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–it took all kinds in Truman Park. 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 darkened shop fronts went 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 and lost. It was my stop.
I got off the bus and walked through the gangs of prostitutes and pimps toward Jim’s Confectionery 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’s.
What can I say about the attack? It was something that happened in Truman Park…another beat down divorced entirely from reason and logic. What’s worse, most didn’t realize how ridiculous they appeared when willingly participating in such acts of douchery. The Michaels brothers were no exception. The day they’d finally got me, they cornered me in an old shipping yard I’d ducked into, having been certain it 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…Tommy who’d been douching-out on random people outside of Jim’s Confectionery one evening when he’d drunk too much of his father’s homebrewed moonshine and smoked too much of his mother’s hash stash. He’d grabbed me drunkenly and I’d pushed him away—he’d fallen flat on his ass and had fallen bad…in a way that hurt his back. I’d left him lying on his side and the incident hadn’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 albino reptilian brothers obviously hadn’t gotten the memo. They wasted no time jumping from their stolen Kuwaharas and rushing me. I swung a few times pretty good, catching the brother with the fatter face in the jaw, but the other brother whom everyone referred to as ‘The Menace’, caught me harder. 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 Dennis the Menace 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 Dennis the Menace 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 entrance of the store.

“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. You see, if I rushed up behind him and pulled him to the ground and stomped him within inches of his life–certainly it would be an act of douchery…beyond that, the act of douchery would be caught on the camera fixed just outside the entrance of the store. Indeed, Dennis the Menace Michaels wasn’t worth it. 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. It was widely known that the Michaels brorthers made a mint stealing luxury bikes from the suburbs and selling them in Truman Park for a slashed price. I stepped over to the stolen bike 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 he was selling dirt-weed. It wasn’t like him to sell the good grade shit.

When I was half-way through my cigarette I walked the bike over to a group of homeless men drinking window cleaner directly from the bottle. I tossed them the bag of dirt weed and walked on, fitting the roll of twenties into my hip pocket–finders keepers. 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…this was their home…a concrete urban complex that might shelter them from the Los Angeles heat and the ground level cockroaches. When I reached the top of the parkade the view was spectacular which I hadn’t been expecting. The sunset had left a faint residue itself, coloring the sky a dim shade of violet. Scanning a panoramic view of the LA skyline…I admired the twinkling Glendale hills in the far distance and to the west 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 let the butt of my cigarette fall and watched it tumble down to the parking lot below. I next 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, the chrome catching the passing florescent lights of each floor. 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 hard working family values and lemonade verandas but indeed had become systematically worse and 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 Centurion 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. 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 viable incentive not to be miserable and unfulfilled with their cushy existences…or perhaps solely for distraction from their boredom. 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 in Truman Park…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 cared to clean up around Truman Park.

It was quite educational. Among other things, one learned quite quickly in Truman Park that no matter how tough and crazy you thought you were—there was always someone tougher and crazier 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 4…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 vice principal Schooner tried. Strangely, though vice principal Schooner tried to make Truman High more like the suburban schools he’d been fired 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 quite 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 the unruly, uninterested 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 wildly curled mop of 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 and perhaps another juvenile assault charge—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 and accentuated man-tits. 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–the telephone pressed the fat kid’s button. 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?! 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 inbred 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–it was a gurgling bloody mess.

“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 thickly 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. The blood soaked entanglement was broken up rather suddenly by two employees from the drugstore across the street who’d rushed over in a display of community 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 fuck-all-ogy. 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 head?” 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 poo-poo head.” he said with his usually prickish grin.

“Learn?” I laughed, “Learn what? 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…I mean where did you get your education degree–a fuckin’ box of cracker jacks?”

“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 until next period.”

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.
“Touch me again mother fucker and you’ll be leaving this place on a stretcher.” I said.
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 lower power as a perfect menacing 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.

“What are the fuckin’ odds?” I chuckled to myself.

“Holden! What in the hell 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; 6ft. His age and gauntness made him look shorter and smaller though.

“Again?”

“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 thorn in the side of this school Holden.” Nelson informed.

“I beg to differ. 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–yet bloodshot, 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 High kid, no matter how derelict, should have needed to witness.

“Yeah, well, at least I don’t wear booty pants you creepy fuck!” 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. I didn’t need a binder anyway…I had every nuance of every lesson and then some, stored away in my hungry mind. Nelson only walked on…wagging his macabre booty with each stride. Piss on these fuckwits—I thought.

It became my mantra during the last semester I spent at Truman High–piss on these fuckwits. The school itself wasn’t the issue. The school itself was magnificently 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 to better times…to a generation that actually gave a fuck. However, the faculty and students which inhabited it saw none of the tradition–as if they weren’t aware of anything pre-dating MTV.  

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–I began to suffer a type of mental withdrawal. One way or another, I needed to get to a piano.

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 12, after becoming thoroughly bored of playing other people’s music, I was inclined to throw away the text book and pick up a electric guitar. However, piano would always be my first love. 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 when he was done sweeping up and emptying the waste baskets.

I explained to my mother how impossible it was going to be for me to exist at Truman High without access to a piano. My mother gave me an amused bewildered look. She didn’t grow up in Truman Park…she was a quite unpredictable philosophical eccentric from an upper class family who’d moved us to Truman Park to be closer to her 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 initially, 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 ushered in a crime wave, the likes of which the city had never seen and by the 1990’s…police and news helicopters were constantly 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 and 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 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 as another passing teacher commanded him to clean up the mess.

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 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 c-section. 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 struggled back to his feet. He accused me of tripping him up deliberately and my irritated denial only invited an attack. “You’re a fucking liar Holden!” he’d screamed. “You’re a fucking inbred…but we all accept you for what you are Henley.” I chuckled. 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 lunged forth and tackled him, so he toppled against the floor again. After which I 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 his 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. Indeed, I’d always found his club fingers peculiar and had eventually decided that his club fingers were a symptom of calcium deficiency.

“Here,” I said, reaching into my pocket and producing a five dollar bill, “Go down to the grocery store and get yourself a couple cartons of goat milk.” is all I said before walking 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, and I concluded that perhaps his issue wasn’t just a lack of calcium–perhaps he’d been inbred as well.

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 either. For the music store was wrought with nerdery, geekery, elitism and disconcerting feathered mullets–egg heads that preferred tech over talent. I considered 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. After some time I gave up and I inquired, perhaps unconsciously, why the universe had taken my piano away. Perhaps it was time to get out of the writing room and into the rehearsal room. Perhaps losing the piano was a sign that I was meant to be doing something else and perhaps without a piano–which could only leave electric guitar.

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 metaphysical 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 showing off their colorful Vans…they 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 reality 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 picturesque 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 moisturized.

“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 out-shined 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. As we bounced along the pot-holed road, 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 Fucks 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 crates, 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 grassless front yard a couch burned haphazardly. 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 the 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 through 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–a real live anecdote from The Park.

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 act of 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.

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. I maintained straight A’s at Truman without even really trying…so there was perhaps some concern that the A’s 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 you see, 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 better words, I was flat out fucked. I realized I had nothing left to lose after so much grovelling 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 as her friends turned to listen.

“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 OJ Simpson trial highlights. I walked to the fridge and cracked open a can of Cherry soda. I sat down in the only chair available, sighed a deep sigh…then delved into it; how I loathed the fact that there was no music…no bands, no art, no creative outlet at Truman High. In an ominous tone, I confessed that though Truman High was an architectural relic, the faculty and student body were intellectually and culturally bankrupt. 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. After a few moments 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. It seemed simply surreal to me when two days later my mom signed the application form for Coronation High. I didn’t bother mailing it. Rather I delivered in in person–in the event that it might get lost in the mail and derail my destiny.

Now, I should add here dear reader, that outside of Wes, April and her friend Lacey and of course my mom; I hadn’t told anyone about my plans to transfer. In fact, after delivering 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 were burning 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 enough white-hot ferocity to sink so low.

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–a place where teachers went to die. 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 by 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 to them Truman Park High was as good as it was going to get and they were satisfied with that reality…they made the best of a bleak situation and there was little question about it.

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 who despised me to the fullest extent of his capacities. 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, capped teeth.
“I thought you’d be happy I’m leaving.” I shrugged.

“I can’t imagine why…” he said.

“I’m certain you wouldn’t understand why I have to leave.” 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–or redder, 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 an even deeper shade of red and his eyes were glassy and dead beyond the anger blazing within him. He grabbed the neck-line of my t-shirt 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 smart ass little bastard…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? You think they’ll ever really accept a slum rat like you oever there? A trouble maker like you? Fat chance—you’ll always be a fuck up Holden…the fuck ups are fuck ups coming out of the gate. We specialize in fuckups here at Truman…and you ought to know your place. 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 shirt as the hatred and rage caused his eyes to gleam with diabolical pride.

“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–if you think I’m bluffing grab my shirt again.” I said, waiting for him to make a move, “Yeah, just what I thought.” I said when he didn’t seize the opportunity. 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 hell 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 my classmates weren’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 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 but Beatty and Huntington preferred to hop the fence and smuggle 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’re dead.”

“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.

“I don’t know…but 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 for a bit of perspective and to venerate our grandfathers who’d changed the course of history at Normandy all those decades ago—indeed, though the future was bright…I felt immersed in a certain darkness that evening–the darkness that is darkest before dawn.

Once I left 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 lasceration 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. However, the bottle 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.

“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–but those scars on your chest are nothing compared to what I’ll do to you.” 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 rodent boy?” 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 was something like fear, but fear of life in general; somebody had hurt Henley…and perhaps the scars on his chest and arms were put there by his father.

“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.

“Settled?”

“Yeah settled.” I said, “This shit has to end man–it’s super boring.”

“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 that the word?” 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, my curiosity systematically built, until I was awoken one night from a sweat soaked nightmare—that I’d returned to Truman Park High and was 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 floral alcohol 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 to the soundtrack of ‘Tim’.

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 sun-baked 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 teachers 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 light 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 with a smile 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 chuckled, “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 expression.

“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 Principal 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 wasn’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 about me—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–I thought this school would offer me a change to really succeed at something. 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 teachers were still removing banners from the walls…their expressions were also severe.

“Have a nice day.” said one of them.

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–he’s saying that Coronation is at full capacity for enrollment. Today…I got fucked over by 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. And so dear reader, I went back to my Truman Park routine and 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. I wondered what it might be like to be a fish. I floated there peacefully for a few more moments before swimming to the surface. After floating on my back for what seemed like an hour, staring up at the sky, a splash told me it was time to go. Snapping out of my trance, I noticed Beatty a few feet away, using a float board to splash water my way. “We’re gonna meet Stacey at her old man’s place…he’s out of town. You game?” he said.

“Yeah, sure.” I said.

As usual, we didn’t bother showering the chlorine off. Indeed I though I was aware of the fact that the chlorine was there to disinfect the pool waters in which people frequently pissed…there was a sense of eagerness to leave once out of the water. 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 abruptly 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. There was some hollering, then more squealing rubber. 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 in the fence and he drunkenly toppled face first into the lawn. The bottom roll of his pant leg had somehow caught and been skewered by one of the sharp pickets 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. As he rose to his feet we heard three loud cracks…echoing from the next block, the sound riccocheting against the facades of the old houses. Directly after, a loud squeal of the car tires and the roar of a V6 engine echoed from the neighboring street. 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.

As a police helicopter obliviously chopped through the skies high above the surrounding palm trees, 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, blink his eyes, sit up and crack another terrible joke with his signature psychotic grin and lead the way to Stacey Keller’s old man’s place. 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 homicide squad.

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 black 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 wooden box. 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. For reasons only known to them, the two enjoyed hanging around in Truman Park and they particularly liked eating at greasy restaurants and had chosen Triple Happiness Bowl on this occassion…a place that had been closed down earlier in the year because of an e-coli outbreak. Needless to say, I ordered a cup of black tea and no food. 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 it 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.

“What?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“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, “You buy that shit? It sounds like a cheesy made for TV movie.”

“Dude…I shit you not–it’s what’s happened.” 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 from riff-raff 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 ten minutes before the new principal, pricipal Gavin, took the call.

“Principal Gavin here.” she answered suddenly, interrupting the elevator music.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m calling about an application for enrollment I submitted before the summer break. 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 got canned.” I said.

“Yes…he’s no longer with us. 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 basically 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 principal 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–a few friends of mine who attend Coronation have told me all about it.”

“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 get you settled here. I will have one of the ladies check for it and contact you either way.”

“You’re not a enrollment capacity?” I asked.

“Uh…no. We’re well below capacity actually.” said Gavin, “Why do you ask?”

“I was told by Jefferies that there was no room for me…that Coronation is at maximum capacity.” I said.

“Listen, I’m new here too…and so organizing my predecessor’s scatter brained system has been challenging—we’ll make room for you…worry not. 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. Did my dream of attending Coronation actually matter to God? With all the atrocities in the universe, was it possible that he’d heard the wish of a hood rat kid? The possibility was more than I could wrap my mind around just then. 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 fan.

“…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–divine intervention. 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 creative 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 hip-hop coming from inside the tinted windows. 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; ankle deep 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, arms and shoulder. The fall stunned me slightly and as I sat there calculating my options, 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.

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 the thorns that had wedged through my shirt and into my skin. The problem I noticed once in the bathroom mirror under the lights however was an ugly bruise swelling around my left eye…lending me a brutish appearance–something that would ruin any chance of a great first impression at Coronation the following morning.

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 had gotten much worse. 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 that may or may not have been included in my file—Gavin 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 by only seconds–the driver had seen me running, but had decided not to wait.

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 45 minutes late. Not a great first impression.

Inside, classes were 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. The office was decorated entirely different since the last time I’d seen it the day I’d met with Jefferies. 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.” she chuckled.

“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 a cult favorite around here; 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, “I can put my jean jacket back on.”

“What happened to your eye by the way?” she asked.

“I got jumped by some guys last night as I was walking home.” I said.

“Why did they do that?” she asked.

“Probably inbreds.” 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—freezing 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.

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 accustomed to; a different language altogether. 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, playfully bantering and debating politics, religion and philosophy as they congregated in small groups—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. The community billboard in the center of the school courtyard was plastered with pulpy gig posters hung by Coronation students in promotion of their bands and upcoming performances. 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 vintage attire and entertaining discussions…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. Existentialism was a hot topic for them…dead authors, dead actors, dead directors, dead poets, dead painters…it seemed as long as someone was dead, they could and were considered hip–or at least mysterious–as if they’d immortalized themselves by ceasing to exist. I was all for the existentialism, particularly Celine, but I took my existentialism mostly with the majesty of moonlight. Indeed, I felt nearly subhuman at least until after second period.

During those first weeks, I’d stand there, puffing on pinner 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. Indeed, at Coronation, it seemed the thoughts and opinions of students were not only encouraged, but nurtured and given room to grow and refine. In stark contrast to Truman High kids; these Coronation High kids were being primped to run the world…and they acted like it.

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 an Einstein theory. I was slightly surprised to find that academically, the teachers of Coronation weren’t all that much different from Truman teachers. They conveyed 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. While at Truman High, the teachers would drone on, usually directly from a textbook for the entirety of the class–perhaps afraid of the bored-silly silence they might face if they dared stop reading.

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; they’d been babied into a perpetual state of narcissism and were accordingly entitled. 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 the currency at Coronation High. Gossip was key and 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, 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, who’s parents had lost money on a business venture, who’s parents got a new boat, who’s parents just bought property in Calabasas. It all flooded in blow by blow as if Coronation high was one giant gossip column.

To me it was a hell of a lot of bullshit and loose talk and it amused me to hear about it all on a daily basis…to absorb random and pointless tidbits about other people’s personal business. 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 they 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. This would have all been interesting to me if the gossip didn’t bore me a yawn; I simply 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 thin 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 the long thin cigarette. Though there were a thousand other girls at Coronation–Eleanor was the one who hypnotized me at first sight. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced…and something I didn’t quite understand.

“Who the hell is that girl?” I asked Wes.

“Who?” he asked, scanning the grounds that were swarming with Coronation girls.

“Audrey Horne over there on the side walk…school girl outfit…European cigarette, blue eyes.” I said, squinting in her direction.

“She’s basically new…she started halfway through last semester…sort of bizarre personality…” said April, as Wes raised his brows, at a loss to place the new girl.

“Bizarre personality? Ha! More like 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 Catholic 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 like I say, sort of bizarre.” said April

“It’s the quiet ones who are the craziest in bed.” Wes assured, “That uniform says it all doesn’t it?”

“Maybe there’s something about Catholic girls.” I said.

“Or perhaps she’s just 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 crest—the 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 gotta know more.” 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.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why do you want to know?” she asked.

“Curious.” 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–I think lady Fletcher has an unsatisfying home situation.” 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 on your tit 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 charge.”

“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–there was no hope starting a band at Truman…so I’m here now.” I said.

“If 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 as freaky as Lacey had 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.

“I like your style.” I said, “You’ve got this whole Audrey Horne thing going on.”

“At my old school, people thought I reminded them of Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds.” said Eleanor.

“You sold me.” I said, taking the cigarette from her hand and dragging on it deeply.

“Smooth.” I said and handed it back to her. She squinted her eyes at me and tilted her head slightly before dragging on the cigarette.

“So, you gonna stay with us long Truman Park? Or you gonna mosey off to some other school?” she asked.

“You’d never guess what I went through to get enrolled here.” I grinned.

“Oh?”

“Oh.” I assured with a nod.

Indeed, for a few weeks at Coronation, everything seemed pretty tranquil. I’d been smoking so much of the good grade shit; the hazy cosmic atmosphere at Coronation filled my head with 35mm pans in soft focus–as if the Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’ was playing on a loop in my head. Even the readings, sermons and lessons the teachers repeated for the thousandth time in their lives, acted as lulling and angelic historical illustrations as the sun rays flooded the mid-afternoon classrooms, promising a big vibrant world full of vibrating colors and adventurous possibilities where vintage paperback covers came to life.

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. All those years I’d been toiling away at Truman Park, this paradisical reality had been going on without me. Indeed, it was nearly too relaxing, too soft, too slow-mo. I marinated in this new normal like a leopard relaxing in a spot of warm shade. I hadn’t at all realized that all wasn’t what it seemed at Coronation…and the paradisical summer-slack hid beneath it very real channels of complexity and I eventually and rather abruptly found out 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 continued.

Though I found Holland’s various theories nearly fascinating; 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 wonderfully heavy lipstick. Specifically, my best recollection was often seeing her leaving school in a Jeep with Brandon Silver, a non-descript, ultra-symmetical pretty boy who had perhaps seen one too many 80’s comedies and so molded himself after the popular preppy jock prototype. Word was he was living his senior year for the second time, having been held back a year on account of either having too much fun or having eaten one too many retard sandwiches. I’d wondered a time or two how it was that a dumb stump like Silver could land such a looker like Abigail. His money of course, was my conclusion.

Though I had no money, aside from what I earned working part-time at the video store. Each afternoon, Abigail would pass me a note in the form of an origami animal and each afternoon, I’d unfold it…hoping she’d write something lewd and filthy—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 I’ve always found intriguing no matter what the case. 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 people were always telling her 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. However, real or not…it was subscribed to.

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, 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 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 ‘bizarre’ 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 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 a Belinda Carlisle album 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 cheerleading squad the previous year—I had no idea cheerleading 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.

“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 wrapped herself around me before getting in. She slithered her tongue into my mouth for a deep kiss—something to keep me thinking about her after she’d gone I assumed. After a moment she pulled away with a devilish grin and ran her painted nails down the front of my t-shirt. “I gotta go sexy boy.” she cooed. “Drive safe.” I said.
I stood curbside watching her get buckled in. She reset the volume level of her Belinda Carlisle album and fixed her lipstick 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. Though the experience with Abigail had been interesting; I was still racked with thoughts of Eleanor and the fact that a chick as beautiful as Abigail couldn’t stray my mind from wandering back to Eleanor, struck me as curious indeed. 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 stalker-boy.” 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 over my shoulder.

“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, “I love her, man.”

“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 little clown car and get the fuck out of here before I put my boot in your ass.” I said.

“We can play this game—but you know who is going to win.” he said.

“You should really 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. One kid opened the door of the jeep and looked inside, running his hand over the upholstery. 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; assholes, I thought heading back into the house.

Indeed dear reader…there was more to the paradisical tranquility of Coronation just below the surface. 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–after all, I’d been minding my own business listening to Holland and his conspiracy theories. I hadn’t asked for trouble…however trouble had followed me back to Truman Park somehow. I realized I was just an escape for Abigail who wanted to be someone else and perhaps somewhere 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 distracting myself from a building fascination with Eleanor Price–that much was clear to me. 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—I suppose when Heidi Lane and her crew felt the students needed it most. They organized bottle drives for charity and were in the midst of funding negotiations for a cricket team start-up. They 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 school 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 of 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 partaking in debates regarding which extracurricular body would be funded and which would be dismantled. One day I’d been told that during pizza day, a cultural phenomenon around Coronation, Eleanor had frisbeed a slice of all dressed pizza onto the roof of the gymnasium and encouraged others to do the same in protest of the faculty which she accused of attempting to buy the student’s trust with ‘greasy dough’. She’d emerged later the same week to read a poem about the forgotten plight of the American Indians during an auditorium assembly during which she’d subsequently banged a small drum and recited a self-written chant of shame 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 wreck of possibilities. 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 trophy ex-stewardess 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 or other. 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 and riding away…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 modicum of 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 asked me to hold her close on my bed in my room and made a small confession to me—indeed, the origami notes stopped and as if we’d never met, Abigail Wax and I became total strangers. Though I didn’t quite care…I did find it slightly bizarre–and I was glad I hadn’t made any intimate confessions to her…as usual, I’d played it cool and was right to do so. More so, I was able to concentrate, without distraction on Holland’s conspiracy theories, which I found somewhat fascinating.

