed as they peeled away.

The light had turned green and as I noticed this, a car behind me started impatiently honking…I stepped on the gas and after a stutter; the engine picked up and moved us along through the intersection.

“Who the fuck was that dick?” asked April.

“I gather it was Ben Murphy Sr. and Jr.” I said.

“So who the fuck are they?” asked April.

“They’ve been trying to put my boss out of business for years…at least that’s what he told me.”

“That guy looked like a street urchin from a Charles Dickens novel.” laughed April.

“He did didn’t he?” I mused, watching their giant truck glimmer under the afternoon sunshine half a block ahead of us. When we were upon them at the next red light I rolled up easily and looked over at them.

“Nice music.” said Ben Jr. rolling his eyes, “Sounds like a cat stuck in a fence.”

“What you got?” I asked, “Rick Asley?”

“Hardly. Hit it pop.” said Ben to his father.

The old man with a grin of arrogance leaned over and hit the music that was wired in with the lights which started to flash in sync with a house music beat layered by a synthesizer. As if they were in a cheese-puff dance club, both men fell into the chorus, bobbling their heads in unison and fluttering out a triumphant hula dance with their arms and shoulders as they pulled away again, this time turning left on a blinking green arrow, Ben offering me a bold middle finger as they rounded the turn. This tickled April, who started laughing so hard she drew tears. As I drove, she keeled forward, hugging her sides, nearly hyperventilating with laughter.

“I can’t even…” she gasped.

“Tell me about it.” I said, grinning as I lit up a cigarette.

“What a pair of fucking spazzes…” she sighed.

“Yeah, well…those spazzes are trying to put this truck out of business.” I said, “And they’re doing a great job of it.”

“But this truck is super cool…the old ice cream cone on the top…it’s like a time capsule.” said April, “What’s cooler than that?”

“Murphy’s party bus…evidently.” I laughed.

Indeed I let the week go by without getting back to April about her innovative business strategy which I personally felt wasn’t likely to succeed. I did however continue to pick up the keys to the truck every afternoon from Bob and make the rounds in Emerald Heights…after which I’d hit the beaches, starting at Manhattan and working my way up to Malibu. I did this while my ex-classmates at Coronation were contentedly nestled in their classes, listening to droning lectures and daydreaming about their approaching graduation and the many booze soaked weekends that would follow. Though I’d never been a social strategist or a weekend booze hound or particularly fascinated by monotone, pre-scripted lectures…I was a bit envious of my classmates for retaining their right to attend Coronation.

Indeed, I was now part of the workforce, flowing along in traffic with the rest of the grown up world that was pushing through it all with the instinctual determination of ants…on the edge of life…death…the world itself; where the ocean meets the earth in the beautifully violent crashing of tides, errands become existential and the sea an all consuming entity. Though I could gaze long winding stretches of the coastline from the slow moving PCH and grasp the glittery notion of impending college life and all of its hidden treasures…though I could imagine a brave world filled with skyscrapers, late night possibilities and the mystery of adult education…the fact remained; this life, no matter how long-lived, only offered us a glimpse…and I wanted to see it all…I wanted to see the sun supernova…I wanted to see the oceans dry up…the moon orbit into the earth…I wanted understanding beyond the shallow reach of quantum physics—I wanted to bend space-time with the power of my brain and unravel the extraordinary riddle of the cosmos itself. Then…a moment later, I relaxed into the acceptance of an existential truth; the creation of art was the closest to it any of us could ever really get…and so it was realized—the trajectory I’d always been on, for better or for worse, from the start.

After hitting the beaches and making some sales, I decided to stop in on Walt in his rat bag hotel room on Sepulveda. Indeed the Sundial was about as vintage as it got…that is to say that the owners hadn’t bothered to renovate the place—rather their approach was one of maintenance.

I found number 5 and knocked on the door. The TV was up loud and I had to eventually pound on the door, to which Walt eventually came, clad in a monogrammed robe, Doc Martins, checkered boxers and a Sugarcubes t-shirt. There was a cigarette hanging from his lips and he was wearing sunglasses through which he peered back at me, his drawn suspiciousness softening into a grin, “So, you found me.”

“Kristen told me you had some shit with your old man.” I said as Walt stepped aside and gestured for me to enter, scanning the sweltering parking lot for any undesirables who may have tailed me to the hotel.

The room was covered in surfaces that were once plush…styles from a long dead era where Jay Rockford reigned supreme and polyester dreams presided. Aside from the shag rug and stately wood-grain wall paneling, the bedside lamps were rustically detailed and a ship’s wheel chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling. It may have been an attractive room in its day, however, decades of wear, tear, hooker sex and illicit drug orgies had tarnished the room, permeating it with the smell of stale cigarette smoke, cheap wine and the dried stains of bodily fluids past.

“Nice room.” I said.

“It gets the job done.” said Walt.

“What happened with your old man?” I asked, kicking back on one of the beds, resting my head against the head board and lighting a blunt…trying not to think of the semen and snail trails that had dried into the bedspread over the years.

“Same shit as always…he thinks my life is his life…that he can make all my decisions for me.” said Walt with a grin, sitting on the edge of the other bed, the one he’d slept in and was still unmade and tussled with lumpy pillows and dried-cum sheets, “I just walked the fuck out…in the middle of dinner—I told him he that though he wasn’t the boss of me, he was in fact a supreme asshole and I just walked out.”

“Shit man…what did your mom say?” I inquired.

“She sat there as usual, not wanting to disturb the ‘peace’.” said Walt, shrugging it off and shaking his head with a half grin as he cracked open a can of beer.

I recognized the movie playing on the small grey TV in the corner that was still turned up nearly full so the sound was slightly distorted. The movie was Shampoo with Warren Beatty and full of old Technicolor LA locations and I wondered how many of the places still existed; life presses on, in spite of what falls away.

“Well…at least you got a vintage room…the ashtrays here are pretty cool.” I said, ashing the blunt in a triangular shaped amber glass ashtray one corner of which was chipped and jagged.

“I think I’ll take the ashtrays when I go.” said Walt.

“Why go? Aside from the dried cum it seems like you got it pretty good here.” I said.

“My mom has been bribing me to come back…she’s been by with some groceries—cigarettes…even a bottle of gin…you want a shot? I got it in the fridge.” said Walt gesturing to the kitchenette side of the room, “She wants me to go back…but if I go now, it’s just going to explode again.”

“Likely.” I nodded.

“So, I’ll ride it out here for a while…let things cool down. They always cool down.” assured Walt he was about to say something more—perhaps something inconsequential, when screams of pain rang muffled through the thin motel wall, overriding the volume of the TV.

“You see? I can hear those fuckers over the TV and I’ve got the TV up all the way.” said Walt with a touch of amazement. He slid off the edge of his bed and walked over to the TV, turning it down but not off. The vacuum of sudden silence was filled with the groans of pain coming through the wall. It was a woman’s voice and though her words were indecipherable, her tone suggested she was crying out in agony…or perhaps pleasure—it was hard to tell the difference in her tone.

“What the fuck is that?” I asked Walt who turned to me and shook his head with frustrated disapproval.

“I’m not sure what the dynamic is, but I think he’s torturing her…last night she was screaming and crying out all night. I could hear him whipping her across the back. I thought someone would call the police but nobody did. She went on moaning in agony until 4am.”

“You sure it’s agony?” I asked.

“Well, you tell me.” said Walt, crossing his arms. We both listened carefully and a moment later the moaning started again.

“Sounds like trouble to me.” I shrugged.

“That or she’s in labor for the last three days and nights, I can’t live like this. You see this?” said Walt, walking over to his suitcase and producing his samurai sword.

“What’s that for?” I laughed.

“Protection man…if someone busts in here in the middle of the night…I’m going to be ready to cut off their fucking nose.”

“Why don’t you just balance a chair beneath the door knob?” I asked.

“I’m not going to barricade myself in…this is America—home of the brave, land of the free.” said Walt, swinging the sword around in a chopping motion…taking swipes at an imaginary intruder, “You know something…I could hack through this thin wall into their room right now if I wanted to…and it would take only seconds…I could really hack through this fucking wall right now.” said Walt, a gleam of madness in his eyes. I’d seen the look before and could never decide if it was for real or done in jest…perhaps it was a bit of both.

As I lay still on the made up spare bed with my head leaning against a head board that had doubtlessly been sprayed in any number of bodily fluids over the decades, I watched Walt turn and swing the samurai sword at the wall in a sudden burst of action. He’d reached his limit and indeed, he was correct—the sword stuck deep into the wall causing a large gouge to form in the wood paneling. He turned back to me and pulled his sunglasses off, widening his eyes and raising his brows a few times, “Holy fuck!” he chuckled with amazement, “Did you see that?!”

“Sitting right here.” I said, wrinkling my brows and assuming his question was that of a rhetorical nature.

“Wow! I really could chop through this fucking wall.” chuckled Walt. After tossing his sunglasses onto his bed, he gripped the sword’s handle with two hands…taking a moment to firm his grip. After a moment of concentration Walt took another swing from the opposite angle, which left an equally deep gouge in the paneling, “This sword is epic!”

“Yeah, I’m sure the bill for damages will be as well.” I said.

“Whatever, to rent the room I used the joint credit card my mom gave me…so really, the old man will pay for it—he fucking should pay for it.”

Before I could respond a barrage of pounding sounded from the other side of  the wall, with such force it knocked loose a gaudy portrait which slid down the wall and behind the old rustic dresser upon which the TV sat silently yet still running Shampoo in soft-focus Technicolor.

Accompanying the pounding was the sound of a man’s hollering voice…his exact words also indecipherable and muffled through the thin wall.

“Go fuck yourself you cocksucker!” Walt hollered back, taking another chop against the wall, which in turn overlapped the previous two gouges, which created an A shape in the old wood paneling; an anarchist by nature was Walt. When the pounding didn’t subside and only became heavier against the wall, Walt grinned, set the sword down on top of the TV and made an ornery start toward the door. He flung it open and walked out into the sunshine which he squinted against before turning and gesturing for me to follow.

“Give me some backup…I’m going in.” he said from the doorway.

“You don’t think that’s an obviously shitty idea?” I asked.

“Come on man…I might need back up…the shit is on now.” he said with a slight shrug that suggested things had progressed beyond the point of no return.

Reluctantly I pushed myself up off of the neatly made bedspread that was tattered and worn with cigarette burns and dried reproductive secretions. I didn’t rush, rather I moseyed…hauling on my blunt as I made my way across the orange shag carpet. Once the piercing afternoon sun was warming against the back of my neck Walt used the hammer of his fist to pound against his neighbor’s door. The neighbors had, over the course of time, placed personal effects on the window sill which suggested they’d been staying in the motel for an extended period of time; a flower pot, a small array of African tribesman candle holders lined up perfectly beside a dormant red lava lamp…a neatly placed pyramid of oyster pails from Shanghai by Night restaurant…a succession of empty beer bottles, aligned perfectly and angled so the labels faced the parking lot as a display.

