Inhuman Conditions in Gainesville
I was mulling outside the High Dive. The first thing he said to me was that he’d spent all his rent money on band merch. He was a tiny kid despite him being about my age, pencil thin, and somehow shorter than me. There’s not too many young men I dwarf in height, wearing a denim battle jacket that would be tight around my arms. He could not have weighed more than my bulimic teenage cousin. He approached me with excited eyes when he said those words. I didn’t even know he was there before then. No one wanted to admit they were sliding down into the same predicament as him. The only thing I could confess was that I’d spent a good hundred bucks that previous week. If I’d been in college without parental support, my funds would’ve been toast. He repeated the phrase to a guy that looked like a clone of Lil Peep. The guys pink hair clashed with the warm bulbs lining the venues porch.
“Yeah that rent, such a hassle. It just keeps comin and comin,” said Lil Peep clone in forced eubonics.
“I know. I gotta find more money fast man, I’m running dry,” said the kid. I’ll call him Denim Dwarf from now on.
Despite his prophecies of doom, he was in high spirits. He turned to me with those same ecstatic eyes that scanned me head to toe.
“I like your jacket, it’s really colorful,” he said.
I smiled and complimented him on a few patches of his own. Many were peeling off from loose stitch work. He had a Slayer back patch and a few more thrash bands sewn on in fat white thread.
“Metal Devastation! That’s were I get all my stuff. It’s falling off now,” he smiled.
His fingers tugged against the peeling Slayer insignia. A few of its strings trailed down the denim. Before I knew it we were inside. There couldn’t of been more than two dozen people there, most friends of the bands or the bands themselves managing the merch tables. A few high school kids I’d seen perform at Loosey’s had shown up to mosh. This posse were the types that dressed in normie attire, despite being in a band. They were about the only few people that ran around other than me and Dwarf. The kid was bouncing off the walls the moment he got in there. None of the bands had set up yet, but they were playing metal classics on the speakers. It was enough to get him up in arms and go monkey hour around the room. A few minutes in they started playing Cowboys from Hell and it was all over. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the dark center floor. All I remember is him letting me go, us both running together in a circle, a mosh of two. He charged forward in a spastic shakedown. A few of the high schoolers joined us for an awkward minute before retiring to the tables. I joined them soon after, but Dwarf didn’t call it quits. He ran to the sound table and climbed a platform near it. Arms raised, he continued his shakedown for the next set of tunes. While no one cared to do so, it wasn’t hard to find him.
“Swing of the Axe!”
“Swing of the Axe!”
His frantic words gyrated to his electric knees. Each word becoming lost to the indifferent crowd. It was a shame no one took notice to the side show, but perhaps it was for the best. By now Lil Peep clone was hanging side stage. He swayed along to Dwarfs attempt at metal vocals, a high pitched crackle soon joined by Peep’s low monotone quips that sounded more like raps than songs. A few opening acts left their merch booths and played for the next hour. It was odd pickings. The second group was lead by a man with a faded Vector shirt stretched over his burly abdomen. He was one of those types that seemed a bit too high strung for his age. It wasn’t hard picturing him ranting online about MGTOW mumbo jumbo.
“Now here’s a song about a chick slicing off a mans dick!”
His words got mixed reception from the ground, but their guitarist was good enough to make anyone forget of their shortcomings. The main act was Inhuman Condition, a Florida act that ripped out dirty old school riffs with class. Local class would be the better description. If anyone embodied the addicting formula of Florida death metal, it was this act. Their show is burned in my memory from a tapestry I bought from them that night. It was one of those album covers that told a story I could only attempt to understand, a leering man creeping up a circular staircase covered in corpses. A mirror revealed his zombifed reflection brandishing a bloody knife. His feet looked less human and more weasel, his eyes sporting a glare that brought instant unease. I’ve hung it up in about every apartment I’ve crashed in.
I rejoined Dwarf and the metal teens awashed in orange light. It was one of the few pits I could tear around with ease, if it could be called one at all. Our small posse were the post pandemic’s greening buds. Only a few younguns and unhithered boomers dared to share air within a six foot radius in early 2021. That would soon change a few months later when the Orpheum became packed to fire hazard stage in Tampa. We were sharing our dirty hands and spit that night whether anyone outside the ordeal cared or not. The stage was ours and that’s all that mattered. Finding a front stage spot to lean and headbang wasn’t hard. I’ve compared this experience to what a dog might feel when sticking their head out the window of a moving car. It’s a unique catharsis, one people try to correct me on in words I cannot hear. Dwarf stayed at the stage edge until the end of the show. In all my times at concerts I’d never seen someone shake their behind like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. That the only accurate comparison I could make of the scene. A guy shaking his head like a true corpsegrinder while shaking his ass like something out of a cartoon. The band concluded with a cover from Death’s Leprosy, he was back on the floor again, wheeling around like a skinny wired banshee. It was the only moment he became lost in the crowd, the energy within the walls finally making its peak. Lil Peep clone shoved us hard towards the stage as we regained our balance and spun back to him. It was a battle of two against one until the lights came on.