The instance brought me to a grand realization one Friday afternoon while packing up my books at the end of one of Holland’s classes; 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’d been caught long enough in the limbo state of adapting to my new environment–it was time to get to down to business.

Indeed, Coronation High was 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 their garage or 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 wasn’t finding kids with instruments and rehearsal rooms—the challenge seemed to be finding talented 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 the tangible 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 that travel at super-sonic speeds and could just as suddenly 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 a sound proofed room in the Decker Brothers’ basement and for some reason there always seemed to be Coronation kids coming and going…dropping by to see what we were up to…some were in other bands, some where just curious…some were music addicts who loved nothing more…some were just hangers on. 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 were haphazardly parked 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. Perhaps it was better that way.

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 who I’d delivered the paper to. 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 or as I called her Sarah Mascara; 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 and you got into a fist fight at the grocery store and you wound up getting an indefinite expulsion…the talk is crazy.” said Sarah with wide eyes, the lids caked with mascara—her trademark style.

“Wow…and I thought Coronation High was gossip central. Shit…is that what Nelson is telling everyone?” I said, shaking my head, “Don’t believe the hype Sarah.”
“Well, what really happened? Where have you been?” she asked.
“I’ve been at Coronation–getting business done. You can let everyone know that bastard Nelson tried to sabotage my transfer to Coronation. He almost succeeded too…but the universe had other plans.” I told her.

“He actually did that?” asked Sarah.

“What–it’s a surprise? The guy wears booty pants–enough said. By the way, 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 aside from seizing a cache of weapons and drugs, 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.”

Eventually 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 telepathic 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 Sarah’s 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, “Guess Truman Park was too much for a pussy like you huh? You fucking ran…”

“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–and as I’ve said, some goat milk…I think the bulk of your problems might be wrapped up in calcium deficiency.” I told him which caused Sarah to break out laughing, “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 staring at me with a twisted penetrating scowl.

“Angle? What the fuck are you on about?”

“What the fuck is wrong with this guy?” Henley asked, turning to Sarah, “What did you guys take?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he asked turning to face me.

“What? I’m just offering some condolences. Have you gotten even more retarded since we last spoke?” I asked.

“You’re offering me condolences? Well you can shove your condolences up your ass Holden. I don’t need your fucking condolences shit head!” hollered Henley.
“Your call.” I shrugged.
“What the fuck is up with you man? You’ve lost your edge…” he said, nodding slowly, his eyes widening intensely as the realization formed in his twisted up brain, “That’s it–you’ve lost your fucking edge. That piss lemonade school you’ve been going to has taken away your edge.”

“Goat milk.” I said, unable to suppress a chuckle.

“I think I see what happened here. That cushy Coronation School has turned you into a sensitive little baby 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 cunt?” I asked.

“No, because the Jack I knew would have never showed such weakness. Fuck…I at least had a bit of respect for the old Jack who was a total fucking prick…I don’t know who you are now man…you’re lost.” 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 sell my ass out to some bitch-ass high school…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.

“What a dick.” 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, “Probably he really doesn’t care.”

“Well, it would seem 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 local 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.

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, noting adjustments that needed to be made, no matter how small. And there were many. Indeed when it comes down to it, an artist must eventually abandon a great work…he’ll never finish it…for to finish it, an artist might take a life time, or two. One can always improve on a work…one can always make it better…for art is infinite.

Though I felt we could have refined the songs quite a bit more than they were…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 ‘Wildfire’ 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 aside from 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’ in his life 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 robbed me of some killer instinct.

“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 I let that 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 weed. 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 John Lennon style tinted spectacles 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 spend a lot of time with Technicolor.” 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 napalm?” 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 history 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 been half mad and 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 half insane…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 being as comfortable as I was on the back stage couch, warmly wrapped in the after glow of perhaps my greatest night on earth up to that point. 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 leather couch.
“Hey.” I said, remembering my resentment.
Perhaps sensing it, Eleanor’s smile faded and she played nervously with a bottle cap between her candy apple red fingernails. She was dressed as usual in women’s 1960’s corporate apparel, which drove me half mad and made resenting her just a little easier for showing up at my show with Locksmith. 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 looking like Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds…was it just to torture me?

“I’m leaving now—but I just wanted to congratulate you on the show. It was so good. I had no idea. Striking really.” said Eleanor, nervous now for some reason, her usual biting sarcasm nowhere in sight.

“Yeah? You’re leaving with cardigan boy?” I asked rising from the couch.

“Well yeah, I came here with him.” said Eleanor.

“Aw, how romantic.” I sneered.

“Sorry?” she asked.

“You should be.” I said.

“Why?” she asked, twisting her face into an expression of absurdity.

“This was my greatest night on earth…and I just wanted to share it with you…and you showed up with that jackass.” 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?”

“Not at all.”

“Right.” 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?” 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 for Eleanor and I.

“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 jive?” I asked.

“Gregory told me.” said Eleanor.

“Yeah—and where did he hear it?”

“Brandon Silver told him.” said Eleanor, as if the words were ammunition.

“Brandon Silver is unstable–the guy follows Abigail around in his jeep.” I said.

“I know that…everyone knows that. It’s nothing new. And 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 chilled out in my room listening to the Cure.” 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 romantic–and to the Cure…sounds pretty serious.”

“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 dance floor, 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 pretty boy…just get back in the car before you hurt someone with that pompadour.” 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, “The way I heard it,” I said, blowing another plume his way, “you’ve been stringing Lacey along for months.”

“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 alderman 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 again 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.

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.

“You ok?” I asked.

“I’m fine.” said Eleanor, “But I don’t want to go back in there—everyone is 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.

“Ok, 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 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 moved fluidly, full of nostalgic allure and soft curves…suggestive eyes and matching rouge lips. She contained it all rather effortlessly, framing her intense perceptions with a mysterious and sometimes biting sarcasm.
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 desire 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 cardigan clad debating star. Something in her recognized something in me–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, you 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.
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 front steps, 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.
“So what’s this surprise you had planned?” I asked later as we drove along the PCH 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, “That’s the surprise?”
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 in Malibu 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.
“I guess you’re not going to tell me until we’re there huh?” I smiled, looking at her with a shade of curiosity, wondering what she was up to.
We drove for a while longer, until we wound up in Westwood. After winding the streets for a while longer, 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 kissing my cheek.
“Stealthy?” I asked as Eleanor 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 yellow dutch colonial house with a perfectly barbered lawn decorated meticulously with figurines windmills and other ornaments.”
“Yeah.” I said, peering at the house.
“Well baby…that’s Irving Nelson’s house. The principal over at Truman High…that’s the fucker-wad’s 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 campy chuckle, “Look…I propose we kidnap his garden gnomes…that’s all.”
“That’s evil.” I laughed.
“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.
“Are you kidding me? My entire life has been leading up to this moment.” I grinned.
“Ok, remember…stealthy.” she said before clicking open her door and giving me one last look of caution.
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. The decorations had been meticulously planned…a miniature windmill…miniature horse drawn buggies…a miniature well…a red and white barn complete with miniature hogs, horses and sheep…as well as leprechauns peeking out from behind the small shrubs that decoratively populated the yard…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 whispered at me to grab the large 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 bolted out from around the corner, her arms filled with various lawn ornaments. Not bothering to conceal her voice this time she chuckled, “Let’s jet…they’re coming!”
Kicking it into high gear, we made it to the car in seconds. As I helped her dump the remainder of ornaments 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, her using the door and me hopping up over it into the passenger seat as was my wont. 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 in the opposite direction 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, joining the anonymity of never ceasing traffic. We sailed along in the mighty river of automobiles for a while, the California breeze rustling our hair and the rows of palm trees going by.
“That was the best thing any girl ever did 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. Our band Technicolor was gaining a substantial following at each gig we played and with each live performance, something was added to the songs…a certain seasoning. Indeed, the gigs, though exciting in an extreme sort of way, were mainly at house parties or all-ages DIY venues…which meant the 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 stage and a sound system. 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 each other’s moves 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 magic-mushroom tea house party, a sweltering street festival for the arts in Pasadena, 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, was one show in particular that would prove pivotal. The show was at an illegally operated indoor DIY skate park, fully equipped with ramps and half-pipes. The club had been put together by a brigade of angst ridden kids under the supervision of Jay Goldstein, a college age kid who beyond being known for savage antics and a wardrobe consisting mostly of pleather clothing, had started promoting raves and local bands in his teens. Somehow he’d built a network of support among the Emerald Heights band scene and had furnished his illegitimate club through donations. Leather couches, mis-matched cocktail tables, velvet curtains. The sound system, from what I could tell was a frankenstein of odds and ends thrown together from a dozen different systems. The stage, like the half pipe had been constructed by volunteer Emerald Heights kids who firmly believed in the cause of having their very own, unsupervised and thoroughly unlicensed venue to skate, get high and see bands at. Nobody bothered to wonder if the owners of the property knew or cared what Goldstein was hosting on any given evening. Indeed, Goldstein excelled at fly by night operations and had been doing so for nearly a decade. Nobody bothered to ask questions.
As fate would have it, the night Technicolor played, the police raided the club halfway through our set. 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 us 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–a bummer really…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 which poured out into the parking lot resulting in more protest. Indeed, as we moved our gear out of the club we had to duck plastic cups and wet wads of napkins the protesters threw at the line of officers guarding the entrance doors.
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 of 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 and fists raised high, which I assumed most of them needed so very badly after a lifetime of cordially buttoning down. 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 Woodland 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 right time the night of the Cat Cave debacle. Having provided the soundtrack for the most scandalous night in recent Coronation High memory; we’d solidified our relevance not only at Coronation, but other 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 an exact timeline, where everyone in the building had been when the fuzz initially 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 underground 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 mark, if the initial mark is in fact as lackluster as a underground 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 mainly of a squad of pretentious community dilettantes who didn’t play music at all but loved the idea of very publicly offering support to the arts—by inciting some very cutthroat competition among otherwise very friendly bands. The battle was organized by a group of sponsors and boards and an arts council panel made up of more dilettantes…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.
Indeed, I’d left Emerald Heights that evening feeling as if something bad had either just happened or was just about to happen. It seemed the holidays were going to put the brakes on everything and I felt if we stopped moving…there was a real danger of losing the momentum. I’d run into Sarah Mascara on the number 7 heading back into Truman Park that evening. 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 the seat behind me. I sat sideways with my legs across my seat.
“Man, your hair is getting so long.” she said, “Don’t you have to keep primped up for that prissy west side school?”
“They’re easy going.” I said.
“You travel an awful long way each day.” 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 took Technicolor’s ‘Wildfire’ demo out of my Walkman and handed it to her. She looked at it curiously, reading the title that had been written in red marker before slipping the cassette into her Walkman. 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–this is really you? It’s fucking good man…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 a slug and would always be a slug.”
“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’s just pissed that his sabotage failed.” 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.
“Permanently?”
“I mean, ‘close’ as in wrecking balls and bulldozers.”
“Why?”
“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 or the lack of supports for the artists…but the school itself is a time capsule…the antiquity always amazed me…it’s a momumental part of this neighborhood…one of the last remnants of a greater era–when Truman Park stood for better things…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 inner city school with rotten entrails and rotten kids; 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 a deeper contemplation about Truman Park itself. 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 dragged 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…but it’s probably changed so much since when you graduated.”
“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 gran dad 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 swear they’ll never move back to Truman Park!” chuckled the man, gazing up at Truman High that towered above us from a strangely different perspective now, “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 blue house right there on the corner…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 the house next to Schmidt’s…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, “This is your time sonny–you got the world by the tail.”
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 large black shingles and a steeple topped by a sharp copper spire turned light green 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 mom’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.
Eleanor drove east on Sunset toward the downtown skyline that towered in the haze. As we drove easily 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 district’s evaporating historical standing—which was pretty much 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 plastic seats and department store catalogue décor. After a few minutes a man in a baggy turtle neck sweater 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, “Where are you kids from anyway? What school do you

 attend?”
“I used to attend Truman High 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, “Look, if you want to write a letter to the board, 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 folded 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 back 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.
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 Pacific 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 Calabasas 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–it helped that the professor was a friend of Wes’ father. 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 of the controversy.
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 from slapping at the bass.
“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 up 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 how 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 songs and it worked nicely, building everything up to the last song; the hit from our cassette demo ‘Wildfire’ 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 chuckled to myself, feeling a wash of pure satisfaction move over me in an awesome wave. 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 I found were 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 dear reader…one I had zero understanding of—perhaps one I couldn’t; Truman Park kids couldn’t afford such a luxury.
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 Emerald Heights—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 the Cat Cave…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 Beacon Magazine. What were you thinking man?”
“What interview?” I asked, drawing a blank, “I never did an interview with anyone. The fuck you talking about?”
“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 concealing flabby man tits. 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 changeover—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…he never said it was an interview…anyway, 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 told thte Deckers who sat there looking back at me with perturbed expressions.
“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 and left him standing there in the alleyway with his half smoked cirgarette and his man tits poking through his faded Pearl Jam t-shirt.
“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 discretion, “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 fourth rate entertainment rag run by university nerds who did more watching that doing.
“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’re total killers…they show up ready to kill it every show.
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. When I said you guys are killers, I meant it in the very best way.” 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 with the horn rim glasses and buzz cuts…I think it’s great for our look…fuck everyone else.” 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 immediately explained what had happened with the Decker brothers and Eleanor suggested we go for pie and tea at Canters on Fairfax where we could talk more about it in a quieter setting. 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, Muzz Skillings and Flea. 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 stuck around for the entire duration of their 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. Indeed whoever he was; he was a prissy cunt.
“Who’s that jack-ass supposed to be?” I asked Eleanor, as a wave of laughter and cheers moved through the crowd around us.
“That’s Trent Humbucker…he sings for the Trent and 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 jeans and were more about choreographed moves and poses than shredding shit up. Though Trent and 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 banging 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. During an organ solo, she pulled a plastic bottle of lighter fluid from her back pocket and held it up 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 trying to be stealthy.
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.
When the song was over and the stage lights dimmed, 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 from Canters on Fairfax, Eleanor took a scenic route, merging up onto Mulholland 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 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.
“Lawrence? Come now dear girl.” I said in my best O’toole.
“All the boys think she’s super pretty.”
“I ain’t like other guys.” I said.
“How about Jane Westcott?” asked Eleanor.
“No.”
“Cheryl Johnson?”
“Please…” I scoffed.
“How about Wendy Silverman?”
“You’re funny.“
“How about Mädchen Amick?”
“Well…you got me there…sorry.” I grinned, causing Eleanor to drop her jaw with an expression of amused disbelief as she batted the back of her hand against my arm.
As we headed back into Truman Park, Eleanor detoured off of Sunset and followed it to Truman Blvd, where she turned right and followed it to State Street down which we rolled, bouncing over the potholes. 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 don’t ya think?” sighed Eleanor, unbuckling her seatbelt and getting out of the car. I got out as well and met her at the trunk, which she clicked open.
She leaned in and picked up two of the gnomes. Holding each under an arm she walked 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…let’s 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 place 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…several black and white cows and a red and white barn. 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 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 mom’s house. Eleanor frequently spent the night with me in my room, falling asleep to dreamy Manchester guitar rock particularly the Stone Roses…She’s A Waterfall always sent Eleanor sailing out onto a tranquil river of slumber. 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 text for the save Truman High poster I’d been contemplating for days. I condensed all of my thoughts into a single, hard hitting 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 smooth curves and how pretty she looked even without a line of makeup. I wondered what the hell a girl like her was doing in Truman Park with a dog like me…she could have been with any other guy in town. It made me feel Vegas lucky. 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, furthermore, the nearest school was Berringer High and on the wrong side of downtown.
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 an hour to download two high def photos of Truman High. 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 high above the palm trees, I dozed off with Eleanor wrapped around me and the Stone Roses in my head. I was nearly beyond the threshold of consciousness when the phone, like a fire drill bell sounded, shattering the tranquility of my black-lit room. Not wanting the phone to wake anyone, 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.
“Sure…why not?” I asked.
“You’re nothing but a fucking Truman Park skid Holden….your nothing but a hood rat…your band sucks as well…sure you might play at some shitty 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 for Lacey Silver. Enjoy it while it lasts because it’s all going to come crashing down on you very soon…I can assure you of that.”
“What’s a matter princess—you drink too many jello shots tonight? Sober the fuck up…and don’t call here again or I’ll put my foot in your ass next time I see you.” 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 tranquil river of slumber. I rolled over and pulled 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 needed 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. In reality, he hadn’t lost Eleanor to me…he’d lost her to himself. She’d have found out about Lacey Silver eventually–with gossip the way it was around Coronation; it was only a matter of time. There were no secrets at Coronation.

I’d expected a confrontation of some sort the next time I saw Locksmith–however, no controntation arose–then at least. The following week I’d seen Locksmith a few times around 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. I know this because we had exactly one class together during which he never even looked my way. Perahaps he’d been so drunk he’d forgotten all about the drunken phone call.

Though he had, in a drunken bout of desperation, dialed my land line and attempted to slice and dice me with razor words; around the hallways of Coronation he appeared timid and averted his eyes when we passed each other. Perhaps that was that…and I’d have no further issues with Locksmith. I was fine with that. I preferred an all out war to long drawn out passive aggressive vendettas. Certainly I was fine letting letting sleeping dogs lie. 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 cutting 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 full of their own brand of cutting commentaries and hard-right agendas…it was, like the Gazette, distributed through an outlet shelf in the library, cafeteria as well as in the school courtyard. Indeed, it seemed the students of Coronation read the rags after all.

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 twenty percent review…the remaining eighty percent was a scathing attack on the counter culture of bands that played at venues like Gorilla and the dangerous and violent ideals they inspired.

‘…Which brings me to the subject of Coronation band Technicolor, a band fronted by Coronation charity case and 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 Cave, 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 an assembly at Gorilla skate park last weekend in which an effigy of Trent Humbucker was set aflame. There has been some speculation among parents that the display was essentially cult-like demonic ritual, complete with fire, chanting and the very real hostility against Cartwright student Trent Humbucker. We need to ask how far these bands are willing to go to create their own self-propelled notoriety…how far they’re willing to go to advance their demonic agendas. It’s been reported that the flames of the burning effigy at the Gorilla skate park reached such heights, residents a block away had called the fire department. Assemblies like the one at Gorilla skate park last weekend are not only an obvious hazard to public safety but an obscene misallocation of our emergency responders–not to mention a most blatant promotion of demonology. 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.

“This guy doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. He’s accusing me of being in league with demonology. I’m Catholic…I don’t roll with demons and shit. I really ought to put my boot in his ass.” I said.

“Everyone is going to read this too.” nodded April.

“Do you think anyone even reads this shit?” I laughed.

“Only like everyone here.” 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.

Though I felt certain I could take Locksmith apart without even breaking a sweat. I did wonder how far he would go to smear my name now that it was evident Eleanor wasn’t going to return to him; it seemed even the article was a fair amount of effort to expend on a woman he didn’t feel anything for outside of his rep having been perhaps slightly tarnished once everyone learned the shameful truth about he 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 with her hair loosely worn up in a bun…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 a 20 minute debate about it in Miss Spellman’s class.”

“Really?” I laughed, “This has to be a joke–why does anyone care?”

“No joke buddy–these school magazines can be very vicious…clearly Locksmith is out for blood…and when Locksmith is out for blood, he sinks the fangs in deep.” assured Wes.

“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 and poorly worded; it’s totally inaccurate…he made it sound as if it was I who burned the effigy of bitch-boy Humbucker…and by the way…I don’t roll with demonology and devil worship…I’m Catholic for fuck sakes…so this shit eater makes no sense…this guy knows absolutely nothing about meit…and, I’ll point it out once again–he wears tapered flood pants. Let me ask you something…what kind of a man wears tapered flood pants?” I chuckled.

“Trent Humbucker.” said Eleanor.

“He made it sound as if Technicolor was behind it all…which just isn’t accurate.” I said, “Really it was Titty-Funk…and by the way, they put on a hell of a show.”

“It didn’t bother you that he called you a Coronation High charity case 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 Gavin did take mercy on me…without her ‘charity’, I’d still be trapped at Truman High.” I laughed, “I don’t give a fuck what Humbucker or anyone else thinks…yeah, I’m a hood rat…but at least I don’t wear tapered flood pants in order to display varying designs of argyle socks. This guy has no idea how far I’d put my boot in his ass…no idea.”

“You’re a bigger man that.” said Wes.

“Am I? Anyway, even if I did kick his ass up to his shoulders, he’d still be an asshole and I’d have an assault charge…and who knows what else.” I said, “…and he ain’t worth any of that.”