The curtain pulled aside and a pale, badly aged face with steely eyes emerged, taking inventory of Walt and I for a moment before the sound of the chain and safety latch sounded. A few seconds later, the door flung open and from behind it emerged a shirtless old man whose most instantly notable feature was a protruding beer belly well formed enough to deflect a bullet. His navel protruded even further, as if an alien creature was trying to burrow its head through the translucent flesh. His arms and shoulders were scrawny and sagging with tanned wrinkled skin and faded jail-house tattoos. There was a cigarette dangling from his mouth and running from the top of his belly up to the bottom of his neck was a waxy heart surgery scar which was smooth and nearly glistening under the high noon sun. 

“Want some fucko?” the old man growled striding toward Walt who backed away slowly and with some caution, anticipating a lunging attack.

The man wore shorts and a pair of sandals and the nails of his toes were long discolored and rounded. I noticed his fingernails were the same…and as he squared off with Walt in the empty parking stalls I peered into the room from which he’d emerged. Indeed, sprawled across the bed was a woman roughly the same mid-60’s age as the man. She was tied to the bed at her ankles and wrists and her thick mascara had run down her cheeks which where smudged also with bright red lipstick.

“Shit man…” I said to Walt, “You were right…he was torturing a broad in here.” 

“Untie her and call the cops—I’m going to deal with this cretin.” he said, looking back at the man now who was approaching from the side, cutting off the angle and holding up a boxing guard.

“You fucked with the wrong one today shitter…the wrong one.” said the man though the whistling gate of two missing front teeth. His hair was long and silver and held back in a tight ponytail. As he threw a few weak feints, Walt assumed the stance of a ninja, lowering his center of gravity and waving the man on with a psychotic smile.

“It will be the last move you ever make old man.” said Walt.

I ducked into the darkened room and was wafted by the odor of geriatric sex, stale cigarette smoke and cat shit. On their TV was satellite porn and a baffling instance of a number of soaking wet towels laid out across the stained shag carpet in perfect alignment. They hadn’t been tossed there or dropped haphazardly—the towels had been spread out neatly and the wrinkles smoothed out and they’d been aligned perfectly, edge to edge, so they created one long towel about six feet long. Stepping over them, I got to work on the rope knotted around the woman’s ankle.

“Don’t worry lady; we’ll get you out of here.” I assured the woman who appeared to be terrified. When I took hold of the rope the woman started flailing and kicking her legs and squealing like a barnyard piglet stuck in the thick mud. I stepped back, looking at her intensely.

“What the fuck lady?” I demanded.

“Help! Mitchell…help! He’s trying to fuck me!” she hollered toward the door before turning back to me, “Stay away from me! I’ll bite your chin off if you touch me again you masher! Masher!”

“Masher? I’m trying to untie you dumbass.” I said, baffled suddenly.

“You’re trying to fuck me…I just know it!” she spat.

“Are you on crack?” I said, backing away.

Her shrieks were piercing and shrill and drew her man back into the room, leaving me only a second to react as he lunged low and hard, wrapping his arms around my torso trying to steamroll me toward the wall. I sprawled hard and wide, but the old man possessed an impressive degree of old-man toughness and we both toppled to the rug so the wet towels soaked through the back of my shirt.

He squirmed hard, aiming to mount my torso in order to rain down a barrage of fists and perhaps some teeth. Wedging a knee in between us, I pushed back hard, creating some space through which I could escape. Wrapping his forearm around the man’s neck, Walt pulled the man up off of me and flung him back, so he landed against the wall with the thud of his head, colliding with the hard wood paneling. As if a pistol crack had sounded, everyone went silent…the shrieking stopped and the man held the back of his head with his palms, sliding down the wall to the shag carpet which he’d curled upon in a fetal position, wimpering and holding his head.

“They’re trying to kill me.” he muttered through the guard of his forearms.

“You bastard!” hollered the woman suddenly, the shrill frequency of her voice tightening my ear drums, “You didn’t have to do that…he’s 68 years old! We’re going to fucking kill you in your sleep tonight!”

“Just try it.” invited Walt.

“Get out of here right now you little bastard before I call the fuzz!” she shrieked again, this time at a nearly more piercing volume.

“Look lady, I thought he was torturing you.” said Walt, backing away, holding up his palms, realizing he’d misread the entire situation.

“He was! Until you little fuckers interrupted us! Get out! Get out! Get out!” she hollered, the veins in her forehead swelling and coiling as if they might burst.

I pushed myself up off the floor and climbed to my feet. I stepped around the old man lying against the shag rug moaning about the sudden pain cracking across his cranium.

“Should we call someone? An ambulance?” I asked Walt.

“Piss on this turd.” snarled Walt lifting a pack of Camels from the top of the TV and tapping one out. He placed it between his lips and used his own lighter to ignite it. In an exhale of blue smoke, he looked at the woman tied to the bed who had by then stopped shrieking and now only looked toward her fallen torturer with a pained expression of distress, “Oh Mitch…what have they done to you?” they’d probably tried everything else and finally settled on torture and who knew what else to keep the home fires stoked; perhaps things got very clear-cut toward the end of time.

“Listen lady,” said Walt, turning to her and pointing with his cigarette, “you do whatever the fuck you want in here—I don’t judge…you wanna play Stockholm Syndrome—be my guest…but if you keep me awake again all night with your fucking mouth…I’m coming back for blood.” promised Walt before backing out of the room, “Come on Jacko, I think it’s safe to say that this party is officially over.”

As we stepped back out into the sun and Walt clicked the door closed with a suppressed chuckle, I realized I’d lost my blunt somewhere during the man’s tackle…I thought of it burning a hole into their shag rug, knowing I wouldn’t be going back in to retrieve it—

“You alright?” Walt asked me, finally breaking into a chuckle.

“That old man was a tough son of a bitch.” I said.

“Yeah, he was a tough bastard alright.” agreed Walt as we stepped back into his room which was now finally silent. No groans of agony emanating through the wall…no pounding—nothing…only the sound of a police helicopter chopping somewhere in the distance. Walt sat back on the edge of the unmade bed and I flopped back down on the spare bed, reminding myself again of the filthiness of the bedspread and head board. We sat like this for a while watching Shampoo with no volume before Walt finally sighed a deep sigh and turned to me, “We gotta get that first prize at the Backyard man…I need it man. I really need it right now.”

“Look, we’re going to do what we do…and we’re going to destroy that stage…and if we get the money and the studio time…then we do—but that’s not the reason we should be doing it.” I said.

“I think I see what you’re saying man…and you’re right—it’s about the dream…the Technicolor dream.” Walt nodded thoughtfully, squinting at me through the smoke.

“It’s a chance to really do something extraordinary…to give people an amazing live music experience. If we can do that; we’ve done our job.” I shrugged.

“We will do that…” said Walt, “we were meant to do that.”

A few days later I received an early morning call from April, who was in between classes at Coronation. She was chipper and articulate as usual and I imagined her standing there in the Coronation hallway, holding the beige receiver to her ear as the students moved around her like a current of river water moving around a sticking trunk of driftwood. I missed the flow of it all and again felt as if I’d missed the bus to summer camp and was in turn subject to a long, solitary summer worth of melancholic slacking.

“April May June…what’s the story morning glory?” I asked.

“April may snap her cap soon…I have an English essay due tomorrow and I haven’t even started.” said April in a long sigh, “Hey, are we doing the truck thing today?”

“You were cereal about that?”

“Did you think I was joking?”

“Well,” I said, looking at my watch and realizing it was nearly 10am, “I thought you were high.”

“I think it’s a great idea…and piss on Clare Foster…finders keepers…I still can’t believe she would have that kind of package sent to your mom’s place. Who does that?”

“Evidently Clare Foster.” I sighed.

“So are you coming or what?”

“Sure, why the hell not? I’ll be out front at noon sharp.” I said.

“Not out front…teachers will see the truck—too much of a heat score. Park around the side; just across from the parking lot. We’ll set up there.” said April, having thought this all through.

“Fine…I’ll be there at noon.” I said.

“You better be, I’ve been spreading the word for a few days now.” said April with a mischievous wink in her tone.

“Right…” I said, assuming April was delusional and that she was indeed suffering the beginnings of a long awaited mental break.

Still, I decided it was worth the drive down to Coronation…after all it would give me an opportunity to absorb some of the Coronation energy I’d come to miss in the weeks since my wrongful expulsion. In regard to Locksmith, who’d almost single handedly succeeded in getting me voted out of Coronation, I felt no urgency to exact a debt of revenge…for it seemed like a pointless endeavor to challenge the Locksmith name on their own turf—Emerald Heights belonged to the Locksmith family and families just like them—no matter how despicable; they had a reputation to protect. Locksmith’s alderman father had doubtlessly spent decades forging personal relationships and building alliances in Emerald Heights so much so the citizens had elected him to a certain level of office—a position which afforded Gregory Locksmith a certain degree of privilege, immunity and influence—as long as he kept his nose clean and didn’t tarnish the family name. He’d flexed that influence and Gavin and Ellis had adhered to the unspoken protocols of Emerald Heights social policy.

It was all of that…and perhaps a bit more—specifically a drawing of divisions between municipalities and exactly why a kid from Truman Park should never cease to behave as anything more than a guest when in Emerald Heights. I’d been taken on as an honorary member of their tight knit academic community with the expectation that I’d inherently recognize my place in their social hierarchy; the fact that I hadn’t subscribed perhaps struck them as an entitled sense of belonging on my part—an arrogant assumption. Though in reality, I’d never seen myself as anything other than an outsider, a misfit…and though gifted, I was still a dreg in their midst…and so I behaved accordingly. They’d sought to complicate the simple truth with staged social benevolence and I’d merely offered them a moment of clarity in the fog of their well-rehearsed cordiality; perhaps to remind them that I had boundaries of my own.

I made my way out on the 10, under the brilliant SoCal sunshine and took Lincoln down to Marina Del Rey. After picking up the truck from Bob’s, I stopped at Ralph’s for a sandwich and a pop before making my way into Emerald Heights. April was waiting for me on the curb just across from the Coronation parking lot when I arrived, early. I was still groggy from a long deep sleep and was at that moment marinating in a soft-focus wake and bake that lulled me like a softly sung nursery rhyme.

The lunchtime bell hadn’t sounded yet and I wondered how April had gotten out of class so early. I didn’t ask when she climbed aboard. She wore a brown corduroy skirt, brown leather boots and beige leggings with a matching beige turtle neck sweater and a large opal locket that dangled between her pert breasts as she moved around the back of the truck…her hair was done in a retro bouffant and her makeup was thick and rich and also retro, like and old photo of Priscilla Presley; April’s definite muse.