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 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. What he’s done by going to Gavin is put you on her radar Jack.” 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 the form of his commentary column…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. 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 much give a 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. I wanted to go down in history for composition. Beyond that they could say what they wanted about me.

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 of 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 to stair structures, railings, walls, floor tiles, bike racks, 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 in 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 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 and the worms as company. And it seemed at Coronation, controversies were a student body issue, which I’d found odd being that I was still in many regards on Truman Park 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 however, in fact acted as a combustible agent…not unlike the lighter fluid Walt’s singer had sprayed over the effigy before lighting it up. It seemed the more indifferent I became to Locksmith’s publicized attacks, the worse they became…and this dear reader didn’t sit well with the folks over at the Right World Herald. One afternoon I was sitting in the Coronation library with Eleanor, who loved to be surrounded by books. She’d been sketching lewd depictions of certain members of faculty 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 I was told was a larger contingency than was admitted.

Malcolm Curtis was their star reporter 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. Though I’d seen him and his minions around the halls of Coronation; we’d never spoken.

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 bird, 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—you know…as a graduation photo.”

“But do you feel that this sort of ‘media 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’m sort of indifferent to his existence…he’s just not that interesting.” I shrugged.

“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 for some reason.” I said.

“I’m not sure if you realize, but he’s called you a Coronation High charity case. Do you feel that’s a statement of socio-economical prejudice?”

“I’ve been called worse things by greater men. And anyway, that’s nothing man…I won’t even bother getting into what he said when he called me drunk on jello-shots at 3am.” I laughed.

“Really? What did he say?” exclaimed Malcolm, as if thrilled to hear about it.

“The usually shit.”

“Why do you think he did that?”

“Who knows?” I shrugged, “The guy has an abnormally large and round head…don’t you think? It’s like a fucking medicine ball that head of his. I wondered about that head. Maybe his mother was smoking crack 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.

“Whatever…” I shrugged.

I read neither the Coronation Gazette nor the Right World Times. I read dead existential authors. 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 I would one day sell to 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. The mission is what mattered.

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–it had chosen me…for better of for worse. 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 Culver City. As Eleanor had suspected, Walt and the Goblin went to Cartwright high. Home of the burning man himself–Trent Humbucker.

The two rehearsed at the Goblin’s parent’s compound. 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 3 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.

I drove my mom’s plush interior Grand Marquis 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 foot bridge. The front yard was a green, landscaped expanse boasting a gazebo, flower gardens and a blue marble 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 that 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 inappropriate question–ones which she seemed to expect coming from the Goblin’s friends. She left us there in the foyer for a few moments as the Goblin made his way across the house to meet us.

“I hear the Deckers quit because of an interview you did in some shit magazine.” said Walt.

“Indeed they did.” I said.

“I read that interview.”

“Yeah?”

“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 matching horn rim glasses, 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.

“Maybe that’ll be their next band name.” I chuckled “They really took offense that shit…they totally missed the point of what I was saying.” 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 fucked.” Walt chuckled, lighting a cigarette.

It was then that the Goblin was upon us with his 1970’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 snowboarding 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. Mädchen Amick, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder…and the likes of. 90’s chicks; they had something, else.

“Hey, that’s a crazy poster.” I said, pointing at Mädchen Amick.

“My prize obsession.” grinned the Goblin.

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 produced 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 here 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–mesmerized by the snowboarding video.

“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.”

“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, “Sounds like you’re talking shit to me. Where are we supposed to go anyway?”

“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 sometimes.” she whined, pulling away with a playful smirk.

“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. Four years of living with her drill sergeant dad has made her a bit bonkers. 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 marvellously 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 30th time we ran 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—a not so coy reference. Indeed, dear reader, 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 pussycat 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—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, “Or do you care if your home room teacher finds out that you wrote a song about her?”

“Fuck that!” Walter spat with amazement, “No fucking way dude…listen man…you don’t quite understand the situation–the woman wears leather mini skirts with fishnets and high heels…she spikes her pixie haircut and wears makeup that could kill—one day she wore a studded wrist band…there’s no way I’m not 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—it seemed we’d scratched the surface of brilliance and there was no stopping us.

“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 demented heart, to dear Mrs. Moffat.” I dared Walt, who took the dare with a wide eyed grin.

“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 the plush Grand Marquis as she drove, singing along to a Beach Boys 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. Indeed, it was in that moment I was first fully aware of Brian Wilson’s genius, as Wouldn’t It Be nice piped through the Marquis crisp speakers. The melody was angelic…it was that simple and that complex.

Eventually we merged onto the 101 and we followed it for a while, the Grand Marquis taking the bumps and dips smoothly as if we were riding on a plush luxurious couch. Eventually we merged off of the freeway and 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.” she said 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 site and the lot was filled with cars…but not just cars…there were cargo trucks, vans, jeeps and even a few scooters. 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 out my mom, who was always a flashy dresser. Men were frequently hitting on her and she’d developed a certain obliviousness to them…unless caught her interest, which was a quite infrequent instance being that my mom seemed to write most men off as being boring and wired quite basically. On this day her main objective was to find me a spaciously sized van for my musical ventures, citing that I would need a van to carry band equipment—after all, what kind of asshole took the bus with a Marshall Stack and two guitars and bag of tricks?  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 working odd jobs 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 arms and shoulders were grotesquely hairy. His name tag read “Trav” and he wore a golden watch as well as a golden medallion, both of which gleamed in the sun. 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, all the vehicles 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 mom 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 black 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 Herald. Evidently, Malcolm Curtis skewered Locksmith in his new 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 English is a dead language? Anyway dude…it’s brilliant, the part where you say his mom was smoking rock during the crucial trimesters…simply brilliant…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–just a heads up.” 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, “So, what are you going to do about Locksmith if he comes at you today?” Wes asked as we walked on, toward our only shared class of the day.

“Put a boot in his ass.” I shrugged.

“I’m just saying, be prepared for some pay-back…Locksmith can be a real tenacious 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 Atticus Finch across the black board in huge block lettering, punctuating it with a stab of the chalk which created a small chalk explosion.

“Who is 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 he 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. I sighed deeply…knowing where this was now going to go. I could recite what he wanted to hear; the expected answer that would make its way into the percentage of my overall grade in his class—or I could tell him what I really thought.

“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 assume, such an avid reader like you has 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 lies 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 prose that colors far outside the lines–if they’re exposed to it that is…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.

“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.

“Sure…I’m a huge fan of Updike. What does a prize have to do with us reading ground breaking prose though? I mean what about Celine? Or Miller? Or Fante? Don’t you think those might be a bit more interesting for restless kids with hungry minds?” I asked.

“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 Harper Lee, 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 than 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. “They’re gonna put you on the firing line now man!” he cried with 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 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 middle-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 his 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. Though it’s distributed 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’s mother.”

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 smoking crack 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 as well as 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.

“I didn’t realize you’re such a 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?” I laughed.

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 and crooked knees. 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 by-product 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?

What in the world indeed. 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 he’d gotten me 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 my brother was in class at the college. I had a few more puffs of the Supernova and kicked back on the couch in my room, strumming the guitar to some vocal melodies that had been swimming through my mind. The waves of melody were lulling and meditative yet full of fire and brimstone…a lighting crash exploding out into the atmosphere and rumbling off far into the distance. Hearing the simplicity of the vocal melody over top of the complex guitar riff, I felt I achieved real magic in making it all sound like love at first sight, as if one’s heart might spontaneously combust if they’d only let it.

As I began working on a bridge—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.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class over at Cartwright?” I asked.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in class at Coronation?” chuckled Walt, “What’s the address…we’re going to get shot if stand here much longer.”

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 headed downstairs and waited on the front steps, taking the cordless phone with me in case Eleanor called me from the Coronation pay phone for details.

As I waited for them I watched the dregs of Truman Park wander and stagger up and down the sidewalks. Gangbangers drove by, many of them packed into the same car…perhaps looking for a drive by opportunity or a lemonade stand. The prostitutes stood out on the corner in plain view, the bottom of their ass cheeks hanging out of their miniskirts…a group of city workers stood around in high visibility vests, chewing gum and cat calling passing women…a police helicopter circled the palms in the distance…a fire truck rushed through the intersection with its lights ablaze and its 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 beget 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…a drug bust…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 before 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—the one big show we’ve been aiming for!”

“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, the 14th was the best–flawless. 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 exactly?”

“Well Jack—it’s like this,” said Walt, swinging an arm over my shoulders, “I’m saying that all we have to do is fill out an application form and we’re in at the Backyard…it’s that simple…it’s fate man…pure fate.” 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 the mind fuck he was currently weathering.

“What the fuck happened to him? What did he do?” demanded April.

“He called it Napalm Dreams.” I told her.

“What a fucktard.” April snapped, pushing her palms surprisingly hard against Wes’ chest so he stumbled back slightly, still wearing his wondrous smile.

“And you just let him?” demanded Eleanor.

“He kind of just did it. What was I supposed to do?” I shrugged.

“It’s really bad…they sent him to the nurse who sent him home. I think she knows what up.” said April, slightly panicked, “I should take him home…but I don’t want his parent’s to see him like this.”

“I’m Walter Mayer, bass player extraordinaire.” Walt said to April, extending a hand which she shook absently before steadying Wes who was following an imaginary butterfly.

“I heard about the suspension.” said Eleanor, moving in for a hug, “I was so mad at Gregory today…I don’t think I’ve ever been that mad at anyone.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.

“She clocked him one good.” said April.

“Clocked him?” I asked Eleanor.

“I bitch slapped him in front of everyone…Mr. Grady then sent me to Gavin’s office and she suspended me too.” said Eleanor, “I don’t regret it though…”

“Well, the guy did deserve a bitch slap.” I nodded.

As Eleanor explained her discussion with principal Gavin and Walt chatted up April and the Goblin tore away at a large stick of beef jerky with his teeth; the fire truck down the street started up and moved back toward us…it’s lights suddenly dormant and it’s siren off. Finding no fire, the truck was heading back to the old fire station—leaving the crime scene for the homicide 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; 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…” April 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 and declared “Follow that fire truck!” 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. No matter how chaotic, it all made perfect sense somehow.

“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 clocker or a brown nosing blowhard 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 after the instance of her bitch slapping Locksmith on Coronation High property. 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. Zipper as Eleanor explained nearly nonchalantly the psychological abuse her stepmother threw her way at 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 ex-stewardess 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 fallen to the floor and how, as he squatted to pick them up, he’d let out a gargantuan and painful sounding flatulent. 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.

My mom next warned me to stay out of Locksmith’s way…explaining to me in a frank 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 evening 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 rabid 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 a demon seed 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–the truth remained that 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.

It was about 2pm by the time we made it out to 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 woman beside me and Hollywood all around me…it was the 1990’s and we felt the youth coursing through us like blue electric sonic waves…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 innovation 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 a black shirt displaying the movie poster image. What’s more it was a polyester, rayon blend; I never liked the feel of starchy cotton t-shirts. 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. You’ll still be hot when you’re 65 I’m sure?” I chuckled, “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 I missed or had blocked out…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 Raymond Carver. 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 and badly chipped 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.

We made our way 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 a men’s wear section 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 hell 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.

“Calm down…I get it…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–in fact she said you were a total dick when she talked to you over the phone.” 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.” 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 kitty.

“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.

“You know something Mr. Nelson…you should be ashamed of how you just talked to us.” said Eleanor, “As an educator, you should be ashamed. Aren’t you? Even just a bit?”

“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–not that you care. 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-wit. 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 your yard in Westwood and replace them on the front lawn of this school. 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!”

I laughed, his insult was voiced with such passion it struck me as comical. It seemed I had a talent when it came to making Nelson loathe me. “Whatever dickwad.” I said…feeling an articulate retort was only wasted on Nelson.

“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 Holden…you sinister little fucker.”

“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 find out where I live…come to my home and vandalize my property! Clearly you’re criminally insane 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 criminally insane I can really be.” Eleanor said, staring 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 out of here will you–and don’t come back; you’re not welcome. Do you understand that?” 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. 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 cast as we spent the rest of the day taping our posters to Truman Park lamp posts and telephone poles around the neighborhood. Eleanor listened, attentively as I answered her various questions, all the while assessing the facts and eventually drawing 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. 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 the city council wrecking ball and though I knew 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.

Besides, I had a whole new life in progress at Coronation which I couldn’t wait to get back to after a week of being banished from the kingdom. 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 like a medicine ball. I saw him standing in line one afternoon in the cafeteria…the circumference was alarming. I’m telling you—his mom was hitting the pipe during those crucial trimesters.” I laughed, causing Eleanor to smile a smile she felt she shouldn’t have been smiling and she 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, live music loving, counter-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. It occurred to me that Locksmith and his camp were picking carefully selected campaign strategies not only to 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 a great river as power…I saw a thunderstorm as power. More immediately, I saw writing a great song as a form of power, where Locksmith saw power as his parent’s money, social standing…or a sign prohibiting skateboarding. In the same way, I saw his flood pants, enlarged cranium and his girlishly flailing way of running as evidence of a botched pregnancy–where I suppose he saw it as prep school pantomime. We were from different worlds and for some reason, Eleanor preferred my world to Locksmith’s, which had surprised the shit out of me and probably most everyone else at Coronation. After all they perceived me as a bad-boy from Truman Park…a stray dog from the hard hood. Some argued that our coupling said more about Eleanor than it did about me. Whatever the case, 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, precious Ivy League prince like Locksmith. Perhaps it was because among my lands, she was entirely free to roam in any shape she chose to take. Perhaps Locksmith expected Eleanor to live up to too many expectations. Perhaps Eleanor was tired of expectations.

Eleanor and I stood there looking at the sign which stipulated the new school bi-law and simultaneously instilled the political pull of Locksmith and his band of cardigan clad minions; it was laughable. Indeed, regarding Locksmith’s sign and the new mandate it enforced; 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 and each time he did, I offered a new and creative way to flip him and his camera the bird and on some occasions, the double bird.

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 but came out in print as a dull plastic butter knife. 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 III and I standing on the sidewalk, officially off school property passing a blunt back and forth while unwittingly shooting the shit. Our photo set 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 published in their magazine and knew much better than to ask me for a repeat performance. I’d been so certain they’d never approach me again for comment that I was slightly baffled when I was approached in a second floor washroom by Chip Haverstock…right World’s resident wolverine 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 addicts. 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. I wondered 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 finish my piss?” 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 sink 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.

“Please, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on the matter. How does it make you feel that the Gazette is trying so obviously to tarnish your reputation here at Coronation?” he asked with a wrinkle of concern forming between his brows.

“Reputation?” I laughed.

“Well yes…photos of you breaking school mandates have been published in the Gazette. You’re aware of this aren’t you?” he asked.

“You want me to get into it all? Take a flame thrower to the Gazette with some razor truth? Is that it? You guys really think I’m going to fall for that shit again?” I laughed.

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

“Dude, you guys sold me up the river and got me suspended last time I talked to you…” 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, influence 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 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 name names. I thought it was…understood. I mean what good did it do to publish my name along with the great insults against Locksmith…weren’t the insults enough?” I asked.

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

“You’re not really going to 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 any of you 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.

So, there it was dear reader, your virtuous narrator caught in the throes of a very sticky situation at Coronation…one which I had very little invested in and so hadn’t attempted a chess move in order to defend my name or even fuel the flames 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 on the JFK assassination for Holland’s class—an essay which detailed arguments that supported his theory of a grassy knoll shooter. I simply could not dismiss the Zapruder film evidence–back and to the left…back and to the left…back and to the left. 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 Herald, 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 slowly as I tried to finish writing my closing argument. 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 article.

“…not all Coronation students care to exist in a just and fair academic environment. A prime example of this indifference is Coronation High student Jack Holden, who—when asked how he felt about being berated in another scathing, privacy infringing photo collage featured in the hard-left Coronation Gazette—surprisingly took issue with the Right World Herald, citing our editor in chief as a ‘Pussy-ass-bitch’, adding that he believes the Right World Herald doesn’t report on any topics that really matter. We respectfully disagree Mr. Holden and remind out-of-district students 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. Truman Park kids were neither one side or the other…they were usually too busy avoiding bullets and street assaults to care much. 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?” asked Gavin from behind her boxy desk.

“I may have…but you know—these things are taken out of context. Chip approached me in the washroom as I was taking a leak…and he stood by asking me prodding me with questions. Essentially I told him that I wasn’t going to go on record after the last time…I may have said Curtis’ move to publish my comments and name names was chickenshit…but I didn’t give him permission to publish any of it.” 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 principal, 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 inside of you.”

“What damage?” I asked.

“Look Jack, you can cut the shit. I’m an empath with a psyche degree…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.

“People in Truman Park don’t seek psychoanalysis…they get drunk and wake up the next day and go back to their shitty jobs–they don’t have time to sit around introverting and milling over past traumas–they got rent to pay.” I laughed.

“Certainly it can’t be that coarse.” she said thoughtfully.

“It’s reality.” I assured.

“You just might be surprised by the challenges Coronation students face–the competition is stiff around these hallways…there’s a lot of pressure put on students here by parents and teachers…there are very high expectations in many cases…you might be surprised if you asked some of your fellow classmates.”

“You mean all the pampered dilettantes I have classes with?” I laughed.

“Is that what you think?” asked Gavin.

“You really want to know what I think?” I asked.

“I do.” nodded Gavin.

“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 in their sense of entitlement. They exist in a picture perfectly sheltered dreamscape of non-reality and that’s okay because the entire world in which they’ll exist is made of non-reality. These are people who actually believe that they’ll make a grand difference in the world–that they’ll change things dramatically–it’s total narcissism. In reality…they’ll have their education paid for without loan debt, they’ll build a professional porfolio…they’ll find a money job…they’ll shit out some kids…get old…fat…drunk. Even if they decide to be losers and aspire to nothing except being bar-star socialites, they’ll still inherit their parents’ fortunes when their parents kick off. They got it made out of the gate and they know it.”

“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 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 up at her once I’d read over the stipulations, I grinned and set the agreement down on her desk, “You’re the boss, boss.” 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 skewering fellow students in school publications…someone will probably get offended, and because I like you, I’m not going to want to suspend you or cut you completely…so 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’ 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 from an unfortunate neighborhood…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 or anyone else with any more social artillery–ignore them. This is basically your last chance. It’s high time to leave Truman Park behind and be the Coronation student that you now are.” 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 than I already was around Coronation; 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–which to me was easy. 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 Coronation 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. In short–they wanted me to be a chickenshit conformist.

It seemed that I had to 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. I dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s and made it to all of my classes on time. All work and no play however, definitely made Jack a dull boy and one evening I obliged Wes and April’s invitation to dinner and an after hours rave in K-town.

During dinner I’d caught word of a week-long party which was, I’d come to learn, an annual tradition among Emerald Heights teens. Indeed, at the time it sounded like innocent enough chaos and initially I’d not expected that this annual tradition would change the course of things, no matter how I played it. 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 the legendary week long house party at Laura Caldwell’s parents estate.

The party happened every year 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–well into college…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…of course, as was the case with most Emerald Heights parties; copious drug abuse and an endless supply of alcohol fueled the festivities. 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 in any of the upstairs 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 months before…which, explained in short was quite basic; the creepy bastard had cheated on Eleanor with Laura Caldwell during the first month of their courtship…though Eleanor reminded us that she’d never gained proof of said infidelity and so it remained an ‘alleged’ infidelity.
It came as no shock…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 ‘Louder Than Bombs’ 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 was expelled for threatening to kill Forrester…he pulled a switch blade out in class and everything…like a homicidal maniac.” laughed 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 psycho.” laughed Wes, placing a fry in his mouth.

“Moron more like.” said Eleanor.

“Either way…Laura’s parties have all gone down as historical events–she has bands on the last night you know…stage and lights and everything…many a band has gained notoriety by playing at a Laura Caldwell party.” Wes insisted, taking a bite of a french-fry and giving Eleanor and I a knowing wink.

“You don’t say…” I mused.

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 lobby area that was crowded with Emerald Heights social climbers and hangers on, 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 zooming with skateboarders and full of cars, some idling with smoking kids and loud music booming from the windows. Indeed, Prime Ribs was the spot in those days.

“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.

“What?” I asked.

“Caldwell’s party…Saturday…you in?”

“Of course…but listen to this…we were just talking about Laura’s party a few minutes before you got here. This might be more than just a coincidence.” I said.

“Trust me…this is all destiny man. Don’t deny it. 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 installment.” 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, blood and guts…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 after our set…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.

“Laura? You got a thing for Caldwell or something?” I laughed.

“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–it’s got nothing to do with Caldwell.”

“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 Government Issue’s Joy Ride rolled on the cassette player. We were en route to Winchell’s Donuts to meet Cat Foley, who occupied a window table at Winchell’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 Winchell’s donuts and for some reason he’d decided to stash the blotter sheet in his sock without wrapping it in foil. As he jogged, the blotter sheet mixed with his sweat and absorbed into his ankle. It was said that Cat Foley had suffered such a psychotic break, he’d 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 permanent 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 so it wasn’t too much of a difference.

By the time we were pulling up to Winchell’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 Winchell’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 Chinese 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 she squinted against. 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 whadya 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 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 still scattered 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’m clean.” 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 go to any school he wants,” said April, then added, turning to me, “You don’t have to answer anything about Coronation Jack…that’s a bullshit question.”