“I got these at the 99 Cents Only.” said April, producing a package from her purse. The package was filled with dime bags.

“For the coleslaw?” I grinned raising a brow, as if it all might still be working toward an elaborate punch line.

While I balanced the cash float, April opened one of the Ziplocs Clare’s father had sent and carefully dumped it all out onto the serve counter. Certainly the bag had compressed the stash over the course of days and once out on the counter the volume seemed to double and April shot me a look, “There’s so much here.” she said, running her fingers through the green mound. She next used a pair of small red scissors to cut away small dime sized nuggets which she fit into the small 2×2 baggies she’d gotten from the 99 cents store.

By the time I’d balanced the float, April had laid out on the counter top, in neatly placed rows, perhaps thirty baggies, each containing a small chunk of the stash Clare Foster’s father had sent to my home. The amount April set out in baggies didn’t seem to make a dent in the original volume of the stash, which April couldn’t fit back into the original gallon Ziploc now that it had been broken up. She placed the overflow into a red Tupperware container sitting empty in one of the cupboards and stashed it all back into my backpack as the lunch bell sounded.

Nearly immediately a succession of lunch breakers made their way out of the school. Starting as a trickle and eventually becoming a steady stream—within moments the street was teaming with students making their way home for lunch, or to the burger shop down the street or to the football field to eat their pre-packed lunches in groups. Many simply loitered in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and joints, talking shop and nibbling candy bars.

“Here we go.” said April, fluttering her long Priscilla Presley lashes at me, “Hit the tunes.”

I shrugged, turned up the dial and pressed play on the cassette machine. A moment later ‘Good Time Boys’ blazed from the speakers, immediately turning heads and stopping passersby who squinted in through the serve window at April and me who sat poised—at the ready. Indeed dear reader, there seemed to be some initial apprehension…a momentary assessment of the situation; as if our presence in the ice cream truck was a gag, a feint, an illustration of divine and jagged performance art for the sake of our own hilarity. Then as if breaching a barricade, Anton Rossi stepped up to the window with his girlfriend Danielle and laid down a ten dollar bill.

“I’ll get a couple of waffle cones with Rocky Road and strawberry sauce…and we’ll take a couple ice teas…” he said, “…as well as a side of coleslaw.” he grinned, throwing the word out with a wink toward his girl who only smiled under her sunglasses.

I made their bowls and cracked their cans of iced tea as April made change which she dropped into the tip jar before handing over one of the small baggies to Anton who only punched the air with his closed fist and let out a victorious hoot, “Now that’s some service.” he mugged handing the baggie to his girl before lifting the waffle bowls and the cans of iced tea from the serve counter.

It was as easy as that—and a small crowd formed around the truck; April’s word had indeed spread and it had somehow spread on the sly, under the radar of Ellis or any of the hell-bent snitches that lurked in hallway reefs, waiting to snatch a modicum of gossip. It seemed the people that should be ‘in the know’ had been made so by April either directly or by way of the almighty word and word evidently seemed to be that Bob Baskerville’s old ice cream truck was indeed something to be done—at least once.

It was fast and furious and the orders came in quicker than I could make them and so there was a fair amount of confirming and reconfirming orders, which were nearly shouted over the music and the noise of a few dozen students chattering with eagerness and the sunny disposition of youth. All said, we’d sold out of Rocky Road and double chocolate as well as baggies within twenty minutes. When the crowd had finally dispersed, leaving the cash float heaping with tens and our tip jar heaping with coins and dollar bills, April didn’t miss a beat. It was her suggestion that we make a direct B-line to Cartwright High, not bothering to stop along the way for any sales, her reasoning being that if we were quick about it, we’d catch the last half of the Cartwright lunch break and perhaps double our sales.

Indeed I wasn’t one to let a great opportunity or at least a great possibility slide by without a good college try. With Mother’s Milk still piping through the speakers I shifted the truck into gear and we pulled away from the curb amidst a flock of tickled comrades, content with their ice cream and coleslaw. As we rounded the lanes of Emerald Heights toward Cartwright a few pedestrians tried waving the truck down…it was sweltering and the sun had heated the top of the steering wheel to a near scalding temperature so I had to grip it around the bottom.

“Listen, we’re missing a ton of sales here…I should stop.” I told April through the rearview, in which I saw her sitting prettily, with a leg crossed over her knee, a boot swinging casually as she counted and organized the float and changed the coins in the tip jar for bills.

“If you do, we’ll miss the last half of lunch break at Cartwright.” she shrugged without looking back at me.

“Alright…” I said, accelerating the truck toward our primary destination.

“Wow Jack…we made 64 dollars in tips back there.” she remarked.

“Not too shabby.” I said.

“We served about forty people…on average they left a buck or two in the jar…it checks out.” she said as she moved up into the passenger seat. 

We drove like that for a while, taking the bumps in the road together—business partners. When we pulled up outside of Cartwright, the grounds were scattered with students milling around, spread out across the lawn, smoking in the parking lot; high schools were the same all over. I pulled up to the curb as ‘Sexy Mexican Maid’ pulsated from the old speakers. I got in the back with April and opened the serve window and was greeted by dozens of curious glances from Cartwright students.

“Why don’t you go out there and work your magic?” I asked April after a few minutes.

“It would help wouldn’t it?” she said, looking up at me.

“It might.” I said.

Without waiting for an answer, April applied a fresh coat of pink lipstick and stepped down out of the truck and onto the hot asphalt. She strode sexily toward the school grounds in her knee high leather boots and bouffant hair style, drawing a few glances from some of the Cartwright guys who rarely saw a classic model like April. Noticing their gaze, April approached them, adding a ditzy innocence to her gait and a wide eyed vacancy to her gaze; a damsel who’d undress…she knew how to work the crowd it seemed.

She spoke enthusiastically, gesturing with her hands and flashing a smile back to me at one point; it was working. As she made her way around the grounds, stopping at various cliques and coteries, students started making their way to the truck and though sparse at first, the orders started rolling in…and I wondered if it was April’s appeal or the coleslaw incentive—I decided it was a bit of both.

Peering across the street I noticed Walt and Kristen approaching the truck with April…they spoke lightly, Walt grinning with his arm slung around Kristen’s shoulders and April looking poised and collected and ready to take a big bite out of the world; she would make a great business woman when she entered the workforce holding up the infrastructure—the world needed people like her…hustlers who could get the job done. I grinned as the three hopped up into the truck.

“Looks like this is turning out to be quite the cottage industry.” said Walt, slapping a hand down firmly on my shoulder.

As I made more cones and waffle bowls and even a few requests for root beer floats, April dealt with the money as she continued snipping small pieces from Clare Foster’s stash and fitting them into the small baggies. We weren’t quite inundated by patrons as we had been during the first half of lunch break at Coronation but the word was definitely catching on and for those ‘in the know’, there seemed to be no better deal than Bob Baskerville’s trolley of sugar and dime bag incentive; word would spread and I was positive we’d do even better during our next lunch hour visit.

Once the orders tapered off April began closing the float and tallying the tip jar. “Okay, all in we sold $468 worth of ice cream today…and we have $84 in the tip jar.” April finally said, fluttering her long Priscilla Presley lashes with a mischievous grin—as if she were a cat who’d just swallowed a canary.

“Crazy.” I said, taking my cut in hand. As I folded it and slipped it into my back pocket I noticed a familiar looking group approaching the truck. It was Trent Humbucker and he was flanked by his usual group of minions; shoe gazers from gated Bel-Air communities.

Strangely, though I’d taken part in a theatrical burning of his effigy during the performance at Caldwell’s palace; I’d never met or spoken with Humbucker…it had never occurred to me to seek an introduction as he’d always registered to me as an unremarkable turdling who played pretend and posed for camera flashes. As he ordered, I took note of his bag of bones physique, his androgynous jeans, his ironic t-shirt and most disturbing; the black and white scarf tied around his neck, as if he were an apocalyptic and thoroughly malnourished version of Fred Jones, only instead of chasing capers with his dark-wave crew; he was chasing spotlights and popularity—the music was only a vehicle for him…not an art form and for this reason; I could never take him seriously.

I took note of his crew…they were as always darkened with gothic trimmings—as if they were caricatures in a gothic comic strip. Though to me they were merely costumed dilettantes; as Walt had explained it—they were the worst type of try-hards and had in essence, appointed themselves royalty within the small creative coterie at Cartwright. Though I found them slightly comic; their entitlement drove Walt nearly ill with disgust.

“Do you have hazelnut fudge sauce?” asked a short, baby faced girl with crooked teeth and a cherry red bob hairdo.

“I have fudge.” I nodded cordially.

“But not hazelnut fudge? I simply have to have hazelnut fudge with my ice cream.” she whined.

“But the question is if he has pineapple sauce…” interjected Humbucker from behind his sunglasses with a devilish grin, “Pineapple sauce…is everything.”

“Sorry…no pineapple sauce.” I told Humbucker who stared back at me through his black sunglasses.

“Well, you might want to pass that on to the proprietor of this fine mobile ice cream parlor…pineapple sauce as previously stated—is everything.” said Humbucker, this time drawing an arcane chuckle from his arcane crew.

“I’ll pass it on.” I shrugged, “Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah, four waffle bowls of cherry cheesecake—one topped with fudge sauce. I’ve been told that you guys got into the battle of the bands at the Backyard.” said Humbucker, noticing Walt on the bench with his forearm slung over a freezer.

“You were told right.” I said as I prepared their order.

“Yeah, I also hear that you burned my effigy at Laura Caldwell’s place…what’s up with that?” asked Humbucker with a grin his cohorts collectively shared.

“I didn’t burn it actually—I just chopped off its head with a samurai sword…it was Walt who actually lit the bitch up.” I said glancing at Humbucker as I crisscrossed the fudge over top the double scoop so it ran down the sides slowly.

“I’m wondering…is that normal in your world?” chuckled Humbucker.

“Well shithead,” Walt piped in, feeling it was hit battle, “you fuck with us we’ll put a boot in your ass…truth is, we burn your effigy because the crowd goes wild for it…they really do. A bigger question might be why they go so wild seeing your likeness go up in flames.”

“Who doesn’t like a spectacle?” Humbucker shrugged.

“I know I do.” said Walt with a psychotic grin.

“I heard you nearly burned down the Caldwell residence as well.” said Humbucker, laying down his money and taking his bowl in hand. As he ate at it with a small red plastic spoon, April made his change which he took in hand and dropped into the pocket of his obligatorily tattered jean jacket that was covered in pins and patches bearing hints of his assumed personality.

“You know you guys don’t stand a chance at the Backyard right? I mean you guys realize that the judges will never award you first prize right? That money and studio time will never be yours.” said Humbucker.