“It’s ok April.” I told her then turned back to the lady cop, “Tried Truman High, 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 Chinese 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 flabby man 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 I also don’t appreciate his beard and his flabby man tits.”

“Why do you two hate beards so much?” 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 stuff too…it’s disgusting.” I said.

“Yeah, I bet Foley eats mushroom soup and then wipes his beard off with a napkin…but he’s not really wiping off the soup…he’s just soaking it into his sick beard.” said April with a shudder of disgust.

“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 stripper zippo lighter; I’d ditched my film canister of grass on the floor of Wes’ father’s car when the cops spotlighted us—feeling the grass would easily be attributed to Foley. 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, a partially used package of birth control pills, 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 one of the Marlboro lights…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 Boulevard after all—the city of angels…some of which were still kicking around—if you looked for them.

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—please can’t you just let him go with a warning.” 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 straight home…I’m not going straight 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 pesky business relationship with Cat Foley. Indeed, April spared no insult while raking 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 magic hat; instead of producing a rabbit however, April produced 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 as well as his mother who he claimed was too 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 in the kitchen with Wes’ dad choking him from the rear until Wes nearly passed out.

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 into indifference by the lush splendor of sunny suburban bliss. After all, how could such problems exist amidst such luxurious surroundings? Certainly, Wes’ situation suggested there was a certain darkness that lurked beneath the sunny lanes and Victorian mansions of Emerald Heights 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 new 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 nearly two and a half hours and were finally nearing the border of Emerald Heights.

“Should we bus the rest of the way?” I asked, gesturing to a Plexiglas bus shelter. The illuminated bus stop 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 1:30am 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 hidden in the dark shadows of sleepy suburban yards could be heard all around us, “Does Eleanor wear things like that for you?” she asked.

“Sometimes…but not always.” I admitted.

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

“I’m sure she’d be flattered.” I grinned.

“Lately Wes is always too angry or too high to get romantic.” pouted April, hugging herself against the breeze.

“He’ll come around…sometimes people self-destruct—and it sounds like his dad is a real dick.” I shrugged and as I lit up another cigarette, wishing it was a blunt, I spotted a white and badly rusted-out dodge pickup truck passing us on the opposite side of the grassy median. I recognized the truck…indeed I’d seen it before around Truman Park. It belonged to Dennis the Menace Michaels–one which he spent hours fixing in the front lot of the Michaels’ house, yet it always seemed to wind up breaking down again. When the truck passed beneath the streetlight, I recognized Dennis Michaels at the helm and his botched twin brother sitting in the passenger seat–between them sat Thomas Michaels, the youngest of the three.
It was hard to believe that I’d randomly crossed paths with the Michaels brothers so far from Truman Park. The odds were astronomical. What the fuck were three shit-wits like them doing in Westwood? It was as if they’d been patrolling the streets of looking for me–to settle the score of a stolen Kuwahara Chrome and $160 in cash. It seemed the universe had offered up its special brand of dark satire…however, there was nothing immediately comical to me about the three of them sitting shoulder to shoulder in the cab of the beat up pickup truck…all donning blonde mullets with their signature feathered bangs. I was contemplating my next move when Dennis noticed me and immediately squinted across the street at me—as if in disbelief. He subsequently hollered from his window, pointing and squealing like a body snatcher.

“Who the shit is that?” asked April flashing me a stare of bizarrity.

“Trouble.” I said, pulling her up off 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—we gotta move.” 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 Dennis Michael’s headlights as the rusted-out pickup truck 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 care who they woke up or what sort of attention they drew…they 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 as well as his stash and bankroll.

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 brothers’ 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. But perhaps there were actually five.

Pulling April by the arm I led her into a darkened passage and stopped at a 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 stretched out 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.

“Nice moon tonight.” I said, turning to April. She didn’t answer, she only stared back at me for a moment with a look of sheer terror in her eyes, “Don’t worry–they’re inbreds…they won’t think of looking up here.” I said.

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 was smart enough to climb to 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 Sunset 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–it seemed they’d parked and killed the engine…waiting for us to appear. 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 vintage 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, I 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 curtains, I made out a creeping figure making its way up the driveway. It was Dennis the Menace Michaels 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 as he moved around the camper. 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 grinned to April, “they have to wake-up everyone on the block with that shitty engine.”

“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 I mean 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 too 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 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.

“Ewww…”

“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 way the hell out here. I mean what the fuck are the odds? 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 and 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 and how deeply the sharp end of the shovel could slash them, April leaned in and kissed me, slithering her tongue in deep.

“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.

She kissed well…as if her lips cast a spell…one which I snapped out of a moment later. “Listen, I’m with Eleanor–you know the situation.” 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? Eleanor.”

“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—god, guys are so narcissistic! 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 know here…it’s Lacey Silver…Brandon’s slutty sister.”

“Wow…the girl gets around.” I said.

“My friend Sheila saw them holding hands at Beverly Center one afternoon…walking along with ice cream cones and holding hands.”

“Damn…” I sighed, “You’re sure?”

“Have you noticed that Lacey Silver magically went missing?”

“I figured it was because I spilled the beans on her affair with Locksmith…which I really had to do by the way.” I said.

“She likes taken men…it makes her feel special. I fucking know her so well…we were best friends…and now she’s hooked up with Wes–probably just to spite me for telling you about her little affair with Gregory…what a tremendous cunt she is.” April sneered.

She 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; morning song birds and sprinklers catching the fresh sunrays in an iridescent prism of color. 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 scorcher; one which I was going to thankfully spend in air conditioned Coronation classes. First however, April and I needed to get there on time 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 Tudor houses, separated from the streets by vast sprawling lawns, most of which were alive with sprinklers.

When we reached Sunset 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 the 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–what a dick.”

“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, “Thanks for taking care of April last night by the way.” 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 was to get a sick note from her mother, who was good that way…as they’d planned to spend the afternoon driving up the Pacific Coast to Oxnard 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 been 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 and freedom of our democratic pool party and had been let off in another country altogether.

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

“Why baby?”

“We can’t forget about the Bay of Pigs invasion now can we.” I chuckled.

“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 the reason why she fell…they can’t seem to find out why she fainted.” said Eleanor, shifting back up into anxiousness.

“She was probably just dehydrated or ate a bad taco. Besides 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 your dad say? Your 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.”

“Us?”

“Me and the step-sis from hell.”

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

“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 the blood red glow of an apocalyptic sun, rising across a vast expanse of nuclear wasteland…perhaps art was the greatest antidote against the harsh reality of being mortal—a passing shape in a vast and wonderous universe…but perhaps there were other antidotes…like Eleanor. I closed my eyes and envisioned her…intensely I envisioned my arm slipping around her waist and my lips finding that spot on her neck behind her earlobe. 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 aimlessly through darkened Hollywood side streets.

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, passing the neighborhood pool…the old fire hall…Truman Park high, the St. Andrews church…the old confectionary store that had been owned and operated by the same oriental family since I could remember…a broken fire hydrant spraying water across the sidewalk, 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 a 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 and so didn’t recognize me.

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 and idled. 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 after which he stepped back for a moment to admire 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 drove by the fence I made out the design, which was loud and clear—black paint against white fence boards. Indeed, it was a cartoon dick with disproportioned balls, squirting a load of cartoon droplets onto a round non-descript head of a stick figure with cartoon boobs. I laughed; inbreds.

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. Rising slowly, I peered over the hood, 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 gravity 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. After reaching across the long seat to kill the interior light, I scanned the interior. 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 cartoon 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 exists in ashes and memories. 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, rusty 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 licker 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, “Inbreds 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, “My parents are siblings”.

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–for a second time—for better or worse.

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. Out here in the middle of infinity, life was but a dream.

 

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 creative hot bed Coronation High was. Though it was a much larger school than Coronation—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 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 had been 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 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 Lacy Laura.

I hadn’t seen the likes of Lusty Lacy 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 hilarious shit.” 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…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 on my trip to Japan 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’s that working out for ya?” 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, “A bit tightly wound for my taste though.”

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

“Well…somehow she’s this little miss perfect academic overachiever, but yet she’s a basket case and on several psychiatric meds.”

“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.

“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 and she’s not going to marry me. 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.

“Drew Barrymore.” he grinned, “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 centipede 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 to attain 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 police helicopter hung obliviously in the distance just above a row of palm trees, searching for a separate group of assailants…I snapped a polaroid of the helicopter as well. 

“What’s going on in Truman Park?” 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 cope…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, “I don’t want to get old.”

“You’re young still. Anyway, 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 among the 90210 set 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 creation and he didn’t apologize for it…in fact he didn’t apologize for 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 parent’s estate…which wasn’t much of a drive, but certainly an informative trek. 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 Laura’s grand finale.

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 resident DJ—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 Lacy Laura from the line up 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 who’d walked out to greet us with a drink in her hand. She was dressed casually in jean cut-offs 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 sun glasses, I took note of my face, looking comically distorted by the convex curvature. She tipped the 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 intermittently sipped from her frosted glass, she conversed with Walt for a while before instructing 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 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 an old wooden 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 one day and start writing a song?”

“Songwriting chose me.” I said.

“I see what you’re saying.” she nodded thoughtfully.

“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 women’s 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 see her coming a mile away.

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 Jack.”

“Angle?” I laughed.

“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, 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…or they pretend that I know nothing about them.” 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 a cosmic mystery.

“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 silver blue 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 pretty little 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 Clarence Worley boy.” she demanded, drawing Walt’s attention. He strode over sipping his iced tea, “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, “You need therapy.” I laughed.

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

“Earth to Laura.” 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 up 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 Lusty 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, 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.

“You going to propose?” I asked Laura with a chuckle.

“Ok…that’s a bit awkward…” said Kristen finally, breaking the 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, Walt, the Goblin and I 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?”

“She’s imagining shit dude.” 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 laughed, 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 his razor sharp samurai sword–an acquisition from a trip to Japan he’d taken the previous year…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 precious 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; the Clarence Worley’s of the world.

Ironically however, she’d had her heart torn out and dropped in a blender by some pampered debutante from Emerald Heights…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 looker…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 an audience of one, observing her ensemble production.

I wondered why Laura kept shooting me the stares and why I kept meeting them. 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’s nothing but trouble, 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 on the Pacific Coast Highway, 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 madness was what made his films classics. 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 too far away, River Phoenix had collapsed outside a Hollywood night club and hadn’t 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–for better or for worse.

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 and Coronation students. 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 and it was no consequence. Dives, cannonballs, belly flops…a fat kid ran across the tiles aiming to flip into the pool, he slipped and fell flat on his ass…a roar of laughter pulled him from his ass and he danced to his feet like a chubby snake charmed by a magic flute…he climbed the diving board ladder and sprinted to the end, vaulting himself up and into a half somersault and face-planted into the pool with a loud painful sounding slap; wild applause followed.

“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 hosted a half hour show at UCLA 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 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 even at school assemblies or pep rallies…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 spring break bash. We all listened as Laura said her piece.

“Thank you all for making this year’s 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 a sea of heads that all faced Laura who seemed to be 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 lights with one fist raised high. Walt was next, clad in his general’s uniform, 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 sea of rapt heads, silent with anticipation…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 a sudden 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 a drumstick 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 technically savage 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 a deep low 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 Walt and the Goblin had been waiting to burn down. 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’s 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 want to try something out first…” Walt said, stepping over to his amp and taking hold of the Samurai 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. However, 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 a mock 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.

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 kick drums and perhaps the most dashing bass line Walt had ever mustered. I was caught up in 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 seemed to stretch all the way back to the pool. Directly before us the mosh pit bounced with youthful rage at the colorful explosions falling around us all from the sky above…indeed, it seemed we’d achieved the anarchy and chaos Walt had so meticulously and carefully planned…and it had gone off without a hitch. Well, almost without a hitch.
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 directions, except for upward. 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 where it exploded with a loud pop which sent everyone scurrying for cover. 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. 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 as the smoke wafted over the stage in a thick cloud. Screams rang out from the crowd of kids who had all ducked for cover 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. 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 off 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 a 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; just then it all made sense. There was a surreal sheen to the experience, as if it was a scene from a 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. Fire had eaten through one corner of the shed and the flames rose high. 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 open one of the large swinging doors. 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 filled it with pool water. When he tossed the water against one wall of the shed, 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 stopped, 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 his 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.

I sat on the stage, smoking a cigarette as I 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 gardening 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 and popular. 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 as 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 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 1990’s 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 lucious behind 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 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–her parent’s fortune would see to that. 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 a large vintage earring 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, turning my face away apologetically.

“Don’t be silly…this is a once in a lifetime opportunity–come on…don’t ruin a perfect moment.” 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.

“Well yeah.” 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, “I’m not falling for that.”

“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.”

“I wasn’t aware Disney princes had medicine ball heads.” I chuckled.

“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 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 a collateral damage…that’s all.” said Laura.

“Collateral damage…” 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.

“Honestly?”

“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 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 to 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 a 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…or at least get some pants that fit.” 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 he’d chosen to tuck 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.

“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 drunkenly struggled to topple me to the floor.

“I’m gonna kick your fucking ass! You’ve had this coming Holden–you’ve had this shit coming.” 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.
I took a moment to look at him…for it was hard to believe he’d actually attacked me…the same bastard who’d gotten me suspended for uttering mere words. I turned and left him lying there on the floor. 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. Certainly though—the luminousness of my inner being shone some light on the reality…I’d traded morality for instantaneous gratification. Indeed I allowed myself the gratification of sending Locksmith careening into a decorative hallway table; though 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 knew how to play a certain game…so in fact my falling into her snare wasn’t a rarity or a mystery—she’d become a professional man-eater. Perhaps the real mystery was that I hadn’t fallen into Laura completely and taken advantage of the mirrors in her parent’s bedroom. I decided to see my sabotaging her advances 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. Around Truman Park, you survived mostly and if you happened to stumble upon pleasures; it was a good day. To entitle yourself to bask fully in the remorseless pursuit of any pleasure available was a rich kids game.

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 I looked up at the moon, trying in vain to contemplate its 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.

“How’d you get my number, medicine ball head?” I asked.

“I’m going to destroy you now…you realize I’m going to obliterate you right. You should have just stayed in Truman Park—where hood rats like you belong.” Locksmith gritted.

“Too many jello-shots huh?” I asked.

Locksmith only bid me and oath—that he was going to get me—and subsequently hung up. I sat there on the roof, looking over Truman Park…admiring the full moon sinking behind the hills and the glowing haze of Hollywood in the distance 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 of 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, LA 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, world hunger or the common cold. 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 upset—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.

A wave of dread washed over me as I redialed her room, 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, “The girl you’ve been cheating on April with? Okay…gotcha.”

“Who told you that? Who told you about Lacey Silver?” he asked…his shock widening his bloodshot eyes.

 “Remember the night you got busted with your dad’s car?”
“Of course.” said Wes.
“Well, I’d left my van at Coronation earlier and so as April and I were walking back to Emerald Heights…”
“Yeah, I heard all about it from April…” interjected Wes.
“All about it?” I asked.
“Yeah, you guys got chased by some Truman Park guys…and had to hide in a camper until dawn. She told me all about it.” Wes assured.
“While we were holed up in that old moldy camper…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 Lacey Silver.” 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.

“Who told her that bullshit?” he asked.

“Some chick named Sheila, evidently.” I shrugged.
“I see.” 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.” I admitted.

“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–Sheila is just miffed because I wouldn’t cheat on April with her…you know she cornered me in a bathroom at Seth Hall’s party last year? She was drunk and trying to get me to cheat on April—she’s got a vendetta against April…of course I didn’t…and wouldn’t. I’m a lot of things man…but not a cheater.”

“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?”

“Pretty much.” 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.” 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.

“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 her on the phone and she could clearly hear the truth 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, expecting the mountain lion to emerge with hunter prowess in her 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 hoe 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 bikini 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—what more can a guy ask for?”

“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 oxygen 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 street violence and drive by shootings; 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 and I’d been granted my goals by the mercy of God. Still, 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 fucking 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.”

“I did…and I did it because of you.” I said.

“So you would have done something if I wasn’t in the picture. Real nice. I need some time to sort out what I’m feeling.” 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 people 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 Gavin’s open door. 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 juncture.” 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.

“The usual.” I said.

“Oh?”

“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.”

“That you are…but 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…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.”
“I suppose you could make that comparison.” grinned Gavin, shooting a glance at Ellis who stood stoically, waiting for more, “Anyway, the boys I went to school with didn’t smoke joints on school property and assault other students.”

“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 grave and his aerodynamic head slightly tilted.

“Dude, I just said…I didn’t assault Locksmith…as I say, he attacked me, I vaulted him—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—a 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 in some cushy suburb 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 terrified of his old man.” 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 expelled.” I stated.

“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 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 an 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. 10,000 Maniacs 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. People would rather get their ice cream from the supermarket or the Dairy Queen…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. 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, you could probably spray paint that tire to get the white wall back.”
“That’s true.” nodded Bob.
“And…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.

“I threw some precious Disney prince into a table–he’d been busting my sack for weeks.” 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 granddaughter during her grade 12 year.”

“Not surprising.” I said.

“You ever have a job before?”

“I work at a video store part time.”

“Did you ever have a paper route?” he said lighting up a cigarette.

“Sure…” I said.

“This job is sort of like a paper route. 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.”

“Tips?”

“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 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 some joint downtown 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 campy 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?” grinned 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. 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.

“Nightmare on Elm Street.” I said.

“The original…nice.” 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 been who knew where.

“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 mam; 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, tickling her rib cage suddenly.

“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.

“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…the be all—end all dream gig. Didn’t I tell ya? I fucking told you didn’t I?”

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 chuckled, “If you’re putting me on, I’m going to put a boot in your ass.”

“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 first hand. 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 Trent Humbucker’s band…the Magnolias.”

“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 on stage. Humbucker thinks he’s a big shot landing that last slot–which he landed by way of kissing a lot of asshole rims…but he doesn’t realize what a huge mistake it is to go on after us…after an effigy of him is burned to the ground…I mean, you saw what happened last time at Laura Caldwell’s party—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…I’m going to put an end to Humfucker once and for all…it’s going to be epic and we’re going to rule this town…us…the real boys.” grinned Walt psychotically, pointing to his temple.

“Fuck Humbucker…we really shouldn’t make that show about him. It’s entirely about smashing through the weepy murk those shoe gazers inspire. This is about crashing through with some well schooled chaos and the hope of a bright future filled with violet sunsets. In any case, this is great news man.” I said, staring out the window toward the violet palms.

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 that when it was possible—one should sleep until noon.

As the wrapping continued I glanced at my bedside clock, which told me it was 9:30am, “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 who?” I asked from my pillow.

“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 comically psychotic face.

“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. 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 actually pretty and I wondered why she wanted to hide it behind face piercings, horror show makeup and a Charles Manson t-shirt; 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 covered half of one 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.”

“That’s brilliant. I’ll take it—with an added condition.” I said.

“Really?”

“Really—for the PIL shirt?”

“Of course not…I’ll give you the skateboard for it.”

“Get the fuck out of here Holden…you’re kidding me.” Laughed Clare.

“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 cereal…I’ll trade you the shirt for the board–but what’s this condition you’re citing.” said Clare, “You want me to do something perverted with you?” she laughed.

“Condition is that you cut up that Manson shirt.” I said.
“Cut it up?” she asked with a confused expression.
“Cut it up…with a pair of scissors.” I nodded.
“You’re mental.” she laughed.
“Let me ask you something…you think it’s cool to glorify a guy like him? A serial killer, cult leader? You think it’s cool what happened up on Ciello Drive?” I asked her, “You think group homicide is hip?”
“No…not at all. Like I say, I have dozens of shirts. The Manson is just another shirt.”
“There’s a pair of scissors on my desk.” I said, gesturing to my desk, which sat in the corner of the room, atop which my boxy computer sat, bouncing a screen saver around its screen.
“You’re for fucking cereal?”
“Dead cereal Foster…you want the board or you want the serial killing cult leader?” I said, “It’s a decision that will change your life.” I grinned.
“You’re such a fucking head case Holden.” she laughed, “Fucking psycho really…but ok…I’ll play along.” said Clare, moving over to the desk. She took the large scissors in hand and snipped them at me a few times like Anna Karina.
“I knew you’d do that…” I laughed.
“Karina is my alter-ego.” Clare Foster said as she pulled off her Manson t-shirt, “You’re really going to make me cut up this Mason t-shirt?”
“That was the deal.” I said.
“Why does it matter to you?” she asked.
“Small victories.” I said.
“Ok…” said Clare with a small shake of her head as she went to work on the Manson shirt, snipping through it roughly so it was eventually a small black heap of fabric sitting at her runners.
“Cool?” she asked when she was through.
“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 creative 90’s would bring and the awful lack that would prevail after the 90’s left…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.

“No…why?”

“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 the sea and sky…the air smelled of ocean and the breeze played tunes on wind chimes hanging from sunlit balconies; a sea-side paradise–except for the annoying wind chimes.

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, “I think we could use white paint to bring back the white wall effect.”

“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 Santa 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 or hitting the half pipe at the Backyard…however, I only really wanted to be with Eleanor and her face crashed into my mind like a tsunami wave; I knew then that I had to look her in the eyes and explain the entire Laura Caldwell debacle to her…only then would she understand.