“We’re going to destroy you guys at the Backyard…your set is going to seem like Sunday afternoon at the retirement home. So, my advice to you Humfucker, is to stick to what you do best—wearing androgynous jeans, writing shit songs and chasing spotlights. We good? Alright? Alright.” said Walt from his place on the bench.

“Even if your fantasy became a reality and you really did tear up the stage…the fact is that the judges aren’t going to give that prize to assholes with bad attitudes…they’re going to give it to a band with some promise…a band that has been laying the right ground work…has a game plan…a business strategy…one that has strong industry contacts. They’re not going to piss that prize away on a band of psychotics who rile up a mob.” Humbucker said, shaking his head with his crooked grin and matching crooked nose.

“Business plan? Strong industry contacts? Listen jerk-off,” I told Humbucker, “…I don’t doubt that you’ve kissed enough asshole rings around Emerald Heights to ensure that you’ll win first prize…but after the Backyard, everyone is going to know how synthetic you are.”

There was a long moment of silence in which Humbucker looked back at me through his black sunglasses. I assumed he was contemplating a retort…or perhaps wondering how far he wanted to take it with me…perhaps his intuition was warning him that there was something not quite right about me.

“Well…at least I don’t sell low-end ice cream.” he finally said holding up his waffle bowl with a sarcastic half-smile.

“No, you just write low-end songs,” laughed April, surprising us all, “it’s much worse.”

“You Coronation kids are so cute.” grinned Humbucker.

Walt calmly and collectedly rose from his bench, lifting an aerosol can of whipped cream from the serve counter. I foresaw his trajectory and didn’t bother to stop or talk some sensibility into him. Rather, I watched with a half grin as Walt hopped out onto the asphalt and stepped up to Humbucker. I knew the plan, which from my perspective was obvious—however, to the droves of students congregated around the old ice cream truck, spooning away at their waffle bowls; the possibility of an actual punch up perked them with attentiveness, ending their conversations so all that could be heard was the Chili Peppers jingling from the speakers.

“You know what I think…” said Walt, shaking up the aerosol whipping cream with a grin, “…I think you missed a topping.”

For some reason Humbucker didn’t retreat, back away or even flinch; he merely stood there with his brows wrinkled in contemplation, his spoon held suspended midway between his waffle bowl and his mouth. He remained this way until Walt opened the can with a hiss, sending fluffy jet propelled globs of aerosol whipped cream spraying out all over Humbucker’s face, jean jacket and androgynous jeans.

From the truck I watched through the serve window as April covered both hands over her mouth and emitted a gasp of hilarity that trailed off into chuckles Kristen didn’t quite share. Rather Kristen called to Walt from the window, encouraging him to abandon the antics. There was a tone of warning in her voice as she pursed a half grin into her face as Walt proceeded to empty the entire can of whipped cream over Humbucker who tried to lean away from the projectile awkwardly and instead tumbled to the asphalt where he sat with his hands and arms raised defensively. Walt aimed easily through the openings and for good measure pulled Humbucker’s neck line, spraying the last of the can down the back of his shirt, to which Humbucker pulled away violently, shouting Walt’s way, issuing a character commentary, stipulating Walt’s psychosis.

“Get lost you fucking psycho!” snapped Humbucker, pushing up to his knees now and looking down at himself, taking inventory of the whipped cream impossibly spattered over his black clothes in harsh contrast under the midday sun.

“That’s great man…real nice.” said Humbucker, wiping a palm full of the whipped cream from his chin and shaking his head.

A moment later a couple of Humbucker’s minions were helping him up from his knees, aid which for the sake of the crowd he embellished, as if being sprayed down by aerosol whipped cream had made him uneasy on his feet; a real dramatist.

Walt meanwhile stood by, lighting a smoke and squinting smoke out of one eye as he flashed a grin their way. Certainly his grin garnered the obligatory chatter; a lecture from the girl with the cherry red bob. With a well rounded vocabulary, she cut into Walt with a sharp edged review of his lack luster character that among other things, would fail to earn to him any friends in the real world. The real world, I mused…she’d cited it as if it was some distantly approaching entity on the horizon that bared sharp teeth and the ravenous hunger of a rabid wolf; a time when they’d take down the posters from their walls and trade their record players for color TVs playing the evening news. Among other things, she assured Walt was in for a real surprise…and perhaps he was…perhaps we all were. However, one thing was certain, none of us knew what that surprise was—nobody had a working crystal ball.

“Yeah? You see that in your tarot cards?” chuckled Walt.

“Maybe.” sneered the girl in the cherry bob.

“Hocus pocus.” Walt smiled, blowing a few smoke rings that were quickly torn apart in the breeze.

“Why don’t you tell your psycho friend to drive that shitty truck back to Truman Park?” she demanded, shooting me glare, which surprised me slightly as I assumed up until that point I’d been a spectator.

“Do I know you?” I chuckled.

“I wouldn’t want to know you…I’ve heard about you—that’s quite enough.” she sneered my way, to which I shrugged with a grin.

“Let me tell you something sister; you’re an attention whore,” said Walt with a wide grin, “let me give you some advice now…one day you’re gonna realize that it ain’t all about you.”

“You’re an asshole.” the cherry bob spat and turned back to Humbucker who’d been handed a wad of napkins to dab up the spatters on his clothes.

“You’re going to regret this in the worst way asshole.” he promised Walt. We all watched through the serve window as he turned and made his way back across the street, his minions falling into step behind him.

“Don’t listen to him…” said Kristen after a few moments, “…he’s just trying to rattle you guys.”

“I’m not rattled.” I shrugged, draining the rest of the root beer, “He’s a business man, not an artist. What the hell could he possibly have to say that would interest me?”

“True,” said Walt, stepping over to the serve counter and leaning on it as he glanced back across the street toward the grounds across which Humbucker and his crew were making their way as the bell sounded, ending the Cartwright lunch hour.

“Nice move…” said a passing student slapping a hand down on Walt’s shoulder, “Dick has had that coming all year.”

So there it was dear reader, a setting of the tone which would only become more volatile as the show at the Backyard approached. At first I hadn’t realized the tone. For certainly dear reader I wasn’t necessarily akin to monitoring the seismic readings of our ever metamorphosing social circuit. I’d heard some whispers through the grapevine, which over the weeks turned to murmurs and outright declarations which stated with a fair bit of certainty that Humbucker and company weren’t wasting any time in slandering the good name of Lusty Lacy Laura. In fact, Humbucker had gone as far as speaking with the one and fortunately only Gregory Locksmith…a conversation which was published in an issue of the Coronation Gazette and one that contained some strong words directed at Lusty Lacy Laura—namely claims that we orchestrated our notoriety at his expense and that we belonged at a book burning rally rather than a battle of the bands. Humbucker went on to declare us a disaster zone waiting to happen and cited us as purveyors of anti-social sentiment that could only inspire anarchy in a music scene that he insisted required unity and communal bliss.

Of course this opened up an invitation for a retaliatory response…and even though I’d been weeks expelled by that point, I was still contacted by the Right World Times the following week…this time it was Susanna Wellington who’d reached out. The Right World Times had a number of volunteer reporters who were all trying to build an impressive resume and their eagerness could often be easily confused with tenacity. In fact, Susanna had left in all, 8 messages on my answering machine—all of which quoted Humbuckers various publicized, passive aggressive rants and several reasons why it was in my best interest to comment on his statements.

Truthfully I didn’t quite care. I was gone from Coronation—voted out by a coalition of ass-kissers who evidently found no issue with being held snugly and comfortably in the Locksmith family pocket. I didn’t feel any compulsion to be that guy who kept toiling against an institution that had banished him—I didn’t feel any desire to be that person who insists on being in a place where he’s not wanted. The occasional lunch hour appearances in the ice cream truck was as far as I was willing to take it. Trading clever barbs with Humbucker for the sake of Coronation readers was as far as I was concerned a pathetic attempt at remaining a current member of their academic body. I’d make my statement by being the best songwriter I could be and remaining true to the craft…I didn’t see sullying a potential musical legacy as a particularly productive practice. However, Susanna wouldn’t take no for an answer—especially being that she was a junior writer at Right World and had a lot to prove.

One evening at Prime Ribs as I was sitting in my van hot-boxing with Eleanor, Wes, April, Walt and his girl Kristen…a knock appeared on my window. When I turned and found Susanna Wellington hovering there in her Jackie-O coat and red, red lipstick, I rolled the window down, causing Susanna to cough slightly and wave the smoke away with one delicate hand in which she held a pen. In her other hand she held a pad of paper; I had no choice but to slightly admire her dedication to landing such a pointless interview.

“What the hell is it gonna take Susanna?” I chuckled, “At this point you’re actually stalking me.”

“You realize Trent Humbucker is tearing your band up all over town…why are you choosing to remain so…so indifferent?” she asked, wasting no time in officially starting the interview.

“You won’t go away until you get what you want will you? You’ll just keep going…like a ravenous dog with a bone…won’t you?” I said.

“Pretty much.” she concurred with an awkward crooked smirk.

“Fine…” I sighed, “get in the godam van.”

I’d taken the rear seats out to accommodate band equipment, which created a surprising amount of space. Because I spent a lot of time hosting in my van, I’d brought in a number of foldable lawn chairs in which guests might make themselves comfortable. Being that the chairs were all occupied; Susanna sat on the floor with her legs crossed beside Wes who smiled back at her offering a two finger salute.

“Cozy in here.” she said, “Though a bit smoky.”

“Cut to the chase.” said Walt, “What’s this you’re saying about Humfucker? He’s been trashing us? Tell me something I don’t already know babe…you’re about three years behind the story.”

“Sorry, you are?” she asked, extending her hand, “I’m Susanna Wellington…I’m a freelance writer for the Right World Times.”

“I’m Walt…founder and one third of Lusty Lacy Laura.”

“Oh, I see…well then…this is perfect. I can talk to both of you right here and now.” Susanna said, smitten with her stroke of journalistic luck.

“That bastard has been creating divisions in the Emerald Heights music scene for years.” said Walt, taking a haul from his blunt and blowing the smoke toward the roof vent, “Tell us something we don’t already know.”

“That’s what I want to know…why the nonchalance? Why have you guys been trying to dodge commenting on all of this? Why have you been avoiding me?” asked Susanna.

“You’d have to ask Jack that…I didn’t know anything about any interview. I’d have told you what you wanted to know. We don’t have a real publication at Cartwright…not that any of this is news worthy.”

“Normally something like this wouldn’t warrant an interview. People tear each other up all the time. The thing about this situation though is that Trent Humbucker, who isn’t a student at Coronation, chose to be very vocal with the Coronation Gazette. There’s a mandate in place and the Coronation Gazette is really only supposed to publish articles that have some direct connection with Coronation High or some greater connection with Emerald Heights. However, the Gazette is run by a pack of buffoons with a hidden agenda…in recent weeks, the Gazette has been printing a lot of very negative articles about certain elements of the indie music scene in Emerald Heights. There has been mention of substance abuse, violence, vandalism, occult symbolism…and of course your band has been said to insight some of this; at least that’s what Trent Humbucker has been alleging in his interviews.”

“Occult symbolism…” I grinned, “…do we look like fucking Motley Crew over here? Can’t you see what’s going on Wellington? Tell me you’re more observant than that.” I said, “It’s a smear campaign…Humbucker wants to get it in everyone’s head that we’re villains…so we lose at the Backyard battle of the bands.”

As Susanna phrased her next question, she scribbled down what I’d said, “So you’re saying he sees you as a threat?”

“He considers anyone who doesn’t buy into his self-proclaimed elitism a threat.” said Walt.

“So this is all founded on competition between rival bands?” asked Susanna.

“It’s not competitiveness.” said Walt, “It’s straight up fear—he’s terrified of us.”

“Fear,” repeated Susanna scribbling down the word and dotting it with a hard period, “or is there more to it?”

“Listen,” said Walt, “for years Humfucker has been running the Cartwright scene…and that’s mainly because he kissed the right asshole rims…nothing great that comes out of Cartwright is ever publicized…and that’s mainly because there’s a group of the same assholes rehashing themselves over and over and over again and they’ve got a strangle hold on the Cartwright scene…new bands usually don’t stand a chance…they’re bullied and cheated out of shows and it’s Humfucker and his posse who are doing the bullying and the cheating and that’s how it’s been—until now…and you know what—the people want something new…they’ve wanted something new and exciting for years…and Lusty Lacy Laura finally gives them that. And that’s what really burns Humbucker. It kills him that we’re a force of our own and we just don’t give a flying fuck.”

“You don’t give a flying fuck about what exactly?” asked Susanna as she scribbled in her pad.

“Any of it. Not only do we not give a fuck if it goes up in flames…we’re striking the match and throwing on some gasoline. Humfucker has been boring people for years…and they’re tired of it.”

“But what about the substance abuse and the violence and the vandalism he’s spoken about? Is there some validity to that statement?” asked Susanna, thoughtfully, looking up at Walt and placing the end of her pen against her chin.

“Trust me…this guy isn’t one to talk about substance abuse.” assured Walt.

“How do you mean that?”

“Well, just look at him…look at how skinny and sickly and gaunt and pasty he is. I believe he caught plague from a downtown shooting gallery in some tenement building.”

“Is that something you can confirm?”

“The only confirmation you need is to look at him.” chuckled Walt, “You can see his heart beating through his fucking shirt.”

“So you’re saying you believe Trent Humbucker is an IV drug user with plague?”

“I’d put money on it.” said Walt through the haze of smoke as a deep silence prevailed, one broken a moment after by Susanna turning to me again.

“Would you like to comment on that?” she asked.

“I can only speculate at this juncture. Maybe he has tapeworm.” I suggested, drawing a laugh.

“A fucking tapeworm doesn’t make someone look like a George A. Romero cast member dude.” exclaimed Walt.

“Well then, maybe he has a lack of calcium.” I offered, “Perhaps we ought to chip in and get the old chap a goat…from the teat of which he might suckle.”

From the teat of which he might suckle…” Wes repeated, breaking out in a guffaw, “Classic dude.”

“I’ve heard he doesn’t eat meat or cheese…so goat milk probably wouldn’t do the job.” said April.

“I don’t know if he’s a vegan…he dates Elizabeth Schroeder and she’s definitely a pork lover.” said April, drawing another collective chuckle.

“She’s also a junkie.” said Wes, “Perhaps it’s all coming clear.” he added ominously.

“God, I hope she doesn’t get pregnant.” said Eleanor, “Girl like that will never stop using.”

“Probably the guy couldn’t knock her up anyway.” I said.

“Why do you say that?” asked Wes.

“Have you seen those pants he wears? They’re so tight it’s like his balls are walking a tight rope.” I said.

“I’ve seen that too…” said Walt, “He was coming down the hallway one day and literally his balls were hung over the seam of his crotch…one ball hung over one side while the other hung over the other side…really it was hard to look at.”

“Why does he wear such tight pants? I mean it’s not like he can’t afford to get the right size.” mused Kristen.

“Obviously he wants to show off his camel toe.” Walt said, warding off the recollected visual with a shiver of disgust toward Susanna who’d stopped interjecting and now resorted to ravenous note taking.

“Can guys have a camel toe?” inquired Kristen.

“Yeah, it’s a male camel toe…and I can assure you all—there’s nothing not painful about male camel toe.” he said.

“Whatever the case—male camel toe or not,” I said, “he’s assured us that there’s no way we’re winning at the Backyard.”

“Can I quote you on that?” Susanna inquired, stroking her chin with her thumb and forefinger.

“What? About the male camel toe?” chuckled Walt.

“No—that he’s assured you you’ll lose at the Backyard.”

“Sure.” I shrugged not seeing the harm.

Certainly, Humbucker had voiced his prophecy in front of perhaps a dozen Cartwright students the afternoon he’d uttered it at the ice cream truck window for all to hear—especially Walt and I. There was that fact and perhaps adding integrity to that fact was the notion that Walt and Humbucker made no attempt to conceal their feud. It should have come as no surprise to anyone—especially Humbucker—that Walt would publicly postulate a plague inducing needle addiction on Humbucker’s behalf. Certainly no more harm than what already existed would result—certainly everyone would expect Walt to say something like this…after all Walt had built his reputation at Cartwright upon the solid foundation of controversy.

However dear reader…more harm did indeed result. I’d nearly forgotten about the interview…as it had become a shrinking figure in my rearview mirror; an incidental sativa haze meandering we’d all shared there in the back of my van which I now bared only some vague recollection of. And I was indeed quite surprised by the general reaction the following week, when Susanna Wellington published her article in the Right World Times entitled ‘A War of Words and Music’.

Eleanor had read it to me when I picked her up from Coronation the afternoon the article was published. Certainly Susanna Wellington did remain at least somewhat objective in her report, which greatly detailed the conversation she’d listened in on, sitting with her legs crossed on the floor of my van outside of Prime Ribs. Susanna didn’t have to possess a snide pen; our words had been sharp enough—cutting easily through the cordial façade of social grace. She quoted Walt and I directly, sparing no harsh criticism or jagged shard of sarcasm. And as I drove along, winding through the lush green lanes of Emerald Heights listening to Eleanor’s calming voice read Susanna’s unforgiving article; I sighed a long, deep sigh of acceptance. Without so much as a thought—Walt had scanned his palm and entered the codes, sending nuclear warheads raining down on Humbucker’s camp in a punishing barrage. It would now be all out war; so be it, I thought, lighting one up and admiring the palm trees sparkling under the sunshine.

“I can’t believe you gave all this ammunition to frickin’ Susanna Wellington—I’m sure she’s loving this. Everyone’s been chattering about this—that’s why she wrote it…she doesn’t care about the music scene in Emerald Heights…she’s never been to one show even…this is all about her really; the story breaking journalist. Give me a break.” Eleanor chuckled, wrinkling the paper into a ball and tossing it casually out the window…I caught it in my rearview rolling between two cars toward the curb.

 “Well…it’s not like it’s anything new.” I told Eleanor, “I mean, everyone knows Walt and Humbucker hate each other.”

“Yes, but this is in print…print immortalizes things—it amplifies them.” said Eleanor, “Now Humbucker will have to hit back…it’s base male behavior…tit for tat. I knew it was going to happen…Susanna was sitting there writing down everything you guys were saying and you guys just kept tearing him—without a second thought. I just knew she’d publish it all word for word.”

“It’s nothing…what’s Humbucker going to do beyond having a good cry?” I asked.

Eleanor didn’t reply, she only shrugged an uneasy shrug and lit a cigarette…it wasn’t her style to tell me how to run things. She wasn’t invasive…rather she observed and offered keen insights and clever anecdotes. Her insight on this occasion suggested that more might come of the article. I knew her intuition was accurate, however, it was too late to retract any statements…even if they were phrased as accusations…perhaps the implication I’d offered was worse than Walt’s alleging that Humbucker was a needle injecting, plague harboring, white collar junkie. Though Walt’s comments had been crass and probably untrue—mine had deviated the boundaries of simple mud slinging…for I’d suggested something far worse than insult; I’d uttered an odious truth—that Humbucker was all about the prize money rather than the art and I knew that would cut him deeper than any school yard ribbing.

Of course I’d given Humbucker the benefit of the doubt when several days passed and there seemed to be no retaliation from his camp of designer hipsters; I’d hoped we could leave it at that. Perhaps his crew wasn’t as predictable as Eleanor and I had initially assumed. Perhaps after all was said and done, Humbucker was above exacting social justice. That’s what I chose to believe and I had written off the possibility of all out war with the Humbucker camp. It seemed perhaps the article would, like many others the Right World Times published, fade away without much notice.

And perhaps that would have been the case had the article been allowed to fade away. However, according to Eleanor, it was a hot article around Coronation High, with Susanna Wellington at the helm, peddling it around the hallways with resume-worthy tenacity. Indeed she was evidently a master of marketing. She’d gone so far as to circulate copies of the RWT issue at Cartwright High as well, hoping for a viral reaction from the Humbucker camp. Perhaps her most lucrative endeavor however was circulating the rag at Prime Ribs one weekend. For Prime Ribs wasn’t only a Coronation or Cartwright hangout…it was a headquarters of sorts…a staple for most anyone involved in the Emerald Heights creative scene. This included high schools in other districts…and on any given night Prime Ribs was a hotbed for artists, musicians, theater folk, young socialites, hangers on and wannabes alike. Certainly, convincing Lenny, the owner/operator of Prime Ribs to include the RWT issue in his newspaper stand was perhaps Susanna Wellington’s keenest move, for within two weeks, Wellington had somehow become the toast of Prime Ribs. I’d heard stories about conversations she’d been having from friends who’d overheard or been present during one of her pot stirring circles.

Without seeming to know any of us on a personal level, she seemed to be keenly aware of the slightest nuances that made up the social dynamics of the indie band scene in Emerald Heights. I was in an active, working band and even I wasn’t privy to the details that Susanna picked up on…which I saw as either a testament to her journalistic tenacity or a testament to her obsession with gossip—perhaps there was a fine line between the two. Whatever the case, it seemed if anyone wanted dirt on anyone in our scene, Susanna Wellington was a definite source.

In the meantime, word seemed to circulate about something brewing in the Humbucker camp…and though I wasn’t quite privy to any of it, having been exiled to a routine of ice cream truck driving and late night star gazing; grapevine whispers came to me through random conversations while I was out and about in Emerald Heights. Though it pained me to invest my attention in fleeting conversations of hearsay I couldn’t help become aware of a Humbucker retaliation; it seemed Susanna’s article had bothered Humbucker…and I was certain it wasn’t so much the speculative insults as much as it was the exposing of his concealed agenda. 