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 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 studio heads. 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 silicone breasts were hard round spheres held snug in her black short sleeve blouse.

“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 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 in one spot and let the patrons come to me. Certainly the word would go around once people were seen re-entering 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 felt I was suddenly in a rush. I didn’t drive back to Truman Park though immediately, I didn’t stop at the beach for a quick swim and some sand baking; instead 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.

“Hey, can you tell me when Eleanor will be back from Cuba?” I asked.

“Hey Jack. 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.”

“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 boyfriends.” 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 she’s got nothing on 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, she’s telling everyone something else.”

“Is it her or Locksmith spreading that bullshit? I mean did you hear the it was Laura specifically spreading that around?”
“You think she isn’t?” asked Eleanor.
“I don’t know…I feel like it’s not her…that it’s Locksmith behind it all.” I said.
“How will we ever know?” Eleanor asked.
“I don’t know…but I’m going to get to the bottom of this shit. 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, let’s talk later…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 Locksmith, and perhaps Laura as well.

As I snaked through the winding lanes, I pondered 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.

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 its 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 roar 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 sidewalk 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 swashbuckle 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.”

“Are you two going out bowling?” grinned Laura’s old man.

“No sir…the bowling shirt is a prop. 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 backyard and I found her sifting through the burned rubble that used to be her mother’s greenhouse shed…as I approached I watched her 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.

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?”

“I’ll be honest with you.” I said, realizing just then who Laura looked like…indeed, she was a near spitting image of famed Bond girl, Tanya Roberts. I didn’t bother mentioning it…I only tried to distract myself from her aggressive allure, “I’m completely disappointed with you and the shit you’ve been talking.”
“Ok…let me fix us some iced tea. I think we need to have a little chat here.” 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 to looking pristine—except for the construction materials and the charred area where the original shed had stood–there was no evidence that an end of days spring break party had taken place.

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 her 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.

“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 she devil?” she laughed.

“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. Are you high or something?” said Laura.

“Well someone is telling everyone

that we spent a couple of steamy hours up in your parent’s room with the mirrors on the ceiling.” I said, “How fucking cheesy—high school gossip.”

“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. If you think that’s the case–you’re wrong. You don’t think I can play your game? You don’t think I can make up some lies…maybe I’ll tell everyone that you gave me herpes.” I said.

“What the hell are you on about Jack,” Laura nearly whispered, “I haven’t said anything to anyone about what happened! Fuck dude…why would I? 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 my mom’s favorite lemonade pitcher and left it in my refrigerator…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. What I haven’t been doing is spreading some useless piece of gossip.”

“So you’re saying you had nothing to do with it?” I asked.

“Look, Jack, you’re not a tard—you know what’s up…let me level with you…contrary to popular belief, I don’t have a type…I dig who I dig. There’s a natural purpose between a woman and a man…don’t you feel that natural magnetism when you’re close to me–like now?” asked Laura.
I looked into her, seeing deep femininity; physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually…she was all woman. In her core, she was a vulnerable southern belle, which effortlessly called to the chivalry–the prehistoric male. There was a mystery to Laura Caldwell; a deeply feminine nature which, if I allowed it, would hypnotize me with soft skin, red nails, sleek curves and fluttering lashes.
“That’s neither here nor there; Eleanor is the one.” I told her.
“That’s not what I asked.” she laughed, “I feel there could be something between us…sure…but I don’t want what Eleanor has. I’m not ready to fall madly in love—I like my heart unbroken.”
“I get it.” I told her.
“Also, I don’t publicize my personal life—that’s what everyone else does…and they’re wrong mostly. Had something happened with us; 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 Clarence Worley boy.” she grinned.

“So it was all Locksmith…” I sighed.

“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 bully, I’m not a chimp…I’m a precision 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 expelled from Coronation for that little maneuver too. But fuck all that—I don’t care about that…the real problem is that Eleanor isn’t sure what to believe now.”

“Eleanor knows—deep down she must know. And anyway…how can Coronation 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 dick.” Laura laughed, “And yeah, you idiots wound up smashing a priceless family heirloom into a thousand pieces.” Laura added.

“Really?”

“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—a good person with a good heart wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Well, he did.” I said.

“It’s not surprising…he doesn’t believe in anything; he lives a guiltless life.” 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.

“You would go?” she asked squinting her eyes with sarcasm.

“Only to stick a hat pin in him to make sure he was dead.” I grinned.

“You don’t mean that.” she squinted, restraining a definite grin.

“That’s how little I give a fuck about Locksmith.” I told her with a shrug, “But you see, he’s caused some trouble between Eleanor and me.”

“Look, don’t worry about that…I’ll fix it up with Eleanor…she should know the truth.”

“You’d do that?” I asked, surprised.

“Contrary to what you believe, I’m not a she-devil.” she said, “Also, Eleanor should know that Locksmith basically stalked me for three months before I agreed to finally make out with him. He waited outside my job, my house, outside school…I felt embarrassed for him—then eventually sorry for him. I’m not a tramp in spite of what everyone says about me…I’m a good Catholic girl when it comes down to it—my heart bleeds and I go to church on Sunday—so fucking 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.

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 large 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. 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 complete with color coordinated flower beds. 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.

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 and the light centered it all in somehow perfect synchronicity.

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 also she was drunk on Lex wine coolers.”

“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…the chick is nuts I think.” laughed 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.

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—a seemingly oblivious and unconquered frontier stretching out into infinity—an entity of it’s own.

“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 in ice cream tips 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 pie. After that we can drive out to Santa Monica and see a movie at that theater on Montana.”

“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?”

“I love Harold and Maude. And we’ll drive up to our spot on Mulholland after?” asked Eleanor.

“Of course.” 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.

 

Tales from Truman Park

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 Winchell’s donuts and after polishing off a box of raspberry jellies Walt had scaled the giant ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign completely certain that he’d be able to communicate with the ghost of Peg Entwistle.
Indeed, Walt seemed to be dealing with some shit—and we all were, being in our senior year…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 a band 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?” I laughed.

“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 parents…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 climb to the top of the Hollywood sign?” I asked.

“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.

After a couple more days went by without a word from Walt, I decided that I would pay the old chap a visit. It was a marvellously 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 of my mom’s house 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 and I’d had her scissor up her tacky Charles Mason t-shirt.

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.

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 Clare’s father had sent for her 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 amazement.

I got back in the van and turned up the stereo…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. 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 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 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, 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 a certain 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 down the palm lined lanes 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…after the expulsion gossip had proven to be true.

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 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 retrieve the Natalie Merchant t-shirt from Clare and bring it 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 at an easy pace.

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 Ellis is out for blood…I better get back.” 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 slips to every student who didn’t immediately abandon their ice cream cones and return to class.

Though reluctantly, everyone eventually 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. 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.

“You need something?” I asked him.

“I told you to leave.” he said.

“Look, 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 was dressed in school girl attire; knee length skirt, knee high socks and a smart looking short sleeve shirt beneath a thin sweater vest. 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.

“Ellis pulled rank on me.” I said.

“Fuck Ellis in the dumper. 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.”

“Ellis can go lick a taint…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 Ziplocs. She placed a hand over her mouth and when she removed it a moment later she was smiling wide with amazement.

“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 the 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 for having this sent to my mom’s house…what the fuck was she thinking?” I said.

“And giving her shit will benefit you exactly how?” asked April as she ate away at her cone, “I would keep it.”

“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 you’re saying just deny receiving it?”

“Pretty much…I mean that much shit could last you easily until next fall—anyone with half a brain would tell you to do the same thing.” April assured.

“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 sunny, soft-focus, slow-mo camera pan from the 1970’s…rather it made me think of the overcast winter peaks in Oregon where the air was thin and the rain was heavy…I could nearly smell the burning wood and hear the rain pattering the roof.

“This shit isn’t so great.” I said.

“Why not?” asked April between licks of the cone she seemed to be savoring.

“It’s not a sunny buzz…it’s overcast drizzle.” 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…I like my champagne supernova—I’ll stick to that.” I mused.

“Hey, if you don’t want this stuff…I’ll be happy to take it off your hands–I think it’s rad.”

“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 can do something more lucrative with it…maybe we can sell 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 incentive.”

“What incentive?”

“We spread the word.” April said, holding up the Ziploc, “We sell this shit at half price…a dime bag for a five spot. It’s brilliant.”

“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, it’s never going to catch on.” I laughed, shaking my head at the absurdity.

“Of course it will.” Assured April.

“…I don’t know…sounds a bit far fetched April.”

“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 realized 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 girl who looked like a rodent 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 rodent.”

“That’s my sister you dick.” said the man.

“Makes sense.” I said.

“I get plenty of dates, asshole.” he said.

“Well—rodents 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 beater 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, bobbing 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 one up.

“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…pushing in front of them 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 walked out on your parents.” 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.” 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 sheets discolored in spots by human seepage, “I just walked the fuck out…in the middle of dinner—I told them they weren’t the boss of me…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.

“I think I’ll take the ashtrays when I go.” said Walt.

“Why go? Aside from the dried cum and cockroaches 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 doorknob?” I asked.

“I’m not going to barricade myself in here.” 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.” chuckled 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 held 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, they’re paying for it all.”

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.

“We’re going to kill you tonight motherfucker!” 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.

“Don’t go in…” I laughed.

“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 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.” Walt 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 through 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 strip 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. However, a second later Walt was wrapping his forearm around the man’s neck. He pulled the old 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, whimpering 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!” she snarled at Walt.

“I’ll be waiting for you…with a silver sword at my side.” 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.

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 these fuck-wits.” 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?”
Indeed, 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 assholes keep me awake again all night again…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.”
“Yeah well, to do that…we need to get into the rehearsal room…this hiding out shit you’ve been doing has cost us valuable jam time.”
Walt just looked at me and eventually nodded, “Know what…you’re right. I’m going to move into a better hotel on Monday–where I can get some sleep.”

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?” she demanded.

“I guess…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.
I’d come to miss the Coronation vibe in the weeks since my wrongful expulsion. In regard to Locksmith, who’d almost singlehandedly 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, building alliances and kissing speckled asshole rims 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 turtleneck 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 photos 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.

“You really came prepared.” 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 mound of buds. 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. It was then that the lunch bell rang. 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 swarming 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, 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, “…also, give us a bag.” 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. He handed 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.

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. 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 rear-view, 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 65 dollars back there.” she remarked.

“Not too shabby.” I said.

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 Mother’s Milk 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; 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.

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 $268 worth of ice cream today…and we have $85 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 terribly crooked teeth, baggy tired eyes and a mussed pixie hair cut.

“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. By the by, 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 his 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.

“Yeah? 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…especially not a band fronted by a pathetic drunkard from a broken home and a garbage pail kid from Truman Park…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 and hard breeding. 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, “Wake up.”

“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 what a joke you actually are…we’re going to dismantle your entire legacy without so much as breaking a sweat.”

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.

“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 him 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 ice cream 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, 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 the back collar of Humbucker’s jacket, spraying the last of the can down the back of his shirt, to which Humbucker pulled away violently.

“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 dark-wave attire.

“That’s great man…real nice…you’re such a fucking child.” 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 short-stop girl with the rodent teeth and heavy bags under her tired eyes. With a well pretentious 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 through her rodent teeth.

“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 a 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 a degenerate…whatever.” she 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 businessman, not an artist.”

“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 at the Backyard–by destroying Humbucker’s band…I didn’t see sullying a potential musical legacy with petty insults as a particularly productive practice–the music would speak louder than bombs. 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 and a voice recorder; 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 few foldable lawn chairs and large safari-design cushions on which guests might make themselves comfortable. Being that on this night, the chairs and cushions 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 Wellington.” 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, “We haven’t met–I’m Susanna Wellington…I’m a freelance writer for the Right World Herald.”

“I’m Walt…co-founder of Lusty Lacy Laura–Emerald Heights’ best act on the scene.”

“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.

“You see, Humfucker 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 after what Trent Humbucker has been saying about you guys? I mean, he’s been implying that you don’t write your own songs. I would think you’d want to comment after such an extraordinary allegation.” said Susanna.

“We write all our own shit…we’re real boys.” said Walt.

“I believe you. 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.”

“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–Locksmith is more than happy to publicize it all—they’re special friends didn’t you know?” I grinned.

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 bullshit 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…he polished them up real nice…but 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 even stand a chance at Cartwright…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…because we don’t give a flying fuck—he can’t bully us because we’d eat him for breakfast. And look, the people want something new…they want a revolution…and it kills Humbucker that we’re the revolution.”

“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 statements? Is there some validity to the statements about substance abuse in Lusty Lacy Laura and other bands in the scene?” 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 a wasting disease 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.

“Maybe he’s got anorexia.” laughed Kristen.

“I’ve heard he doesn’t eat meat or cheese or fish or grains or asparagus and a bunch of other shit.” 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, “A berserker like her would certainly miscarriage.”

“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…it looked fucking painful.”

“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 cool 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…he’s basically said the entire contest is rigged.”

“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 said the Backyard battle of the bands is rigged.”

“Sure.” I shrugged not seeing the harm.

I’d nearly forgotten about the interview…as it had become a shrinking figure in my rear-view 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 Herald 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—we’d sent 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; 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 the rear-view 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 have 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 assumed, like everything else in his life, that the Backyard was rigged in his favor. Certainly he’d fire back, what weak ammunitions he possessed.

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 dark wave 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 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 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 and 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 hot bed for artists, musicians, theater folk, young socialites, hangers on and wannabes alike. Certainly, convincing Lenny, the owner/operator of Prime Ribs to include the 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–nearly eclipsing the subject of the article that had brought her into view. 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.

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.

“No grounds…it’s Susanna Wellington…she’s been all over Cartwright stirring the pot…she doesn’t even go to Cartwright yet she’s always there…hanging out on the lawn with her little recorder trying to stir up some more shit. 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 because in the interview, you said what Humbucker told us…alluding to the contest being rigged.”

“He did say that though…so many people heard it too.” 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, “But it doesn’t surprise me…makes total sense.”

“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–he read the article…he knows the truth…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 girl.” 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, unsurprised, 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 rabid peers; I’d take it to the grave as a glorious experience–one nobody could take away from me…no matter what they attempted. 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 meant much more 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…a child who’d wanted for nothing and had never been told no.

“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 his glimmering 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 fast, 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 to vacate the premises before he started ‘rolling heads’.

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, one of his line cooks and Saul, the head waiter.

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’d had enough of Humbucker. Walt knew better than trying to re-enter 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 writing terrible songs…as well as wearing androgynous jeans that displayed painful looking male camel toe. 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. He’d paid good money for the ad. It was a brilliant stroke of vitality and even if Humbucker was to lobby for the removal of it before its expiry date—thousands of copies 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.

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 singlehandedly 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 The Stone Roses 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?” 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.

“We got 18 flavors and half price dime bags.”

“Half price dimes?” asked the guy, cocking one brow curiously.

“Yeah…you square or something?” 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 blunts, 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…that sounds great right now.” said one of the girls.

“That sounds great any time.” 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 $12.50 after which he pointed to the baggie in April’s little hand, “And one of those.” April handed the guy his change, as well as the baggie. He took the baggie in hand and left April the change—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 their blunts.

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, you’re a fucking spaz.” said April.

“I’m including this piece of evidence in my report.” said Jr., sneering at me in disbelief.

“Look man, let’s be reasonable here…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 Bob Baskerville.” I shrugged.

“You still don’t get it do you boy?”

“Get what?”

“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, heroin…whatever…with track marks all up his arms…he passed out one day and rolled this old bucket of bolts out onto a soccer field 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 too dick-wad.” April issued, at the end of her tether, “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.

 

Tales from Truman Park

Episode 9

 

The following week, word got back to Bob Baskerville about the incident at UCLA. It was a Monday and I’d shown up at his place in Del Rey at around 11am. My plan had been to swing by Coronation and pick up April for some rounds. However, rather than hand over the keys and the cashbox as he normally did, Bob called me into the house—which he’d never done before. We sat in his kitchen, which had been well-kept by a woman’s touch, sipping on a couple cans of ice cold beer. His cat ate ravenously from a nearby bowl as Bob and I sipped in silence for a while before he turned to me and spoke in a very serious tone.
“I thank you for what you’ve done…you’re the most diligent worker I’ve ever had on staff…the sales—the sales are something like I haven’t seen since the late 70’s kid. You’re on top of the inventory…cash box is always way over…it really kills me to have to let you go.” he said, peering out the window again through which the day was hot and sunny and full of promise and adventure.
“Then why do it?” I asked.
“We both know why.” he said apologetically.
“I understand.” I said before taking a long haul from the ice cold can.
“I want you to have this.” he said, producing an envelope from the breast pocket of his shirt.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Look at it as severance. There’s about three hundred in there…I know it’s only a fraction of what you sold for me but I wanted to give you something. Thanks to the sales you did, I’m going to be able to fix the truck…and that’s all I really wanted to do…to keep her going another few years—before I pack it in.”
“Well then, it was all worth it as far as I’m concerned.” I shrugged taking the envelope that was thick with what I assumed must have been fives, tens and twenties from the cash float, “That truck will live to fight another day.” I added, raising my can. Bob raised his as well and when he did, the sleeve of his shirt lifted, exposing the inside of his arm, where a grid of track marks were illuminated by the sun rays flooding in through the window. He normally wore long sleeve shirts…on this day however, Bob wore a large size short sleeve, up the sleeves of which, his arms were visible when he gestured. The sight of the track marks turned my stomach slightly. So Ben Jr. hadn’t been lying after all I realized and immediately after realized that I’d further sullied Bob’s reputation—he knew it and I now knew it.
“Well…” I said, when my beer can was empty, “good luck in the future. Just one question…”
“Shoot.” Bob smiled, eased that I understood his predicament, “Can I keep this shirt?” I asked of the bowler shirt displaying the name Carlito.
“It’s yours.” he nodded.
I nodded back and left him sitting there in his kitchen, staring out the window and sipping at his beer. The day was sweltering and I punched the air conditioner in my van as I rounded the Glencoe bend on my way back onto the 405. Because April and I had planned another lunch hour round, I decided to meet her anyway and explain what had transpired with Bob.
As usual she was waiting on the east lawn when I arrived. However, this time her expression was drawn and pale with dread when she saw I was driving my sleek black minivan rather than the old Commer truck. When she got in I wasted no time relaying to her my conversation with Baskerville, which she wasn’t surprised by. All the same however, April’s disappointment deflated her to the point of closing her eyes and sighing a long deep sigh, “That fucking sucks dude.” she said, “We were really building a clientele too.”
“That we were babe.” I said as we both sat, marinating in our disappointment.
When the lunch hour bell sounded I decided I had nothing to lose by venturing into Coronation and finding Eleanor. I wanted to see her and feel her in my arms. Though April advised me against entering the school, citing Ellis as a deterrent; I shrugged it off, for Ellis was an old lobster who tucked loudly colored shirts into his pants and searched for fun to kill…and such a man should never be taken seriously. Besides, I had $300 burning a hole in my hip pocket and felt like taking Eleanor for lunch at Beverly Center and buying her something real nice from one of the shops. She was a schoolaholic but I was sure she’d cut class for an adventurous afternoon.
Inside the halls were cluttered with students and I walked through them casually as if it was just another day of classes. I passed my locker and saw that it was still without a lock. I opened it and looked inside…it was still empty. I felt a hand come down on my shoulder a moment later and found Wes standing beside me.
“Fancy seeing you here.” he smiled, patting me on the back, “What’s going on? I thought you and April were heading out in the truck today?”
“I got fired.” I shrugged.
“Shitty man…that sucks…but I’m not sure who it sucks for worse—you or April…you seem okay…but April was starting to get obsessed with that truck.” said Wes, biting his bottom lip in contemplation, “I better go find her.”
“She’s out on the lawn.” I told him and a moment later he was gone.
In the library I found Eleanor sitting at a far table, sketching with a pencil and listening to a cassette on her Walkman. She didn’t notice me until I was standing beside her, admiring her sketch, which was a particularly robust depiction of George Washington—a photo of which her history text book displayed in a glossy sheen the florescent lights of the overheads created. Beneath Washington’s photo was a caption in italic print, ‘It is impossible to govern a nation without God and the Bible.’
“Hey baby…I thought you were going out in the truck today?” she asked, “Is everything ok?”
“I got fired.” I told her.
“Because of what happened at UCLA?” she asked.
“Probably because of all of it.” I laughed.
“You ok?”
“I am now that I’m with you.” I said with a grin.
“What do you think?” asked Eleanor, looking up at me and tilting her note book toward me. Indeed her sketch was Washington, however, Eleanor had given him the appearance of an action figure.
“I think G.W. himself would be quite flattered—you made him look like a swashbuckling action figure.” I said, slipping down into a chair beside her and pulling her in close, placing my lips against her ear that was dangling with a vintage earring.
“I did not make him a swashbuckling action figure…” Eleanor laughed.
“Are you sure you’re not going to get into trouble being in here?” asked Eleanor.
“I don’t care…I had to see you.” I said, sinking my lips into the softness of her neck, “Let’s get out of here.” I quietly said.
“Where to?” she asked with a playful grin.
“I’ve got $300 worth of severance pay in my pocket.” I said, “I wanna take you down to Melrose.”
“I’ve got Mrs. Blair for 5th period—and I certainly don’t want to miss another of her fascinating lectures.” Eleanor frowned.
“I can respect that.” I said.
“That was sarcasm.” she said.
“I know.” I said, giving her another squeeze.
Eleanor didn’t say anything as we made our way out of Coronation. She merely interlocked her arm in mine and gazed out at the lawn which was filled with Coronation students basking in the sunshine as if they were lambs lulling in a green pasture. I led the way to my van and once inside with the air conditioning blowing and the Stone Roses jingling, Eleanor turned to me and spoke softly.