One evening Walt showed up at rehearsal late. The Goblin and I had been running some songs without him and when he arrived he set his bass case against his amp, flopped down onto the couch and lit a cigarette. He listened with his eyes closed as the Goblin and I hammered out a new song I’d brought in. When we broke, Walt sat up and looked at us, shaking his head with a strange look of betrayal on his face.

“What’s up man…you look like your dog just died.” I said.

“Did your dog just die?” asked the Goblin.

“I don’t have a dog. You guys aren’t going to fucking believe this shit.” he said, now that we were attentive, “Are you ready to wretch? Today I received a call from Tommy Sims.”

“Who the fuck is Tommy Sims?” I asked.

“He handles booking at the Backyard…anyway, he called me today to inform me that Trent Humbucker’s father—who’s a real big shot around Emerald Heights, called him yesterday, demanding that we be removed from the battle of the bands roster. Can you fucking believe that? Humbucker got his old man involved!” exclaimed Walt, livid.

“I can believe that fully.” I shrugged.

“On what grounds?” asked the Goblin.

“The interview. Humbucker’s old man leaned into Tommy, basically telling Tommy if he didn’t remove us from the bill, it could make the Backyard look real bad.”

“Great…” I sighed, unstrapping my guitar and flopping down on a chair beside my amp. I lit one up as Walt went on.

“I mean this battle of the bands has sponsors and shit…and Humbucker’s old man basically said he’s in with some of those sponsors and wasn’t above contacting them…it’s real grease-ball shit man…I mean, this old fuck went way out of his way to sway Tommy into cutting us from the bill.”

“I didn’t realize Humbucker was such a little baby boy, sitting in daddy’s pocket.” I said in a long exhale, shaking my head.

“Yeah well, luckily, Tommy isn’t biting. He told me that the sponsors and organizers have no say in who is actually picked to play the show…Sims said that he was adamant about that in the contract—that the Backyard has final say who plays and what the order of the billing is…and so, because he’s a stand up guy…Tommy isn’t going to bump us…but he did want to give us the heads up.”

“So we’re not getting bumped for sure?” I asked.

“Not as long as Tommy is booking.” Walt assured.

“We should get him to bump Humbucker for being such a little daddy’s bitch.” I laughed.

“Already suggested that…Tommy isn’t budging either way…he’s having no part of vendettas…he said the lineup is the lineup and that’s the way it’s gonna play.” said Walt.

It wasn’t surprising to me that Humbucker would get his father involved—it seemed the thing to do in Emerald Heights. What surprised me is that Humbucker’s old man would go to such great lengths to sabotage a rival band. Though there was no game book or specified rules, the move to me seemed somehow out of bounds—a foul. Perhaps Tommy Sims saw it the same way. Certainly Sims took his position seriously, or at least serious enough to disregard such pettiness and that could only be good for us; the band at hand.

Though our spot was protected however, that didn’t mean we weren’t subject to the shrapnel and certainly there was no reason why Walt should have been surprised when the following weekend he’d caught wind of an on-stage rant Humbucker had given during a Friday night show at Terminal City. I sat there, unmoved, as Walt relayed the statement to the Goblin as we all sat at Prime Ribs with the girlfriends, talking strategy.

“Evidently Humfucker took the time between songs to tear us up…he said we were hooligans and that rather than support unity in the Emerald Heights music scene; we were drawing ‘detrimental divisions’. Can you believe that cunt?”

“Absolutely.” I shrugged.

“Well…we did burn his effigy a few times.” chuckled the Goblin.

“You think this is a laughing matter?” demanded Walt, “You realize that this fucker had his old man call Tommy Sims…he tried to shatter our dream of playing the Backyard! He went that far…and he did it because he’s that terrified of having to go on after us. So…we gotta have something great lined up.” sighed Walt, shaking his head and glancing toward the entrance where Humbucker stood, chatting with some people, having just arrived.

For the first time since I’d known him, Walt appeared to be genuinely angry. The hand of Emerald Heights social policy that was dictated greatly by family name, had reached out and touched Walt…only he wasn’t a dreg from Truman Park as I and wasn’t in some way immune to the insult due to his low expectations of people. Unlike me, Walt expected more from the Humbucker camp…and I wondered why. Perhaps it was because Walt himself was an Emerald Heights kid…perhaps there was supposed to be some unspoken guidelines from which members were expected not to deviate.

To me the Backyard wasn’t about getting even with anyone, obliterating any bands or shattering the reputation of any local hero with a power daddy…indeed, for me—the Backyard was all about fulfilling a dream that I’d discovered the previous year and had held in my mind like a chalice, burning from its brim like a clear blue flame—it was sacred and though I understood Walt’s ravenous hunger for revenge, I felt it would in one way or another, tarnish such a sacred achievement. To me, a Truman Park dreg…having made my way out of the hood and onto the stage at the Backyard had been a journey indeed and one I’d never forget. It was perhaps my one and only shot at greatness…the pursuit of which I didn’t believe to be a sin; every man who’d done something monumental had pursued greatness after all. It was a state of mind more than the promise of a prize or recognition. As long as we got to get up on stage at the Backyard and kick it out for a few hundred of our maddened peers; I’d take it to the grave as a glorious experience. There’s nothing in life we can take with us when we go—except for all of our glorious experiences…they are the only things that are truly our own.

So, you see dear reader, the Backyard gig was much more than that to me…however, the irony of life stipulated, for one reason or another, that I’d get to the Backyard gig flanked by a Goblin and a samurai sword wielding pyromaniac. After some philosophical contemplation it occurred to me that perhaps this was the only way I could have made it to the Backyard battle of the bands and perhaps there was more to my sacred, chalice torch dream…perhaps there was more to the condition of destiny; perhaps for whatever reasons, part of my destiny entailed, like the fine-print nuance of a job description, burning down Trent Humbucker once and for all. Perhaps the universe didn’t see it as effective to send one of Humbucker’s Emerald Heights peers to do the job. Perhaps it was a job meant to be done by a Truman Park kid. Perhaps I was the best hood-rat for the job.

I was contemplating this when Walt got up out of his seat and strolled up the aisle toward the entrance where Humbucker was standing, lanky and awkward, wearing a goofy grin, his trademark French new-wave glasses and a cardigan hanging from his bony frame. From my angle and distance he looked like any other kid you’d see around Emerald Heights…privileged, primped and pontificating.

“Shit…” sighed Kristen when Walt stepped up to Humbucker and started addressing him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying to Humbucker, but I’d seen the psychotic look before the afternoon at the Sundial motel when Walt had tried to chop his way through the wall with a samurai sword.

There were some words before Walt calmly turned and lifted a milkshake from a nearby table and without missing a beat tossed the contents at Humbucker, who this time, perhaps being privy to Walt’s projectiles, ducked fact, saving himself from absorbing the brunt of the milkshake that spattered against the wall and an artificial palm plant.

Though most of the shake had missed him, some had still soiled Humbucker’s cardigan and French new-wave glasses, which he pulled from his face in shock, wiping a sleeve across his chin. Then dear reader, mayhem ensued…and I watched it from my spot across the room, sitting next to Eleanor with my hand caressing her inner thigh.

Surprisingly Humbucker lunged at Walt who didn’t so much as flinch…for Walt, who easily outweighed Humbucker, welcomed it as a viable excuse to pummel Humbucker in front of a community of his peers. Though Humbucker lunged, he never made it to Walt…for they were immediately distanced by a number of Humbucker’s handlers and nearby patrons.

Of course the melee, which became something of a rugby scrum, drew Lenny the manager of Prime Ribs. Barking commands in his thick Italian accent as he pointed to the door, demanding both Humbucker and Walt be removed…a moment later taking inventory of the spattered wall and plant…shaking his head and pursing his lips in disappointment before barking again for the entire group of vacate the premises.

I looked across at Kristen who only placed a hand across her brow and shook her head. Jen-Jen slid an arm over Kristen’s shoulder and pulled her in for a side hug as the Goblin raised his brows at me and grinned, “This Backyard show is shaping up to be a doozy—if those two don’t kill each other in the process.”

“It’s not funny.” said Jen-Jen.

“Maybe not…but I get free fries out of the deal.” said the Goblin, taking in hand Walt’s barely touched plate of thick cut fries. As he dipped them in a thick blob of ketchup, the rest of us watched as the mob was herded outside by Lenny and one of his line cooks.

Through the window we all watched the dramatics unfold. As a group of his friends pulled him toward the car they’d arrived in, Humbucker dramatically struggled against their restraining grip, issuing what I assumed were gurgling swears of bodily harm at Walt who stood in the center of the parking lot with his arms extended and motioning with both hands, “Bring it on motherfucker.” Walt’s lips clearly read…however, Humbucker’s friends didn’t let their grip on him go…and perhaps Humbucker didn’t want to be let go. Rather he ducked down into the car easily and a moment later the ignition lights fired, illuminating Walt in a sinister red glow as he lit up a cigarette. Without moving, Walt watched the car carefully back out of its spot and pull away, flipping Humbucker the bird when he turned to look at Walt through the rear window.

A crowd had gathered outside and Walt, loving the spectacle, turned around to face them all, spreading his arms apart and offering an amused shrug…a few spectators approached Walt and greeted him with cool handshakes, pats on the back and go-team rustling of his hair; they were mostly Cartwright kids who had enough of Humbucker. Walt knew better than trying to reenter the restaurant right then, rather he stood outside, addressing his public which shared his chuckles and mocking amusement—and Walt was loving every minute of it. Indeed, he was a ringmaster by nature.

Because this act of spontaneity on Walt’s part went over the head of Susanna Wellington’s gossip column and focused the spotlight on the Prime Ribs melee which in essence boiled down to a failed milkshake toss and nothing really more; I figured I’d strike while the iron was hot and devised a plan rooted in tongue in cheek PR based theatrics. To start with, I had Eleanor help me design a wild west style ‘wanted’ poster…baring a photo of Humbucker and citing in Brigand font that the old chap was wanted for wearing androgynous jeans and writing shitty songs. We had a hundred and fifty copies printed at the same store on Hollywood Blvd that had printed my save Truman Park High posters. The poster with its wild west theme was designed with flawless detail by Eleanor and was the perfect eye catcher no matter where it was placed…and dear reader we placed them everywhere around Emerald Heights. Community billboards, telephone poles, the fronts of boarded up buildings, phone booths, bus shelters…we even snuck some up in the front windows of Hollywood head shops and record stores where they’d hopefully go unnoticed by management long enough to be seen. Indeed it was a campaign and a bit of the old schadenfreude…for the photo used was a bright eyed bushy tailed yearbook picture of Humbucker during his grade 9 freshman year at Cartwright—before he’d lost his braces, feathered hair style and Tiffany t-shirt.