“I’m glad you came by today.”

“I had to see you. You want to go to Melrose or Beverly Center?”

“Beverly has air conditioning.” she smiled.

“Beverly it is.” I said, shifting the van into drive.

“I feel like it’s my fault you’re not going to graduate with us.” Eleanor added, still looking at me.

“What? That’s preposterous.”

“It seems like my fault you and Gregory can’t get along. If it wasn’t for me…you’d still be graduating with us all. It’s not fucking fair.” she said.

“We don’t know that…I think there’s a relatively good chance I’d have been expelled over something else. I think they wanted to expel me.” I admitted…I’m okay with that. I expected that.”
I suppose dear reader one could say that I’d become comfortably resigned to the notion of not graduating with my peers and having to pick up the credits at summer school or repeat a semester the following school year, which wouldn’t have struck me as disappointing had I been able to make up the semester at Coronation…however, Coronation was off the table which left me with only a few possibilities, one of which was Cartwright, but after being made privy to the unscrupulous goings on at Cartwright—it failed to stand out as a viable option.
Certainly I’d become resigned to the notion that the universe, for whatever reasons, felt I shouldn’t graduate from Coronation. I wondered if perhaps this was because listing Coronation on a future resume might lead future employers to draw assumptions about my background and therefore expectations—expectations which perhaps I wouldn’t be able to live up to or want to live up to. On the flip side perhaps they might write me off as a rich kid snob who’d expect special on the job treatment. Perhaps there was a bigger picture involved and perhaps it was easier to have faith in the grand design.
Resigning to my defeat at Coronation was easy once I took into consideration the many roads I’d travel in life. In comparison to the sunny future on the horizon, full of promise and opportunities for artistic greatness; my mishap at Coronation seemed to shrink in projected retrospect. I assumed it was the way the world always had been and always would be; steeped in the sunny disposition of 1990’s creative vitality, which I saw as the embodiment of an ancient power…and as long as that light was allowed to shine—through works of art and daily prophetic examples…it could live on forever…for it only took a spark to ignite it and I’d carry that spark in the core of my being until the end of time; that much I was certain of.
However, there are moments in life when you are certain you’ve failed miserably but then, miraculously it turns out not to be the case and in fact your perception had been entirely wrong. Indeed dear reader, the situation at Coronation, though seemingly decided, wasn’t quite decided as I’d assumed it to be. In fact, yet again—the universe had something else in mind for me. This realization came one afternoon in the form of a manila envelope sealed and addressed to me in sharpie lettering, “For Jack”. Ominous as it seemed, I took the envelope in hand when my mom handed it to me when I’d returned home from a job hunt the following week. As I looked at the lettering, my mom explained to me that a beautiful young woman calling herself Laura had dropped the envelope off earlier in the afternoon.
I felt clearly through the envelope the unmistakable form of a video cassette and wondered what Caldwell was up to. The first thought that came to mind was that Laura had put a naughty video together for me…perhaps one depicting her doing bikini aerobics in the privacy of her bedroom, tossing her hair from side to side and pumping her pelvis to a rhythmic beat…or perhaps it was, I realized, more likely a video someone had taken of our performance at her landmark spring break party and she’d given it to me as a memento—a parting gift.
Whatever the case, I took the envelope up to my room and opened it. As I suspected, it contained a video cassette. Included was a note, written by Laura. It read:
Jack:
It’s only fair that this videotape reaches you. Pay close attention to the third segment, shot at my kitchen table.
God bless.
Laura

I fed the cassette into the VCR. The tape started with a bad bit of fuzz which the auto-tracking evened out, giving way to a shaky shot that focused in and out on a crackling fire. There was music in the background and I didn’t recognize the voice of the guy narrating, “Cave man discovers fire…cave man makes fire…cave man impresses cave woman…” the guy said, pointing the camera at Laura next…even on bad grainy video, she looked great; she’d go far in life, I thought as I watched her snicker back at the lens as it zoomed out so a half dozen other people came into frame, sitting in chairs around the fire with beers in their hands. I recognized it as the fire pit in Laura’s backyard and as the camera panned around at Laura’s guests, I recognized Locksmith as one of them.
“I give you Gregory Locksmith ladies and gentlemen—Coronation’s star debater…win hard, baby.” said the guy behind the camera, in response to which Locksmith gave a smug grin and polished his knuckles against the breast of his polo shirt.
“Winners are winners—straight out of the gate baby.” he winked and beyond him being intoxicated, there was an air about him that I’d never before seen and perhaps it was an air of sincerity being that he was seemingly alone with friends…among which the secrets of his private persona would be kept.
“Is that what you’re going to have them write about you in the yearbook?” asked one of the guests, at which Locksmith looked suddenly, his eyes glazed over with an intoxicated expression of disdain bordering on rage.
“Selma Smithers is too dumb a cunt to think up something as brilliant as that…and that’s lesson number 23.” said Locksmith, his voice whiny and his teeth gritting with gleeful malice.
“Who’s Selma Smithers.” Laura asked off screen.
“She’s heading the yearbook at Coronation this year…it’s another in a myriad of blunders student council has made this year…but really the place has been falling apart really since they replaced Jeffries with that Saint Bernard Gavin…I just bet if I threw a Frisbee she couldn’t resist—she’d have to chase it down.” grinned Locksmith, sparking a guffaw from his audience, “So glad I’m out of there this year.”
The video went on, with a few other Caldwell guests making faces and cutting comments for the camera before it cut to a second scene around the pool as the same voice sarcastically narrated a diving competition between two girls I didn’t recognize. When the footage hard-cut to the third segment; I turned the volume up a bit, in accordance with Laura’s note.
Indeed, as Laura’s note had said, the third segment was shot at Laura’s kitchen table, around which only a few people sat. The time code had jumped from the pool scene which was 9:15pm to the kitchen table which was shot at 1:05am…as the counter rolled off the seconds and minutes, I watched intently as the camera operator slowly zoomed in on Laura’s cleavage as she spoke with Locksmith, who sat across from her, through the slight chuckling of the camera operator Laura’s conversation with Locksmith went as follows:
Locksmith: He’s a hood rat…I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again…he’s a fucking hood rat. And his band is a farce. I can’t even believe you had them playing here the night of your biggest part ever…that’s on you Caldwell…that will haunt you well into college.
Laura: You morons broke my mother’s vase. Broke it to shit.

Locksmith: Excuse me? Morons? Obviously you missed the point of that whole thing. Everything I do has a larger plan.

Laura: What plan?

Locksmith: That was a strategic play…a successful game plan…what can I tell you? I dangled some bait that night and he took it easily—sealing his own fate. What else would you expect from a Truman Park hood rat…a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

Laura: What bait?

Locksmith: I knew if I got physical with him and threw the first punch so to speak; he’d take the bait and go hood rat on me…that’s what hood rats like Holden do. Those who can’t think, fight.

Laura: But you started it…how is that a great plan?

Locksmith: Erroneous…I was the puppet master.

Laura: How so?

Locksmith: Look, I’m a fucking professional…and it was a beautiful play. I played it up to principal Gavin flawlessly…I told her that Holden attacked me unprovoked and that I was afraid to return to school in fear of him. I played the victim card super hard and it worked like a fucking charm. I had Gavin eating out of my palm…ok? Eating out of my fucking palm–like the Saint Bernard she is. Sure enough, Holden was expelled by Monday afternoon. Lesson number 25—never fuck with a Locksmith.

Laura: She didn’t see through it?