Wes went one further, surprising us all one evening when he arrived for a meet-up at Prime Ribs with a folded copy of Infringement Magazine under his arm. Flipping to the back page, he beamed with pride as he displayed the wanted poster, shrunk down to a 3×3 advertisement in the want ads section. It was a brilliant stroke of vitality and even if Humbucker was to lobby to have the ad removed before its expiry date—thousands had already been printed and distributed; the word was most definitely out on the street and it occurred to me that perhaps turning the show into a spectacle wasn’t a purely bad idea…if they wanted fire and brimstone, perhaps that’s what we should give them—it seemed to certainly be what everyone wanted…and in the end, our set was killer and no amount of stage antics would change that.

Certainly the posters and the ad Wes had taken out in Infringement turned into a laughing stock that spread like wildfire…only adding to the already combustible dynamic between Walt and Humbucker. Because he was ecstatic about the developments, Walt felt it was his responsibility to go even one further, having T-shirts of the wanted poster printed at Kristen’s father’s shop where he’d gotten our Lusty Lacy Laura shirts printed. He brought them as a surprise to our next show at Terminal City and we all looked at them in the backstage room, slightly awed by how well they’d turned out.

“Kristen’s old man does bang-up work.” said Walt as I held one of the shirts up.

He’d chosen black sleeve baseball shirts and the poster was a black and white version of the wanted poster, which only added a shade of notoriety to Humbucker’s yearbook mug shot. On the back, silk screened in dripping blood-red lettering was the name Lusty Lacy Laura. I tried one on and found it to not only be a perfect fit, but also a comfortable fabric; a poly-cotton blend, heavy on the poly.

As a group effort, the Goblin, Walt and I decided to wear the shirts during the performance, which involved minimal props and theatrics…we’d taken the show on a day’s notice and being sandwiched between an opener and headliner, we decided to play six of our most high velocity songs. Walt, as per usual crowd surfed several times as we played the set and the Goblin had taken to tossing drum sticks out into the crowd…however, the rally style antics started before our last song of the evening, when Walt retrieved the box of t-shirts from the band room and got on the microphone.

“Can anyone guess what’s in this box?” he asked and was answered by a few hollered speculations.

“No…it’s not full of sundried assholes.” chuckled Walt in response to one suggestion hollered from the back of the room by a punk rock girl who’d modeled herself after Trash from Return of the Living Dead, “You all know Trent Humfucker right?”

An immediate low booing drone sounded, showering Walt in the support he’d been fishing for, “You’ve all seen his act…and that’s what it really is isn’t it—an act?”

Again, the crowd reacted, repeating their hollow chorus of booing.

“I heard he was preaching about unity in our music scene…I heard he said that Lusty Lacy Laura was causing divisions in the Emerald Heights music scene! Yet he’s pissed on nearly every Cartwright band that was ever worth a damn!”

Showered in delicious booing, Walt slipped the microphone from its clip and paced the stage as he spoke, “And we got a name for guys like that around here…yeah baby…we got a name…” Walt said, riling the crowd up a few notches, “we got a big fat name for guys like that…we call them spoiled dilettantes.”

As if telepathically communicating, the Goblin dropped into a standard jazz shuffle, popping rimshots and crashes here and there as Walt went on, “Let me tell you a little story about Trent Humfucker…let me tell you about what he did to some friends of mine from Cartwright…you’ve heard of the Goons? Great Cartwright band…” Walt stopped and looked out into the crowd that was darkened by the bright beam of the stage lights. A few whistles of recognition sounded and realizing this was going to be a narration, I joined the Goblin, chopping some jazz chords out on the fret board for good measure, “Well now the Goons were cool cats…the coolest…as y’all might know…and they were invited to play a gig with Aisle 11 and the Humfucker Trio at Planet Neptune…Aisle 11 had given them the invite…and so, the Goons, being the upright motherfuckers that they are—they promoted the show for weeks—posters, flyers, word of mouth…they got the shit buzzin’.” said Walt, singing the last word in a tenor vibrato and drawing some cheers from the crowd who were now waiting for a punch line…a hard right cross, “Yeah, those bad motherfuckers went all out promoting that show…all their friends were there…all their fans…and guess what happened the night of the show when they showed up at the club for sound check? Well, I’ll tell ya…Humbucker didn’t like one of the guys in the band and so, because he’s Cartwright’s resident dick-wad, he refused to play the show if the Goons were allowed to play!” spat Walt, drawing a roar of disgust from the crowd who started booing again this time lower and meaner, “Yep—he cried to the promoters and got his way in the end…he did that shit…and you ready to wretch? He refused to tell the Goons himself…rather he had Aisle 11 break the news to the Goons…that’s what kind of guy Humfucker is…oh yeah—he’s all about the unity!” hollered Walt, “And you see this shirt I’m wearing? We’ve officially put a bounty out on his legacy…you can run but you can’t hide Humfucker!” hollered Walt, drawing an explosion of deafening cheers from the audience and as the whistles and anti-Humbucker applause rang out, Walt picked up his bass and strapped it on, a moment later falling into the slap bass intro of our last song of the night. It was a song with a rather lengthy bass and drum intro during which I’d normally add in some unison bends…however, on this occasion, Walt motioned with his head toward the box of shirts, “Throw them out into the crowd dude!” he hollered over the music with a ravenous psychotic grin.

With a shrug I stepped over to the box and pulled out a handful of the shirts, then stepped up to my microphone, “Wear them proud!” I hollered and in one wide sweep, I threw at least eight out over the crowd that had started a pogo around the stage. I threw another few, then another few, then a few more…each time riling up the crowd a few degrees. When the box was empty I held it up showing the crowd it was empty, I then, for good measure, soccer kicked the empty box into the crowd where it was volleyed around a few times before being torn to shreds and thrown back on the stage…I dived into the unison bends and after a few bars we held on a C, letting the chord ring out as the Goblin switched beats, breaking into a mad hardcore dash…and the place came to pieces in a mash of moshing bodies, pounding drums and screaming guitars.

Indeed, we’d unwittingly managed to turn a villainous feud into a community wide smear campaign which targeted Humbucker specifically. Though we’d aimed for a good hard bout of much needed mockery—we’d achieved something larger than that…something less connected to us. Within a week, you couldn’t go anywhere in Emerald Heights without seeing a Humbucker wanted t-shirt or a poster. The Backyard, Terminal City, Planet Neptune, Prime Ribs…everywhere I went, I was greeted with Eleanor’s comic design, and each time I’d see Humbucker’s braces smile floating by on a t-shirt, I contemplated the sheer number of people that must have seen the design and the face and would now recognize Humbucker on the street and perhaps explain to him where they recognized him from.

Where I found it a moderately amusing occurrence and wished to focus on two new songs I’d written, in hopes of having them ready for the monumental Backyard show; Walt seemed focused primarily on his Humbucker campaign. Indeed, he was a man possessed and he’d gone as far as arranging an interview with Wilson James at Infringement magazine. Though publicly he was neutral, James seemed obviously partial to aiding and abetting feuds like the one existing between Humbucker and Walt.

Though he’d interviewed Humbucker the previous weekend and pressed him about the feud he’d claimed to have heard about through the ‘grapevine on Vine’, Humbucker had failed to comment—he’d only alluded to being harassed by a local contingency of psychotics who were jealous of his musical repertoire. Certainly, though the comment was laughable at best, Walt had arranged a retaliation interview…rather than an interview that would showcase our own music or creative journey. Still, I accompanied Walt and Goblin one Tuesday evening to meet up with Wilson James at Prime Ribs, which was as busy as a Saturday every night. Indeed, we’d found James sitting in a corner table beside the phony fireplace, sipping a tea and reading Albert Camus’ The Plague as the crowded banter went on all around us at neighboring tables.

We ordered some ribs and sodas and shot the shit with James for a while…I told him about the new songs we were working on and what the songs were about and what our plans were for the summer, which was rapidly approaching. When asked if the rumors were true that we’d been booked at a high caliber bill at the Cobalt in Canoga Park—Walt only winked back at James, informing him that such information would be given on a need to know basis. He next volleyed into a detailed account of his conversation with Tommy Sims at the Backyard. James listened intently, sipping his tea and furrowing his brows journalistically as the story of Humbucker’s attempted blindside unfolded. When Walt was through, James only grinned a small grin of amazement and sipped at his tea, gazing through the window, out into the parking lot were Emerald Heights offspring were loitering in droves; skateboarding, hanging out in cars and drinking from spiked Big Gulps.

“I know Tommy…he’s a straight shooter…he’d never let something like that happen.” James said finally, “But the balls on that guy…” he added, shaking his head and grinning at Walt who immediately took the bait, “I mean, that’s a ballsy move to try and have you guys bumped from the bill.”

“Balls? He’s got no balls man…if he had balls he wouldn’t be so terrified of us. He’s a thespian and a terrible one at that. He tried to have us removed from the bill at the Backyard—obviously he’s worried that we’re going to obliterate him…as well he should be.” assured Walt.

“You’ve got something special planned?” asked James.

“Trust me,” grinned Walt, “it’s going to be a historical event.”

Of course dear reader, this didn’t help matters regarding the animosity between Humbucker’s passive aggressive camp and Walt’s growing base of Cartwright book burners whose disdain for Humbucker increased each time Lusty Lacy Laura burned his effigy or created a mocking poster or gave an ominous interview in Infringement Magazine that threatened to obliterate Humbucker and every iota of the unwarranted elitism he flaunted like phony fur. Certainly, Humbucker had to have felt some degree of heat, especially after the poster and t-shirt campaign that seemed to catch on as a cultural phenomenon in Emerald Heights.

Certainly all of it only doused the flames in gasoline and though a combustive climate was something I’d been conditioned to in Truman Park, my preference wasn’t to fan any flames of disdain…rather my preference was to blow their faces away at the Backyard battle of the bands. Not for the purpose of impressing judges whom doubtlessly knew jack-shit about music composition; but rather for the purpose of offering the crowd a fantasmic, orgasmic spectacle of contemporary culture; the true lifeline of our generation—the X’ers who were single handedly making the world a better more original place in which to exist.

Though it was a beautiful sentiment and perhaps a dream born of naivety—I held fast to it, as I had from the start and I’d watched it unfold into a soft-focus reality…in which God granted me what I’d solemnly hoped for and the ancient mysticism of the moon cast my muse in a blue adventurous glow—in which all the possibilities of the cosmos existed…where the space between the Roman Leagues, 1930’s Paris and men on Mars was only an arm’s length…it was the 90’s, a time of wondrous existential adventure.