Locksmith: Come on…she’s gullible’s travels baby…gullible’s travels. She called my dad and my dad let her know…he fucking hates hood rats too. Look, I wouldn’t feel too bad for Holden…he had no business transferring to Coronation in the first place…he should have just stayed in the ghetto where he belongs.
It was then that the narrator spoke, having been holding a tight focus on Laura’s perfect cleavage, “Godam Laura, you’ve got a nice rack.”
“Fuck you Emmerson…” Laura snapped, jumping up out of her seat and wrestling the camera away from Tillman who drunkenly giggled as the camera shook and a second later went off.
It was four minutes of tape…a candid glimpse behind the curtain into a late night hangout at Laura Caldwell’s house—a fly on the wall. More importantly it was telling evidence of Locksmith’s true character, which was no surprise to me. Laura had had a week to think over the social ramifications and had eventually decided to do the right thing…for a hood rat who could offer her nothing in return other than gratitude; she’d surprised me.
Anyway it was sliced and diced—the video tape was a game-changer.
I’d gotten so used to getting the short end of the stick that I’d not seen myself as a victim…or really let the unfairness of it all register to a degree that I’d be willing to go too far out of my way to exact revenge—for I saw them unworthy of my revenge—for my revenge would be doubtlessly and brilliantly diabolical if I dedicated myself to it. Rather, I’d taken my expulsion with an unsurprised shrug, dismissing the douchery of the Locksmiths and certain governing bodies at Coronation as par for the course.
Now that I held in my possession a tape that could exonerate me, the playing field seemed to change. I hadn’t asked to go to war with Locksmith. I hadn’t wanted it to become personal. And though I hadn’t planned to ambush him in a desert canyon at high noon, cut out his heart, take a bite out of it and leave him for the eagles and wolves to feed on; I now had no choice.
A couple days later Eleanor and I had made two copies of the videotape and composed a detailed letter, explaining the situation surrounding my expulsion at Coronation. We packed four envelopes, each with a copy of the video tape and the letter. After giving a copy each to the Coronation Gazette and the Right World Herald, Eleanor and I dropped one of the envelopes off personally at school board headquarters downtown, after which we made the long trek out to Emerald Heights on the 10 freeway…absorbing the hot sun and the SoCal sprawl as we rode the earth’s edge. Floating up the PCH in heavy traffic I admired the crisp blue of the ocean, upon which vessels floated like corks and people strolled like ants along the sandy banks.
“Hey…” I said to Eleanor.
“Yeah?” she said, looking back at me, her tanned little foot propped up and resting against the passenger door mirror, her arm slung out the window and her long dark hair blown across her lips dramatically.
“After this bit at Coronation, I want to drive down to Anaheim.” I told her.
“Aneheim? Why?”
“I figured we’d smoke it up and go walk around at Disneyland…stay till late—see the fireworks. I’ve got 200  bucks left and it’s burning a hole in my hip pocket.” I said.
“Oh, I love that idea.” Eleanor cooed.
“It wasn’t your fault.” I said.
“It wasn’t not my fault though.” Eleanor said, looking at me seriously, squinting against the sun as her hair blew in the wind.
When we got to Coronation, I pulled up out front and parked in the student lot. Because Eleanor didn’t feel like being in class while dealing with what she deemed ‘menstruating cramps from hell’, she’d called in sick and so for obvious reasons waited in my van. I’d left her sipping a soda and flipping through a magazine with The Cure’s Disintegration on the cassette player.
The halls were barren, except for a few students sitting on the floor against their lockers, reading contently—oblivious to my passing footsteps. Plastered to nearly every wall were promos for the upcoming prom that was slated to be held at the Four Seasons Downtown. There were titles to be awarded, prizes to be won. I imagined who the prom king and queen might be…I drew a blank, having no concept of such absurdity and so no fair assumption of who might or might not qualify. I’d never heard of a prom king and queen at Truman High…it was widely known that at Truman, prom consisted of a buffet dinner in the gymnasium followed by a dance which usually ended in a multiple fist fights and turf wars.
When I strolled into the office the first person I noticed was Ellis. He was leaning against the wall, conversing with a secretary. His hands were in his pockets, as was his habit of standing around listening to conversations and jingling the change in his pockets like a whistling creep. Indeed, on this day there was no exception and Ellis’ beady eyes focused on me, widening slightly at the sudden sight of me standing there in his domain. Without missing a beat, he pushed up from against the wall and stepped over to me, extending his arm at the end of which pointed his finger toward the frosted glass door from which I’d just emerged.
“You’re not supposed to be here.” said Ellis, stepping up closer and pointing again when I didn’t move, “Go…”
“Am I a stray dog or something? Show a little humanity dick-wad.” I said.
“Pardon me?”
“I need to speak to Gavin.” I said.
“I can’t imagine what you have to discuss with Principal Gavin.” said Ellis, stepping closer now.
“Listen jerk-off, don’t step up on me unless you’re willing to get a boot in your ass.” I told him.
“Pardon me!” he asked, flabbergasted.
“Hell no.” I shrugged, waiting for him to make his move, however no move came…he only deflated back into his usual lizardly demeanor and repeated himself.
“Go…there’s nothing you need to say to Principal Gavin.” he said, calmly, though still blocking my path to Gavin’s office.
“Listen, I’m going to rap with Gavin today…one way or another–I can go around you or through you.” I said.
“Your usual M.O. I presume…intimidation tactics…and you wonder why you were expelled.” said Ellis in a high handed tone.
“You have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about…but this videotape will confirm how gullible you really are Ellis. I’ve already dropped one off at school board HQ along with a detailed letter, explaining how eager you were to vote me out on the sole word of the Locksmiths.” I said, holding up the manila envelope which Ellis focused on with his reptilian eyes and I could nearly hear the wheel turning in his lizardly head, “You want me to leave…ok—fine, but I’ll make sure Gavin finds out one way or another that you knew all about this videotape and sent me away anyway.”
“Now hang on just a sec…” said Ellis, placating me and holding up two palms, “This is the first I’m hearing about a videotape…I don’t even know what’s on that videotape. But if it’s something that casts us or the decision we’ve made in a bad light—I’d like to see it.”
“You can watch it all you want—when Gavin is done with it.” I said.
After a long moment of contemplation, Ellis broke out of his intense gaze and raised his brows, stepping off entirely and ushering me into Gavin’s office, where she sat propped up obtusely in her chair with her spectacles hanging on the edge of her nose as she filled out forms of some sort. With her pen poised, she looked up at Ellis and I who entered her office without knocking.
“Good morning?” she asked, a curious grin edging the corners of her lips.
“I’d say so.” I said, stepping up to her desk and tossing the envelope onto it.
“Do I want to know what’s in this envelope?” she asked, glancing at Ellis who only shrugged and nodded in a solemn sort of way.
“Please Mr. Holden, if you’re going to barge in on me, at least take a chair.” she said gesturing to the chair across from her, into which I sank casually.
Ellis and I watched in silence as Gavin opened the envelope. Setting the videotape aside, she adjusted her spectacles and began reading the note. As I watched her eyes move side to side over the sentences of my letter, her expression pursed and her brows tightened as she realized the magnitude of this development; she’d bet on the wrong horse and she suddenly realized it.
“He’s given a copy to school board headquarters.” Ellis informed.
“I also gave a copy to the Gazette and the Herald…I’m considering fowarding to Alderman Locksmith’s boss as well.” I said.
“Mr. Ellis, will you please ask Mrs. Glazer if we might borrow her TV and Video player for a short while?” Gavin asked and Ellis took her bidding with a humble nod, scurrying out of the office and leaving Gavin and I alone.
“You’ve given a copy of this to school board HQ?” asked Gavin.
“Sure did.” I nodded.
“Well, my first reaction after reading your note is surprise at how you perceive your expulsion. I’d thought Mr. Ellis and I had been quite understanding of the situation. What’s on this videotape?” she asked me point blank.
“I’d rather see the expression on your faces when you realize how well you got played by the Locksmith clan.” I shrugged.
“Well…it certainly sounds ominous enough. I’m going to get a coffee…would you like something? A juice box? A pop perhaps?” she asked.
“I’m good.” I said.
Then I was entirely alone in Gavin’s office with the silence and the portraits of her family looking back at me. The walls of the office were painted emerald green and the warmth and the quietness lulled me to the point of dozing off when all at once, Gavin, Ellis as well as two other teachers filed into the office. Indeed, Mr. Hatcher and Mrs. Furlong had for some reason joined us in the office. I assumed Gavin had invited them from the staff room when she’d gone to refill her mug of coffee. Perhaps this was the most entertainment any of them had seen all semester.
The TV and VCR were fastened to a skirted cart and Ellis rolled it into the corner of the office. Using the remote control he turned on the TV, the blue screen of which glowed to life. As Gavin got comfortable behind her desk Ellis lifted the videotape from Gavin’s hand and placed it neatly in the slot, cuing a mechanism which sucked the video inside the VCR. We all watched in silence as the video played and I occasionally turned to Gavin to take note of her expression which didn’t change…rather it remained stoic and drawn in concentration. Indeed, her reaction to even the worst of it simply wasn’t there. Looking around the room I saw that Ellis and Hatcher as well as Mrs. Furlong all wore equally stoic expressions and in the silence that followed I voiced my thoughts.
“Just shows how guys like Locksmith manage to walk between the raindrops.” I said.
After glancing uncomfortably at the other adults in the room Gavin spoke nonchalantly, “Do you really think I can’t admit when I’ve made a mistake?” she asked, a grin creasing the corners of her eyes, “Do you really think that because I’m a principal I have a crystal ball? That I’m a human lie detector? Is that what you think Jack? I can only do my best with the information I’ve been given. I told you I’d be the first to apologize if I was wrong and so I’m apologizing to you now. I’m happy to apologize. I’m happy I was wrong in this case.”
“Yeah, that’s easy for you to say now…but when it counted…you took Locksmith’s word automatically. What about the weeks of class I’ve missed? What about that?” I demanded.
“I’m sorry that you had to miss class. Though I heard you were doing quite well with the ice cream truck operation during the down time.” Gavin grinned.
“Weeks of missed class…that means I’ll have to do summer school…or enroll somewhere else in the fall. You let Locksmith screw the next year of my life.” I said.
“Why does it mean summer school or enrolling somewhere else? Where are you getting that from?” asked Gavin.
“I’ve missed so much.” I said.
“Let’s not be a pessimist here Mr. Holden…I don’t for one second believe that you couldn’t walk into final exams and ace them all…you’ve so far managed to maintain straight A’s without even trying—even with all of the absences you’ve accumulated and all that useless weed you smoke. World beware if you cleaned up your act and got with the program.” said Gavin leaning back in her chair with a creak and sipping from her mug of coffee, “You’re squandering some real potential.”
“What are you saying to me? I can take my exams?” I asked.
“I guess I’m saying—in light of this new information—if you can pass your finals…I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t graduate this year from Coronation. I can’t change the past…and if you want to turn this into a grievance through the school board, which will take up a lot of time and resources and complicate everything—you’re free to take that route. Also being that it’s this late in the school year, they won’t even start dealing with it until next fall. On the other hand though, we can wipe the slate clean here and now…you come back next week…pedal to the metal and you make up what you’ve missed and you get those finals aced…and you make it to the finish line a winner.”
“So that’s it? I can come back? Just like that? No questions asked?” I asked, unable to fully wrap my mind around the reality which sat like a mirage before me—though it wasn’t a mirage at all.
“Well, I do need one thing…” said Gavin, “in order to make this happen, I’ll need you to sign a small agreement. Something that says you’ll at least be civil to Gregory Locksmith—he’ll be signing one too.”
“Wait…you’re going to allow Locksmith to still attend class here? After seeing that tape?” I demanded, “We saw the same tape right?”
“Trust me,” assured Gavin, “you being able to return to classes here will burn him enough. Also, Vice Principal Ellis and I will have a little one on one with Gregory and this educational little videotape. I think there won’t be much of a problem after that.”
“Do we have a deal?” asked Ellis after a few moments of silence, “It’s a good one—I’d take it.”
I rose from my seat and looked at Ellis…he looked different now…meek somehow, the dictator in him on a lunch break, “A good deal? You guys ostracized me on the word of some spoiled rotten daddy’s girl…and you’re telling me that being allowed to come back here is a good deal?”
“It’s the only deal we can offer you.” said Ellis, “The best deal we can offer you.”
“Ok…it’s a deal…see you tomorrow.” I said before leaving them all to what would doubtlessly be an interesting discussion.
I made my way back down the sunny hallway which was still barren. The floor tiles were impeccably varnished and brilliantly reflected the towering French windows at the end of the hall. Through the windows the sky was remarkably blue and I felt like diving into it, as if it were a massive crested wave…it would be a crazy summer and I’d make it to the finish line a winner. Perhaps Gavin had some great points. Mostly however, I’d get to suck the marrow out of the remainder of the school year. Perhaps the trick in life is to find a headspace you love and stick with it—come hell or high water. Stopping at my locker I took my Screaming Hand Santa Cruz ball cap from my head and hung it in good old number 44; it was mine again and reclaiming it felt exhilarating.
I explained the entire scene from Gavin’s office to Eleanor later, as we moved down the freeway, heading for Anaheim. It was a sun-soaked day I’d never forget…and though to the truck drivers, sport racers and business commuters rolling along with us down the freeway, my victory at Coronation would have doubtlessly meant nothing at all; however, to Eleanor and I it was a magical elixir and it meshed nicely with the boat rides and 1960’s spirit that resided in the pastel nooks and crannies of Disneyland…as if we were existing in a teacup dreamscape where animals talked and magic wands conjured spectacular flights of imagination…as if we were balancing on the edge of wonder, beyond which was the great unknown—the milky way. When it got late and we’d eaten all the chicken tenders French fries and ice cream we could…we smoked it up behind a maintenance shed after which we watched the fireworks exploding high above the castle as we sipped on sodas. Certainly there were endless other places to be just then…but I wouldn’t have traded any of them for being with Eleanor under the fireworks and the sparkle of SoCal stars. It was the 90’s and the cosmos was ours. The day had been like a Technicolor dream, complete with a Hollywood ending and I’d fallen into my bed that night after the long drive back, feeling Eleanor’s rib cage rising and falling beside me with a day worth of sun soaked adventure. As I drifted off, I felt a small wave of alarm wash over me as I imagined waking up the next day and realizing it had all been a wonderful warm dream and there hadn’t been a video tape and I hadn’t stormed into Gavin’s office and I hadn’t been invited back to classes at Coronation.
However, none of it had been a dream, and as Gavin instructed, I returned to Coronation the following day much to the chagrin of Locksmith who seemed to make himself surprisingly scarce. I didn’t see him floundering around the hallways with his minions, copping clout and theatrical guffaws as he usually did. In fact, I saw him only once, leaving the library with a stack of books under his arms and looking disheveled. He’d glanced at me once before nodding and averting his eyes but said nothing; a stark contrast to his videotape monologue. My unexpected return seemed to raise several questions among my fellow students, which after a week had taken on the shape of fantastical conspiracy theories about what exactly was on the ‘mystery tape’. Stories ranging from Locksmith having been filmed smoking crack to having been filmed participating in a satanic ritual to having been filmed pissing on the driver side door handle of Gavin’s Passat all circulated like wildfire around Coronation.
I was asked and even interrogated on the subject but sticking with the agreement I signed which stipulated, among several other points, my not discussing the videotape with anyone; I said nothing and I said it in a coy tone. Rather I chose to behave as if the incident had never occurred. Certainly though my agreement was compiled of several points; it was my belief that following so closely to such a structured regime was counterproductive and in fact subconscious incentive to fail. To me, walking a tightrope would only take away from the fun…it was much better to be somewhat mindful of my actions—which meant, for starters, not smoking on school property, trying my best to make all my classes on time and not perpetuating a Locksmith vendetta.
It was easier than I expected it to be and within two weeks I was cruising through finals and not bothering to break a sweat. It was as if the questions and subjects and requests for elaboration were devised for seventh graders. It seemed they only ever asked for blanket answers, stock responses and in doing so promoted subtle textbook plagiarism. Indeed, it became a habit during final exams for me to request extra foolscap to accommodate my elaborated answers and points. I wanted to hand in literary masterpieces…and brilliantly cutting commentary, the likes of which they’d never been submitted. While my classmates bounced their knees and bit their nails and wrote with disconcerted unease, I fixed my sites on the heart of an elaborate subject and pulled the trigger; bulls eye…a novella each time—and it drove my teachers mad.
Though to me they were works of art, certainly none of my teachers were quite enthused about reading my exceptionally detailed essays and exam papers…and in some cases docked me half a grade I’m certain, just to spite me for having taken up so much of their valuable wine-drinking time, or gambling time, or hooker time…or whatever the creepy adults who resided over our curriculum did in their spare time. Certainly none of them would be interested in following a tether that led back to LBJ’s impact on the Vietnamese—when the question had only called for a blanket answer about Marxism. Indeed, though I offered them intensely detailed accounts; my Coronation teachers remained unmoved, having perhaps been jaded by years of lesson planning and working too long at the same job in the same building in the same classroom. Still, they had no choice but to A me.
In the meantime, the battle of the bands at the Backyard was rapidly approaching and once final exams were finished, it seemed an air of excitement emerged…it was perhaps a general excitement that was collective among the graduating class…for it was our last year in a secondary institution—one of many milestones in life we’d all now go through together…friend or foe. One day we’d perhaps hash it all out in an old age home somewhere in the distant future when the world was perhaps a planet of peace or an apocalyptic ember of plague and violence. Either way; they were my peers and we’d inherit the earth together—whether we wanted it or not.
It was as if in many ways, the show at the Backyard was shaping up to be a gigantic exclamation point that would punctuate the end of an era. Though in the future there would be more shows, more parties, more lovers, bigger creative projects, more road trips, more sunsets and more glorious experiences…there would never again be another Backyard battle of the bands quite like ours.
Perhaps it meant nothing in the end—to fade out into the great beyond without the knowledge that you’d done something extraordinary with your life…perhaps in that moment nothing mattered—not even a life of extraordinary accomplishments. Perhaps it all added up to nothing in the very end. But then there was also the chance that it added up to everything in the very end. Perhaps the mission is what matters until it doesn’t matter anymore. And though Eleanor joked that I should save such contemplations for my third year of college; she understood what drove me to achieve the extraordinary—it was simply my nature.
Walt and the Goblin on the other hand seemed a bit anxious in the days leading up to the battle at the Backyard. They were distracted at rehearsal and seemed more interested in discussing stage antics, which I was told were going to be otherworldly. However, to me, we’d managed to earn a milestone achievement and I felt it shouldn’t be squandered on smoke and mirrors. However, if they insisted on dragging some horror show theater into our performance—at least it should be done with some spectacle beyond the obvious…if we were taking no prisoners…we needed maximum firepower—so no shred of Humbucker’s legacy was left standing. You could say I jumped on board the napalm campaign for the sake of jagged performance art.
It took some planning and some enlistment of friends and enablers to put it all together, but we’d managed to acquire all of the props and bodies we needed to stage a spectacular spectacle. Then, we put it on ice…as revenge was said to be best served cold. I wasn’t quite sure what we were revenging for however…there was Walt’s crystalline hatred for Humbucker and his alleged strangle hold on the Cartwright scene…which didn’t quite apply to me being that I was at heart and soul—a Coronation student. Certainly Humbucker’s allegation of promoting divisions in the Emerald Heights music scene was baseless and obviously a retaliatory comment geared toward gaining favor with the battle of the bands judges. I didn’t assume it was personal. It was all politics with Humbucker and that’s perhaps why I couldn’t muster any real hatred for him…he simply wasn’t worth hating. He was another hairdo in androgynous jeans vying for a spotlight. Still, Walt and the Goblin and a growing number of their Cartwright colleagues were out for Humbucker’s blood as if they were a rabid pack of lynch mobbers with torches, pitchforks and shot guns.
Indeed, the tension generated by the impending face off with Humbucker’s Magnolias was largely perpetuated by the people around us…fans of the band…fans of the Backyard and fans of the drama. On the other side there was the Humbucker camp and all of their followers who also perpetuated the tension, which by the night of the show, was palpable. I’d felt it on arriving at the Backyard with Eleanor. For one reason or another, each band was instructed to show up shortly before their allotted start time. Rather than doing a full sound check, we were expected to settle for a quick line check—which was fine with me. I wheeled my Marshall Stack around the perimeter of the crowd that was moshing to the groove of Vertical Zoomers a Douglas high band that had made the grade.
When I arrived at the backstage area gate, I was approached by a man dressed in black. He introduced himself as simply skate park security and asked what band I was with. When I told him he nodded, as if expecting my reply, after which he instructed me, pointing with an unlit flashlight toward the opposite side of the stage, “You need to check in your gear over on that side of the stage.”
“Sure.” I said, pressing on, however, the rent-a-cop stepped in front of me.
“Sorry, you need to go out and back around to the other side.” he informed.
“You mean walk around the outside around the crowd to the other side?” I grinned, noticing a clutter of band gear beyond his shoulder, “Why not just cut through the back?”
“I’ve given a detailed explanation already to your band mates…they’re on the other side now and can relay it all to you.” said the rent-a-cop with a formal tone.
“Ok…” I shrugged and flashed Eleanor a grin.
As instructed we made our way around the crowd and to the opposite gate, where we found the Goblin assembling his drums and Walt adjusting the dials of his amp. Kristen and Jen-Jen were nearby, chatting with another girl who I didn’t know and smoking cigarettes. Everyone seemed casual and so I rolled my stack in and lit one up myself, watching Vertical Zoomers from the side of the stage, taking note of the massive sea of heads bouncing in unison to the Zoomers best known song which had a hip-hop feel. The Zoomers mostly talked and they used electronic drums and sounded about as ghetto as white kids from the suburbs could really sound. I wasn’t sure if they’d stolen their entire gimmick from the Beastie Boys—but it was mostly plagiarized. Still, the crowd ate it up and replied with ear deafening cheers when the number was finished.
“How many songs these guys got left?” I asked Walt when he approached me, grinning and slapping at his bass.
“They’ve got a few more…then it’s all about the funeral pyre.” he grinned.
“What’s with that rent-a-cop making us having to walk around the outside to get to this side of the stage?” I asked Walt.
“Oh…” he grinned, giving his eyes a roll, “…the organizers caught wind of what’s been brewing between us and the Humbucker trio—they didn’t want an all out turf war breaking out on their watch.”
“What turf war? We’re downtown baby—this is my shit.” I laughed.
“I know.” laughed Walt, shrugging, “Maybe they think I’ll throw another milk shake at him.”
“But why does Humbucker get to enter at that side and we have to come all the way over here?” I asked.
“Because Humfucker thinks he’s running things…but not after tonight.” Walt said.
Eleanor and I took a seat on a monitor case at the side of the stage, just behind the band shell wall. From there we watched the Vertical Zoomers run their set as the crowd rapidly grew and the sun drained from the sky. The last few of the Zoomers songs, though still hip-hop, were far more ethereal and ambient than the first half of their set and the music had an entrancing effect on me…to the point where I felt I was nearly floating…though it was probably the blunt I was puffing on. When they bid farewell to the crowd who cheered them with a roar, I rose from the monitor case and headed backstage. It was there I found Walt, surrounded by perhaps a dozen people, all clad in costumes. I hadn’t quite expected them to show up…however, they had and among them were the girls from Rocktopussy…an all girl punk band from Cartwright who could have been cheer girls for the football team had they not been skate betty stoners…they were dressed in snug fitting go-go dancer outfits from the 1960’s…complete with gold frill layered skirts, sparkly tops and white knee-high fuck-me boots. Pleasantly surprised I raised my brows and nodded to Walt who broke away from the group to approach me, “They scrub up not bad huh?” he said.
“Not bad at all.” I concurred.
“Ok guys,” he said, pulling the Goblin in so it became a huddle, “everything we’ve planned for is happening tonight…and nothing will be the same after tonight…this is what we’ve been waiting for…and it’s finally ours. It’s fucking waiting right up there for us. Let’s go take it!” hollered Walt.
“Let’s fuck this shit up!” the Goblin hollered back.
“Let’s remember that new change before the chorus in Pussy Galore.” I said, wanting to be absolutely sure we nailed everything.
Usually between bands the crowd dispersed and regrouped once the next band started…however, on this night, the crowd didn’t disperse…rather they stood and watched in anticipation as we set up our gear, ran our cords and started with a quick line check. I took note of the sea of faces looking up at my guitar as I hit a few chords for the soundman, who spoke to us through the monitors. The faces in the audience were ready for a revolt and they expected us to offer it to them. After the Goblin banged around his kit for a moment to set his levels, Walt slapped out some bass, banging his head like a madman and riling up the crowd who threw him some whistles. Then it was time…and the place went quiet…the angst was ready to spring forth…and you could have cut the electrically charged atmosphere with a straight razor. Walt and I glanced at each other, then we both looked at the Goblin who nodded and started in with an intro drum beat. I was under the impression that we were going to start the first song without any banter…run three in a row and then break for some antics…however, as the Goblin beat out a heavy groove, Walt grabbed his microphone and started in.
“What the fuck is uuuup people?” he drawled over the drums prompting the crowd to explode with a roar, “I know you’ve been waiting for something amazing…it’s been too long…toooooo long!” he shouted, propping a foot up on the monitor, “But it’s finally here…the liberation army has arrived to liberate y’all from motherfuckers who think they running the shit…they may have been running the shit before…but that shit ain’t—no—more! You know what I’m talking about!” Walt hollered, drawing another roar from the audience who he’d managed to rile up without us even playing one note.
After resetting the microphone in the clip, Walt jumped onto the Goblin’s drums beat with a heavy slap bass groove as my guitar chunked away at some heavy chords. The song was new and groovy and called Pussy Galore. Because we’d rehearsed so much in the previous weeks, we were dialed and the music fit us like a glove. I’d been slightly concerned about the row of cameras set up just in front of the sound console, for they were bound to catch any of our mistakes…however, there were no mistakes…and yet there was plenty of improvisation…which tended to lead to mistakes even in well-schooled musicians…we were razor sharp that night and cut through the ordinary with a samurai sword—literally. However, Walt decided to wait three songs before doing so.
It was in between the third and fourth song that I noticed Trent Humbucker and crew arriving through the north gate with their gear and entourage. As soon as I noticed them, Walt was unclipping the microphone again…he cued the sound man with a thumbs up and a moment later the sound of a funeral march pattered through the mains…drawing tenacious grins from the kids in the front row and some curious glances from the people congregated around the north gate.
“Thanks for coming everybody.” said Walt, “Thanks for being here on this special occasion. For we are gathered her tonight…to pay no respect to one of Cartwright’s most unprolific specimens of douchery—you know him as the singer for the Humfucker Trio—tonight’s headliner…however, we just got word that they won’t be headlining tonight—in fact they won’t be playing at all…on account of Trent Humfucker dying of needle based plague earlier today…yes, yes…sad indeed, I know…but it had been eating away at the poor guy for months…and it finally got him. I told him not to share needles on skid row.” said Walt, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.
I grinned, taking note of Humbucker who started gesturing toward the stage and ranting theatrically to what appeared to be a group of organizers huddled with security at the gate.
“Please join us as we eulogize the biggest try-hard Cartwright has even produced.” Walt said in a morbid tone, gesturing to the south side of the stage—our side of the stage. From behind the curtain marched six guys dressed in suits and ties…they wore Friday the 13th goalie masks and were carrying between them a life sized Victorian coffin baring intricate gothic designs in black. From behind the curtain billowed smoke, which moved in close to the floor before curling up in wisps near center stage, where the Jason Voorhees pallbearers set the coffin down on a skirted platform.
Raising a foot and stomping it down on the coffin Walt turned back to the crowd and spoke as the synthetic smoke enveloped the stage, “Here lies Trent Humfucker…the false prophet and biggest poser Cartwright high has ever seen.”
The crowd roared at the spectacle and Walt took a bow. A moment later he continued, “But you know, we can’t just bury him like this…we all know you can’t bury a blood sucking vampire like this…he’ll only rise again…to suck your blood,” he said, pulling a large wooden stake from his jacket, “really you gotta drive a stake through the fucker’s heart…”
Of course, this was nearly too much for the crowd who shouted out a collective roar again…this time raising their fists and chanting, “Dust him! Dust him! Dust him!” and Walt, obliging them crept over to the coffin and opened it slowly…the funeral march faded out just then and the place fell silent as we all took note of a pale and gaunt figure lying in the coffin…somehow Walt had found a kid who looked nearly identical to Humbucker and had dressed him up in matching attire; androgynous jeans, a patched and pinned jean jacket and cowlick hair. When Walt was at the coffin the body jolted to life with twilight red vampire contact lenses and long frothy fangs, bringing the crowd to life again, with roaring cheers and whistles that didn’t subside even after Walt had driven in the retractable stake. The kid playing the vampire gripped one hand around the retractable stake as his other hand sprayed fake blood from a squeeze bottle so it splattered Walt’s face a horror show red.
Indeed, as Walt slammed the lid of the coffin down, I saw from my angle the back side of the coffin click open and the skinny Humbucker doppelganger slithering out of it. In the camouflage of the fog that billowed from the off stage smoke machine, the kid scampered off unseen behind the six goalie masked pallbearers standing attentively as ushers. When the coffin was empty, Walt then produced a tin of kerosene from behind his amp. The crowd, knowing what was to come next, changed their chant from ‘Dust him! Dust him! Dust him!’ to ‘Light it up! Light it up! Light it up!’ and light it up Walt certainly did, dousing the coffin in kerosene before flipping open a zippo lighter and tossing it atop the coffin which went up in a massive puff of flame which reached high into the night sky where the moon sat, stoically, having seen it all—but never something quite like this.
On cue the Goblin counted in our next song, which was called, Mrs. Moffat’s Pussy Cat…amidst a stage full of flames, smoke and six Jason Voorhees doppelgangers dancing in unison like Motown backup singers…the stage divers took over the show…one of them kicking over the flaming coffin so it collided with the floor in an explosion of embers…and just when it seemed things could get no better…out from behind the curtain danced our makeshift go-go girls in their fuck me boots, glittery makeup and frilly skirts. They stood center stage in front of the burning coffin and swung their assets around to the beat of the music, tossing their hair and flailing their arms out.
At some point, a couple organizers took the stage with a fire extinguisher, the hiss of which I heard as I ripped through a guitar solo…when I turned I found a short bald man with gurgling looking lips and a thin mustache, standing behind me on the stage holding a fire extinguisher in one hand and gesturing to the sound man a cutthroat motion with his other; they were shutting us down four songs in.
Though the Goblin, Walt and I kept playing, a second later, we lost the mains, which took the vocals with them. We were only a few bars away from ending the song so we did it instrumentally and with only stage sound…crunching up the last chord with a flurry of feedback, drum fills and guitar rakes…then a loud sonic boom from the Goblin’s kick and floor tom; the end.
Knowing it was our last song of the evening, the crowd showered us with near deafening screams and whistles. It had been short, but definitely sweet and the stage in our aftermath was left in smoking embers, fog and the smell of burned kerosene…when the lights went down and the house music went on, the scolding started.
Indeed, the short bald man who’d extinguished the fire beyond chastising us on a personal level threatened legal action if the stage was irrevocably damaged from the fire. He stipulated that we hadn’t asked permission to start a fire and cited city-wide fire codes that had been breached and nearly threatened to shut the entire show down…the man was livid and his face lobster red…his beady eyes demanded answers as his cronies stood behind him, their beady eyes demanding answers as well.
Though Walt could have probably smoothed it all over by claiming ignorance—which youth of our age were prone to being forgiven for…Walt instead chose to push back against the organizers, citing the coffin being made out of material too thin to cause any real fire hazard. He demanded that we be allowed to complete our set, citing them as ‘chicken shit conformists’. As he stood there center stage, covered in splatters of fake blood, Walt argued with the organizers who weren’t budging—our set was over they assured and that dear reader was the end of the discussion.
I walked over and took Walt by the arm and led him off stage. As far as I was concerned we’d taken names and left no prisoners…we’d napalmed the entire place and the clearing smoke only proved it further when from the opposite side of the back stage area we spied Humbucker flanked by his minions, arms crossed and shaking his head as he expressed disappointment to the organizers for having let it go as far as it did. As he gestured toward the stage, shaking his head erratically, the organizers seemed to be placating Humbucker with raised palms.
“What do you suppose they’re saying?” asked Walt.
“I’m guessing Humbucker is giving them shit for not shutting us down sooner.” I laughed.
“Too late bitches.” Walt smirked as Kristen slid under his arm.
“That was fucking legendary.” she purred, squeezing Walt close.
Then the go-go girls from Roctopussy were upon us, high fiving in congratulations for burning the place down and getting cut short and if that wasn’t enough, Humbucker’s vampire doppelganer came around the corner—an uncanny spitting image—sipping a root beer with his fangs still intact.
“Party at Jen-Jen’s.” called the Goblin from behind us all, “Let’s blow this popsicle stand!”
I felt Eleanor beside me and felt her small hand smooth around my waist and her head rest against my shoulder, I squeezed her in close and looked down at her, “You want to head over to Jen-Jen’s? Evidently she’s inviting everyone.”
“Evidently.” Eleanor chuckled as Jen-Jen and the Goblin hit the dispersing crowd, announcing a blanket invitation.
“Looks like it’s going to be a big one.” said Eleanor.
“I hope so. Jen-Jen’s parents are in the Poconos until next Tuesday.” Walt said, “Could be the last real party of the year before prom.”
Prom I thought…it was already upon us…the end of an era.
We’d nearly packed up all of our gear and were about to wheel it out to my van when the Humbucker Trio took the stage. As I lifted my Marshall Stack onto the roller, I was surprised to hear a low rumble of boos move through the crowd like rolling thunder. I was even more surprised to spot a distraught expression concealed by a nervous grin twisted into Humbucker’s face as he stepped up to the microphone.
“Well, in spite of the previous band’s asinine theatrics; there’s only one real Trent Humbucker…as you can see—and I’m alive and kicking.” he said, prompting some fanfare cheers that tried to drown out the booing…however, the booing continued and was peppered with hollered insults mostly intelligible but all the same, hurled with intent. Hurled also with intent from the crowd was an empty plastic water bottle which Humbucker just barely ducked, rising back up to the microphone a moment later, “Come on guys…this show isn’t about sore sports…it’s about our music scene!” he boomed, but could not quell the booing that loomed beneath the cheering of his adoring fans. Perhaps Humbucker had been right—perhaps Lusty Lacy Laura had drawn some divisions in the Emerald Heights scene…but perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing…perhaps it was time for a change.
Shaking my head with an amazed grin I found Walt at the merch table with Kristen…Kristen usually handled the merch table and on this night, she was busy taking cash in exchange for Lusty Lacy Laura t-shirts and the two cassettes we’d recorded. As the Humbucker Trio kicked into their first shoe gazing number I peered up at the moon that was smudged slightly behind a thin veil of air pollution. I’d done it…I’d done what I’d set out to do and it had been spectacular. And though it would go down in the annals of Emerald Heights history and would be passed along through word of mouth like an ancient legend, I felt no different beneath the ecstatic glow…the expedition in me hadn’t been quenched…rather it had been stoked…and the realization came to me like the sudden warmth of the sun moving from behind a thick fluffy cover of cloud…I’d known it before, but knew it indefinitely in that moment—exploring the deep jungles of contemporary composition was a lifetime commitment…not about one work, or one season or one even one era.
“What are you thinking baby?” asked Eleanor, smoothing a soft hand over my cheek.
“I’m thinking I want a six pack of Winchell’s donuts before we hit Jen-Jen’s.” I grinned, looking back at her, feeling it would be better to explain it to her another time.
It took a few days for the reality of the Backyard show to sink in. I realized that we’d done the show and that it had been monumental on many levels, particularly among Cartwright kids who’d loved to see Trent Humbucker staked and dusted once and for all. It was a great symbolic send off for him…especially being that the Humbucker Trio didn’t win first prize. We didn’t win first prize either. In fact, it was the Vertical Zoomers who’d won the money, the studio time and accolades. I assumed the judges didn’t want to get into the middle of any vendettas and appear to have taken sides…for them the battle of the bands wasn’t about who played or who won—as a funded organization for the arts that was made of up board members and councils meetings; they’d simply played it as safe as they could.
I’d never expected to win the prize money or the studio time. Perhaps Walt and the Goblin had reserved some hope to—however in the end; the actual first prize was having pulled off staging such a historical event and solidifying our place in Emerald Heights musical history. In twenty years, few might remember the Backyard and the nuances of the evening…they might only remember that we’d gotten shut down after lighting a coffin on fire—if they remembered at all. However, in the days that followed, the aftershocks remained…and they were felt through the final days leading up to graduation, particularly at Cartwright where, according to Walt and Kristen, Humbucker had been officially dethroned—which wasn’t fully Walt’s doing…more so Walt had merely torn the curtain back, exposing Humbucker for what he was and had always been; a low slithering snake and he’d done it only a matter of days before the final semester let out…in essence ruining the momentum Humbucker’s Magnolias band had hoped to enter UCLA with in the fall…which in essence, prompted the beginning of the end of Humbucker.
To Walt this translated as well awaited justice after four years of swallowing Humbucker’s dictatorship and social sabotage. To me it meant very little…and it wasn’t because I saw the development as incidental—certainly I saw it as beneficial…however, I’d never seen Humbucker as a worthy adversary worth going to war with. War took some investment…one had to embrace the cold blooded assassin within themselves…one had to become a rabid wolf who didn’t conceive of death—only the hunt and the iron taste of warm, fresh blood. Though I was glad he was finished, I took no real pleasure in Humbucker’s demise.
However, having spearheaded the movement that toppled Humbucker’s reign, Lusty Lacy Laura was thrust into the vacuum that remained. Between them, Walt and Kristen campaigned far and wide, charming all-ages promoters all the way from Orange County to Santa Clarita. Walt marked the dates in Sharpie on an erasable white board calendar at the Goblin’s rehearsal room. The gigs stretched through the summer and landed mostly on weekends. We’d even managed to get booked at a few dive bars in Hollywood we were certain wouldn’t bother carding us.
Indeed, it was going to be our summer…and certainly a monumental one at that.