However, the truth remained—our growing fan base adored the stage show as much as our demo tape, which sold like hot cakes at live shows and it seemed we’d achieved the perfect balance, which seemed to work and I’d come to decide that every great band at one point possesses an inexplicable chi…a magical flow…a defining symbiosis of abstract and non-abstract entities. Some bands maintained it for years…others for months. For me, it seemed the planets had finally aligned, for this project anyway, and I felt it wasn’t my place to augment the formula…I decided it was best to sit back, enjoy the ride and let the chips fall where they may.

I bounced this off  April the following week as we made our lunch hour rounds in the ice cream truck, which we decided to do exactly twice a week. It was a great system to which April was imperative…for she had a knack for people and knew exactly what to say and how to act in order to stroke them the correct way. It freed me up to assume the role of silent partner. Voicing few words, I’d prepare the orders as April charmed our customers with flattery, pocket change conversation and other forms of pretendery…all the while handing out ‘coleslaw’ baggies and in return stimulating our large plastic tip jar.

That afternoon we crossed east over the 405 and parked the truck down the street from the UCLA campus with the Forgotten Rebels blasting through the speakers. I’d been explaining in all sincerity my thoughts about Walt’s plans for the Backyard show, which was rapidly approaching. April had asked and April rarely asked about the band…she wasn’t quite invested in my existence as Wes seemed to be…more so she was a reoccurring cast member—an attractive young woman who, though not particularly pivotal, had been present for most of the pivotal moments—a cast member given very few lines to remember. One could say that April, though present, existed at an arm’s length and so her line of questioning regarding my feelings on the Backyard show, if looked at closely enough, revealed a certain anxiousness which she displayed involuntarily through the incessant rolling together of her lips…as if she was smoothing out a fresh coat of lipstick…she frequently rolled her lips and after spending an excess of one on one time with her, I’d come to realize that it was one of April’s ticks…something she did to curb an ever present anxiousness I hadn’t quite noticed before.

“I think you should tell Walt that you want your shows to showcase the music more than the stage theatrics…I think you should tell him if you feel that way.” she said before rolling her lips together so her dimples creased and her jaw dipped.

“Listen, April May June…sometimes it’s best to just let the chips fall where they may…sometimes you don’t want to mess with a formula…know what I mean? Sometimes shit is out of our hands…it’s the will of the universe and you should just let it happen…for better or for worse.” I shrugged, not knowing if I fully believed it, but felt if she in fact was genuinely interested, she’d spot the placating and insist on a real answer.

Our conversation was interrupted rather suddenly by a flock of passing UCLA students…hipster surfers with Sonic Youth haircuts and cardigans. As they scanned the menu, April collected herself and smiled at them, “Would you like to know about our special offer?”

“Any offer coming from you is welcome.” said one of the guys, leaning in against the counter and casting an allured gaze over April, who, as I say, had a certain effect on men.

“With any sale ten dollars or over; we offer a side of fine green coleslaw.”

“Green coleslaw?” asked the guy, cocking one brow curiously.

“This…” said April as she held the baggie in her soft, warm palm so the group could get a better look. April had, after a few lunch hours, caught onto the popular demand for something more readily smokeable and had taken it upon herself to roll a large portion of the stash into joints, which didn’t vary in thickness; indeed she’d mastered the art of the consistent roll and had even placed a small cardboard filter in the end of each, which offered an appearance of professionalism to our modest operation.

“Well shit…now sounds like a great idea for that.” said one of the girls.

“Anytime is a great idea for that.” corrected one of the other guys who seemed smitten with the offer, so much so he retrieved his wallet and set a twenty dollar bill flat against the serve counter. He ordered for himself and the other four of his colleagues varying flavors of double scoop waffle cones which came to $17.50, the change from which, he dropped in the jar—not a bad start. Having noticed the truck a few more groups of frat house brats took their place in line, eyeing with amused curiosity April’s roll-job.

It took perhaps 15 minutes for the word to spread back to the crowded campus grounds and as if all at once, the truck was surrounded by ravenous college kids who socialized with good cheer as the line slowly moved along and the orders went out and the tip jar clinked. Indeed, it seemed the college students tipped better—perhaps to uphold their college-born cool-cred or perhaps because they were all channeling unlimited streams of parental funds extorted from the guilt of their parents for sending them all away to live on campus.

As the tips grew in the plastic jar labeled jujubes, April and I worked away at the lineup which, now that the word was out, reached down the sidewalk a number of car lengths. Adjusting our pace, April and I moved them through quicker—me breaking a sweat and April handling the cash, making the change and showering our patrons with flattery and gratitude, she loved their hair, their t-shirts, their eye makeup, their earrings, their watches, their Oakley shades, their Vision Street Wear…April’s compliments didn’t stop coming and nor did the sound of the tips clinking down into the jar. Clink, clink, clink…sounded the tip jar with each sale and with each sale went another impeccable roll. Amidst the grassy knolls and sparkling car tops, large plumes of unapologetic smoke billowed from the droves of students who’d congregated to socialize, philosophize and eat away at their double scoops while puffing on the fine green coleslaw.

When we were halfway through the lineup and waiting for an order from a group of Japanese exchange students who’d initially wanted Watermelon bars, which we didn’t carry; a man pushed his way through the crowd to the serve window. I recognized him after a moment as Ben Murphy Jr. He was holding in his hand one of April’s consistent rolls as he flashed us both a mad grin of amazement. It seemed our audacity was hard for him to comprehend and he gawked in amazement from April to I a number of times before speaking.

“What the godam hell is this supposed to be?” he demanded, waving the joint in front of April’s face.

“You don’t actually know? Or is that a rhetorical question?” asked April.

“Don’t give me no lip little missy…what we got here is a serious infraction. My dad and I were wondering how you were pulling it off…drawing such a large crowd to such an old clunky truck…but now it’s crystal clear; you’re pedaling dope! Does Baskerville know about this? Cause I’m fixing to tell him…you better believe it.” said Ben Jr.

“What’s the matter—you can’t stand the competition?” I asked.

“Besides we’re not pedaling anything other than ice cream, lard ass.” said April.

“I suppose you’re just giving this shit away out of the goodness of your heart?”

“Its incentive…like a free side of coleslaw at Kentucky Fried when you buy a bucket.” I offered with a grin.

“You’re giving it away for free? Lies! Why you’ve got to be the sorriest son of a bitch to think I believe that. I was born at night, but not last night…”

“Look man, why don’t you go kill yourself somewhere, we’ve got a line up here.” I suggested, drawing an amused gasp from the group of exchange students that covered their mouths and shared a giggle.

“I’m not budging…but I’ll tell ya what.” said Ben Jr. tilting his mutton chops to one side and offering a warm and psychotic smile to April, “My dad is talking to campus security about this here operation as we speak. See, we’re a legit family run operation…we’re respected around Emerald Heights…I’m a real business man making a real living.”

“So is Baskerville.” I shrugged.

“You still don’t get it do you boy?”

“Get what?” I said.

“You don’t get it at all. You think Baskerville is some kind of local hero? You think he’s a legit business man? There’s a reason why people stopped buying from this truck years ago.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Baskerville ain’t nothing but a junkie…he used to drive the streets high, strung out on morphine…with track marks all up his arms…he passed out one day and rolled this old bucket of bolts out onto a baseball diamond that was in play. In play! It’s a miracle nobody was hurt. That’s who Baskerville is…and it doesn’t surprise me one little bit that he’s got you pedaling dope out of his truck.”

“We’re selling ice cream dick-wad.” April issued, at the end of her tether, “That’s all…as far as what we ‘give away’; that’s none of your concern. Now will you please leave…your cheap cologne is making my eyes water.”

Peering through the rear windows I caught glimpse of Ben Murphy Sr. trudging rapidly up the sidewalk toward the truck, his bloated red face intent beneath his fedora and his flabby man tits jiggling with each step—that in itself wouldn’t have been quite alarming, however, he was flanked by a large sized campus security guard who as they strode up the walk, spoke into his radio, perhaps calling for backup.

Without so much as a shrug, I got into the driver’s seat and turned the key…the engine stuttered, as always—and as I listened to it trying to catch, I heard Ben Jr. hollering at me from the serve window, demanding that we go nowhere. I kept pumping the gas and turning the key, trying to make the engine catch but at the same time not flood it—there was a delicate starting procedure, which usually took some time and as I felt the engine finally catch and roar to life the large sized campus security guard appeared at the passenger door, which I always kept locked during service. After trying the handle, he knocked on the window and motioned for me to unlock the door. I squinted at him with a grin that asked him if he was indeed kidding, flipped him a calm collected bird and shifted the truck into drive. The machine gave a jerk and I pulled away from the curb much to Ben Jr.’s protest, which seemed to follow us as I drove away. When his voice didn’t dissipate into the distance, I turned and glanced over my shoulder and was utterly perplexed to find Ben Jr. holding fast to the serve counter as the rest of his body dangled down the outside of the truck. Checking the passenger side mirror I made out his husk hanging against the truck as his legs kicked for leverage. Stubbornly he kept hollering, demanding that we stop and turn ourselves into campus security.

We drove on like this for a couple of blocks and with each passing block I’d expected Ben Jr. to let go; however, Ben didn’t let go and I wondered where he mustered the will to hang onto the counter for so long. It seemed he was being driven by greed and fury alone…the idea that we were cutting into his business was bad enough…but the idea that we’d concocted such a superior marketing strategy seemed to enrage him on a carnal level. As I drove at a casual speed, Ben Jr. dangled and flailed and hollered through the window, completely oblivious to April’s reasoning which was voiced in a pleading tone and citing the potential safety hazards. 

As we made our way down the street we garnered several stares, most of which were from amused students pointing at the passing spectacle. Eventually we came to a red light and finally, Ben Jr. let go of the serve counter and stormed around the front of the truck, blocking my way and pounding on the hood, hollering so furiously his face turned a deep shade of red. He cited a citizen’s arrest as he stormed around to the driver’s side door. He reached out and yanked on the handle trying to pull it open; finding it was locked, he resorted to pounding on the window and bolstering the volume of his hollering. Spittle flew from his mouth, veins bulged in his forehead and his lips curled downward so his bottom teeth showed.

“What the fuck is with this guy?” asked April, sliding down into the passenger seat with a baffled, slightly disturbed expression.

“It’s Ben Murphy Jr.” I shrugged, pulling away when the light turned green and leaving Ben Jr. standing in the intersection, still ravenously hollering and flipping me two infuriated birds.

I glanced him shrinking away in the mirror until he was eventually a small angry dot in the shoulder of the road. When we were in the clear I slowed the truck to a steady cruise and lit one up. April handed me a twenty and two fives—my cut of the jar. We headed for the beaches and drove in silence for a long time, smoking and admiring the sparkling palm trees and the misty blue pacific coast…LA, there weren’t any other cities like her in the world…and there we were, balancing on the shoulders of giants—our place in time.