On the last afternoon of classes, I went to the basement of Coronation with Eleanor and carved a message into the wooden door frame of an ancient storage room that was seldom open. I wrote simply this:
“We were here and regretted nothing”
Eleanor, feeling she couldn’t add to this, only carved her initials into the frame.
We didn’t speak about the carved message until the next day when she arrived at my place in her mother’s Miata wearing her prom outfit…a pleated argyle skirt, knee high socks and the crested vest that venerated the private school.
“You look fucking hot.” I told her.
“So do you.” she said, taking note of my jeans, Smiths t-shirt and checkerboard Vans, “It’s a bit informal though no?”
“Listen,” I told her, “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“Go to the prom.” I said.
“But why?” she grinned, “I thought you wanted to.”
“I only wanted to because you wanted to.” I said.
“But why?” she implored.
“Listen, it’s not very elaborate…the truth is—I want to remember it the way it was the last day of classes…the way it really was at Coronation. The reason I loved being there so much. The reason I carved my feelings in that door in the basement. It meant so much to me to be there…it’s something I did naturally well. I don’t want to ruin that memory seeing them all duded up in tuxedoes and elaborate gowns…like mini-versions of their parents.”
Eleanor stood there in my living room staring at me intensely. Indeed, she was a product of Southridge Academy—a private Catholic school in the Palisades. Like me, she’d spent only her last year at Coronation and felt like somewhat of an outsider.
“Do you really want to go?” I asked her, “If you do, we can go…”
“I’m not the girl who’s going to make you do things you don’t want to do.” she said.
“How do you remember Southridge?” I asked her.
“I remember it exactly the way it was the last day of class…I remember it being sort of sad but sort of beautiful all the same.”
“Are you glad you remember it that way?” I asked.
“I guess I am. But I had no choice…Southridge closed down—we didn’t have a prom.” Eleanor said, “But you’re the one who’s so obsessed with Coronation…to me it was a lackluster substitute for a school I loved. If going to prom is going to ruin the Coronation experience for you—then I think you shouldn’t go.”
“What about you?” I asked her, “You can’t be ok with my decision.”
“I honestly don’t care either way really. But, unless you have a better option—we should go.”
“Well…there is somewhere I should be…maybe.” I said.
“Where?” asked Eleanor, tilting her head a bit.
“They’ve got a town hall at Truman High tonight…city council and some people from the education board are going to be there as well the developers that are knocking the building down. Probably it’s hopeless but I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t show up at least…say my piece.” I said.
“Wait a minute…you’re going to forego prom at a school you loved to attend a town hall at a school you hated?” asked Eleanor.
“Pretty much.” I said, realizing it as she said it.
“You’re crazy.” she smiled, stepping up to me and wrapping me in her arms.
With Eleanor looking amazing in and I looking as I normally did…we drove the few blocks to Truman High and found the parking lot full. As the violet sunset sky cast itself across the roofs of cars, we circled for a spot until we finally found one close to the entrance—as if it was meant to be.
“VIP.” smiled Eleanor.
It was a strange feeling strolling up to the east entrance doors again, after so much time had passed…especially with Eleanor at my side. As if she was an apparition I looked at her, wondering for a moment where she’d come from, strolling beside me in her vintage Truman Park High sleeveless sweater.
“Where the hell did you come from.” I asked her…stopping and sliding my hand around her waste…I pulled her close and kissed her deep…to make sure she wasn’t a figment of some mystical dream. She was flesh and bone…eyes and hair…lips and tongue and fingers running through my hair.
“Brentwood.” she smiled smoothing her hand down my cheek.
“Maybe you’re an angel.” I told her.
“As angel as any earth girl can be.” she said.
“Hey asshole!” sounded a voice from behind me.
When I turned I found Henley standing there in his skin tight acid wash jeans and heavy metal half shirt. He was puffing on a cigarette and squinting hard at Eleanor.
“Henley…I thought I smelled sulfur.” I said.
“Where’d you find your girlfriend…the 1950’s?” he asked, taking note of Eleanor’s vintage attire…causing his cohorts to grin.
“Who’s this guy?” asked Eleanor under her breath.
“I guess you can call him half-shirt Henley.” I said, “But I’ve always called him dick-wad.”
“What are you doing here anyway? I thought you hated this place?” he asked me.
“I’m going to remind those assholes that this school should be a heritage building—even if inbreds like yourself are enrolled.” I said, “Why the hell are you here?”
Henley didn’t say anything…he only shrugged and took a drag of his cigarette. It was odd…usually Henley had a comeback…something told me he was nervous about something and I looked at him for a moment before Eleanor tugged my wrist, pulling me softly toward the entrance.
It was strange being back at Truman High, but even more strange being there in the evening…I was used to the sun lighting it a certain way. With the sun almost gone, the hallways appeared dim beneath the florescent fixtures. Indeed, Sarah hadn’t exaggerated…as Eleanor and I moved down the main hallway toward the auditorium, I noticed the bare walls and the stripped down office and the vacant library…the atmosphere seemed bleakly similar to news reels I’d seen of the US Embassy in Saigon during the final days of Vietnam.
Though the wrecking ball was coming and everyone was preparing to jump ship…there were still some who held out hope…at least enough to warrant a town hall meeting. When Eleanor and I rounded the last corner we were greeted by Sarah Mascara, who stood outside the auditorium doors with her younger sister and her father…who I’d never met before. They were part of the solution…a contingency of old guard Truman Park families who still cared…who refused to turn their neighborhood over to the gangs and the thugs and the dealers and the stealers…to the pimps and the hookers and the junkies and the poverty that had seeped in like tar through deep cracks. They’d seen too much go away and weren’t giving up Truman High without a fight.
“You came…I actually can’t believe it.” said Sarah, offering me a half hug.
“I was in the neighborhood.” I grinned.
As we stood there chatting, a squeal of microphone feedback signaled the beginning of the meeting. We all followed Sarah’s father and sister into the darkened auditorium and down the sloping isle toward the front row where a number of seats were reserved for residents that wished to speak.
As we settled into our seats, the stage lights gleamed against the pasty white faces of a formally dressed panel who sat behind a skirted table on the stage. At the end of the table was the moderator’s podium. In the orchestra pit was another podium, set sideways so it faced the side wall, so it faced both the audience and the stage.
The audience murmured in anticipation and after a few minutes principal Nelson emerged from behind the stage curtain, clad in his usual Barney Miller shirt and tie as well as his plaid booty pants. He took his place behind the podium on the stage and tapped the microphone, which rang slightly with surge of feedback after which he gazed out into the audience with an amused looking squint.
“Well, I see our little town hall has drawn a turn out that rivals our theater group’s productions.” he said nervously to a silent room that remained silent, “I, um…I would like to introduce you to our, uh…esteemed panel…” he said, droning off into a monotone string of introductions that were met with more silence from the audience that had come for one thing only.
The panel was made up of school board members, members of a developing company, as well as a woman from city council. When the introductions were over and the darkened auditorium hung in dark silence that lurked like a void threatening to swallow Nelson and the panel members into an endless abyss; a woman approached the orchestra pit podium. A rustling carried through the PA system as she took the mic in hand and moved it downward to match her height. Her voice carried through with an initial nervous crack before latching back onto the question she wished to express.
“With all due respect Principal Nelson, let’s cut to it…my daughter is a student here…I was a student here and so was my father. Three generations…and now you guys say you’re going to tear down this school…and the nearest option is so far away? I’d like to know why it’s so important to knock this school down.”
Her question opened a slit in the silence, through which some applause and murmuring trickled through.
“I’ll take that question.” said one of the school board members. He took a sip of his water and leaned down to speak into the microphone, “It’s true, the school has had quite an illustrious past and many great contributors to our city have graduated from Truman High…Tom Buckley for instance—and Jennifer Chandler…just to name a couple. The choice to tear down this school wasn’t one necessarily made out of urgency. It’s been in the works for quite some time. I’m afraid this school is just too darn old and damaged…there are foundation problems from absorbing a hundred plus years of southern California tremors…the pipes are going…the electrical is in a constant state of disarray. The roof is starting to cave to the point where we might have to start installing support beams in certain areas…it’s not ideal.”
“So why not fix it?” asked the woman, “I mean, don’t you get your share of our tax dollars?”
“I’ve met with engineers as well as our accountants who have looked at it and it’s already quite expensive to maintain the school…to give it an overhaul could reach astronomical numbers and even then, the atrophy won’t stop…it’s too far gone by now.”
“Astronomical…” scoffed the woman with a shake of her head, “…so it would match what we pay in taxes then…it should add up.” she said, turning and walking away back into the darkness as the board member answered.
“It’s probably worth more to this community in the long run to construct housing on this property.”
As the woman walked away into the shadows, another woman approached the podium, this one was taller and instead of moving the microphone to match her height, she leaned down to speak into it.
“…but…but, the community isn’t getting the money from that property sale…that’s going somewhere else. What we’re losing is a school and what we’re gaining is the headache of having our children transfer out of the district.”
“Might I interject?” asked one of the developers, “On the contrary, the plan we have in place isn’t a mere housing project,” he said, rising from his chair. He walked across the stage to the other side of the podium where a black sheet hung over something propped on an easel. He pulled the sheet away and unveiled a massive architectural drawing. The drawing illustrated a sprawling complex of townhouses in the center of which was a park equipped with benches, picnic tables, trees and a jungle gym, “…it’s high quality community living…we’ve opted to turn part of the property into a park, that can be used by the entire neighborhood…which we feel will promote a sense of community…also, we’re in talks with property owners across the street to build a strip mall. This project isn’t just about building affordable housing…it’s about adding to an already eclectic community. Because Truman Park is so close to the downtown core, it’s only natural that businesses, such as boutiques, restaurants, shops and other businesses are eventually going to move in. Rezoning is progress…and can only be good for your neighborhood. Just four blocks from here they are going to start construction on a new grocery store…attached to the grocery store will be a bank, a café and Laundromat. There are many similar projects in the works right now…and they could potentially turn Truman Park into a very important contender in the small business sector.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling!” a man called out from the darkness. Everyone turned to look at the man who remained in his seat, however, it was too dark.
“Please sir, approach the podium.” urged Nelson.
“I don’t need to…” said the man, “…it’s a fraud and that’s all I have to say about it.”
“I can assure you sir,” said the member of the developer team, “none of this is a fraud in the slightest. The downtown core is expanding and with that new foot traffic comes businesses…it’s that simple.”
There was a man standing at the orchestra pit podium suddenly, pulling everyone’s attention from the developer. He was a tall man and wore a cowboy hat and a tight white t-shirt. He held a sleeping baby against his chest and he spoke softly.
“I would say a neighborhood that doesn’t have its own high school isn’t going to be much of a neighborhood for long…if what you say is true and Truman Park is going to be swallowed up by the business sector…I mean, isn’t there anyone up there on the stage who is interested in preserving this old neighborhood? Now, I don’t claim to know much…but I’m a firefighter…and I work out of that old fire house just yonder. Last week I was told by Kenneth Schultz that they’re fixing to tear that old building down as well…to make way for an aquatic center. Now, I’m all for water sports…but why the heck they wanna tear down a heritage building to build an indoor pool when we already got an outdoor pool a few blocks away?”
“I can’t comment on that…my company has limited knowledge of other projects in the area.” said the developer.
Over a rumble of murmuring that spread through the attendees, the woman from city council cleared her throat and spoke, “You might take into consideration that the more businesses that move into Truman Park, the better it’s going to be for the neighborhood…I can’t stress that enough. We’ve seen a rather noticeable drop in crime in other neighborhoods where similar rezoning situations have occurred.”
Just then Eleanor put her hand on my thigh and gave it a slight squeeze…she motioned with her head as the man in the cowboy hat walked away from the podium with the baby that was still sleeping against his chest. Realizing it was my turn, I felt a small freeze of adrenaline wash through my stomach. I’d chopped the head off an effigy of Trent Humbucker in front of a few hundred rabid skaters and had felt only elation…now however, peering out into the darkened auditorium, the question of why I’d decided to attend trickled in. Perhaps it was Nelson or perhaps it was the eyes of my ex-classmates lurking in the judging darkness. Perhaps I felt that they could all go fuck themselves; it wasn’t about them however. I rose from my seat and stepped up to the podium. I’d expected to be greeted by a wash of boos and jeers…however, the auditorium remained silent and the look on Nelson’s face was pricelessly shocked under his collected demeanor.
“Hey Nelson…happy to see me?” I asked and this surprisingly drew a flurry of chuckles from the masses shrouded in darkness; my ex-classmates who perhaps hated Nelson just a little bit more than they hated me.
“This is a community meeting Mr. Holden…everyone is welcome.” he said, wincing out a phony half-second grin.
“Coolidge.” I said, “Well, this isn’t just for the panel…it’s for everyone to hear. I was a student here, in case you’re wondering. Look, I know there’s nothing I can say that will stop the wrecking ball…I realize that this charade is exactly that; a charade…to placate the students of this school and the residents of this community. There’s no chance that wrecking ball isn’t coming for this school. They’ve already got the plans made up and the wrecking crew is waiting.” I said, gesturing to the massive architectural drawing on the stage, “This isn’t a pitch…it’s what they’ve signed a contract to do. But if this is the last assembly this school will ever see, I want to say a few words—because the ghosts of students past are listening. All of those graduation portraits that used to line the hallway…the ones from the 1930’s…those faces were real…they once roamed these halls…when the world was a different place…when there was nothing but the radio and old Buick Roadsters. This school was here. When WWII broke out, this school was here. When Eisenhower was running things in the 50’s, this school was here…the 60’s and the flower children…Truman High was here. She’s been here for the bulk of relevant history…and she’s never complained…she’s only ever kept her doors open…and she’s part of every kid who’s ever gone to school here. If you take this auditorium for instance…this stage…those ancient old dusty-ass curtains.” I chuckled, drawing a supporting laugh from the darkness, “You have to think of the productions that went on over the decades under these same lights…this same exact stage…long before any of us were even born—this stage was hosting plays, speakers, awards ceremonies before the turn of the century. That kind of history leaves something behind…it absorbs into the wood, the bricks…the spirit of those generations is ingrained in the surfaces of this school. It’s what gives this place character…more importantly it’s what gives this place identity. The developers and the boards and the councils can justify tearing down a monument as much as they want—they can show us pretty drawings, blueprints and projected monetary gains—but really, by erasing this school, they’re erasing the very foundation of this neighborhood’s identity. We all know what the rest of the city thinks of Truman Park…and all of us…trust me–I’ve learned the hard way over this last year. But just because we’re hood, doesn’t mean we have no right to call this shit exactly what it is—you’re not fooling any of us.” I said, allowing my words to trail off into the darkness that hung with heavy silence, “And that’s my piece.” I said and backed away from the podium, burning my stare into the panel of awkward pasty faces that looked back at me with drawn, stoic expressions, perhaps expecting more.
I’d planned to turn and walk out of the school having said my piece—having at least done that. I suddenly felt a familiar hand squeezing my arm…it was Eleanor and she touched my shoulder as she approached the podium. I stood there at the edge of the orchestra pit, on the edge of the spotlight, admiring Eleanor’s gait, her argyle skirt…her knee high socks…her long main of brunette hair—and her sleeveless Truman Park High sweater that someone had worn, a long time ago—in a long lost era.
“Hello. I’m Eleanor…Jack’s girlfriend. I went to Southridge Academy…which was also recently closed and torn down. I know I’m not a student here or even an official member of this community…but I wanted to address the panel members—you’re nothing but a bunch of money grubbing, capitalist, chicken-fuckers who have no sense of cultural responsibility—you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for even considering tearing down this heritage building. Just so you know—you don’t have our permission to tear this building down!” her voice echoed through the sound system into a moment of feedback, “You don’t have our blessing…clearly.” she said, and with that, turned and promptly strode toward me. There were no cinematic applause, no clever come-backs…only a heavy silence that lingered under the hiss of the sound system. She interlocked her arm in mine and together we made our way up the isle toward the old wooden doors each centered by a small square frosted glass window.
As we made our way back down the main hallway for the very last time, I heard the muffled echo of another speaker at the podium, posing another reason why the powers that be shouldn’t tear down the old school. The entire town hall seemed like a sham. It seemed like a formality…a pointless speech before an execution in the town square. All that was left to do was cross our hearts and bid it farewell. But at least we tried…at least we did that.
Once outside and walking across the lawn toward my van which sat like a beacon in the darkened parking lot, I felt a great ease wash over me. Eleanor and I walked hand in hand over the dry spotty grass and paused to watch a low flying police helicopter circling a number of blocks away, its spotlight fixed on a stationary point. The nearby freeway roared with racing cars and the palm trees stood tall and on angles, their tops slightly silhouetted by the dim residue of vermillion dusk glowing just above the horizon.
“So, what do you feel like doing?” I asked Eleanor, “We still have time to make it to prom if you want…the Four Seasons is only about a ten minute drive.”
“How about a drive up Mulholland and then hit Canter’s for some tea and a slice of pie? How does that sound?” asked Eleanor.
“Sounds amazing.” I sighed, squeezing her close.
Wrapping her arm around my waist, she pressed her cheek against mine and held up her disposable Polaroid, pointing it toward us. The flash went, leaving an after-burn and I looked up. There were a million points of light above us in the sky and a million possibilities on the sunny road ahead—it was the 90’s and it belonged to us.

© Jarrod Tyler 2022