Dwarf went as quickly as he came into the humid night. That’s how outings at the High Dive went, people dissolving into the tired cracked sidewalks, their minds lumber back into silent indifference as they trod past the murals and half filled bars. Sometimes I wish I shared more words with the fella. A sprite like presence is something not often seen in these crowds. The last I remember of him he was walking away in the same direction he came to me, his black goth high boots making trivial strides on the roached pavement. I don’t think I’ll ever see that kid again. It’s not the place that brings in too much of the same people each night. I can only hope he’s wandering scatterbrained and happy to his next adventure, minus the looming terror of eviction. I miss nights like these, those rare times curious characters all coalesque under one roof. It’s all a game of chance by the end of the day, an uncommon roll you either love or hate, but never forget. I soon too became quiet footsteps becoming ever faint on a humid night, going down the road of “I don’t know, who cares.”
I’d like to think I’m immune to shame. It only goes so far like many things. There’s a line drawn eventually. That line might be shitting my pants for me. Hasn’t happened yet. But then there’s those countless situations nobody considers. Those gray area moments. There’s nothing worse than struggling to see something for what it is. You can tell it to your friends later, but it’s your version of the story, a tainted tale of woe to pull their heartstrings. I’ve never liked those who approach my introversions with confusion and pity. It’s one of those things that comes out between the lines. I wish I liked travelers more, but they’re all alike in someway; rampant over sharers. There’s no other experience like hearing about a camp counselor hook up from a person you’ve known for two days. For two months I’d live around these sleepover lumberjacks, a year later I’d being living in a kayak tour guide frat house. The names are explanatory, not literal, but they fit nonetheless. Think small town gossip, that’s the travelers code. Everything you say floats somewhere and you’d better be careful about it. I don’t know where all the fun jerks went, they’re becoming less common by the year. A lack of their company can wear you out. I miss the old bonding rituals, making slow friends by the year, hell I’ll chill with degenerates, just give me some with shared values, I’m game. Every one talks so scatter brained now. Perhaps my mind is getting slower as I age. I turned twenty four last week and that’s saying something. Maybe I’ll have the fate of my old granddad, just a guy spitting out tales from fifty years ago that no one else but him cares to remember. Nowadays people look at me like spoiled soft serve, a scrooge mc duck with goody two shoes. I’ve come to terms that I’m a social prude, but I’m no puritan. It’s only a matter of time that others label me as such. I wish people were less like chess, more like cards against humanity. I need bluntness, no implied nonsense, make me cry if you can, and be creative about it. I won’t like it, but it’ll help me get somewhere.
College Night Musings
Sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Do I even deserve people? Do people deserve me? Even since I was young, I always saw my self as the side character of this never ending movie. I just appear sometimes, wandering in and out of conversations I have minimal understanding of. I’m not afraid to crack a joke however if the time is right. I can get a good laugh out of people every once in a while. The rest of the time I’m just a hermit. At the end of the day, I’m a terrible listener that likes moments of attention, not useful to anyone, but no one objects to having me around.
The only time I went clubbing was with a room mate and her friend in Gainesville. I wasn’t drunk so the whole trip wasn’t much fun. Everything is so disjointed in clubs. So much energy, but nothing its directed to. That’s what always bothered me about those crowds, everywhere is close bodies without a collective beat. It’s no wonder my friends got an existential aftertaste from it all.
We walked back home through the park afterwards. All that drink didn’t stop them from looking at the bike monuments. They’re several ugly concrete blocks pressed with bike parts from an accident. There’s one on campus and the rest near the playground. The dark didn’t help alleviate their dreariness, neither did the stagnant park air, humid and silent. I’ve had a few excursions on busy roads. The diver’s here are about as trustworthy as well trained chimps in racer carts. I wouldn’t put it past one to pile drive into a dozen or more cyclists on the side lane, killing a few and fatally injuring everyone else. No one knows which incased tire spokes are of the death bikes. I can’t imagine too many in these parts care for that sort of thing, not beyond a few passing remarks or childish gawkery. That’s how we were that night, getting our prescribed dose of A’s nihilism.
“And to think you could just end up here one day. Poof! I guess we all get there eventually. We’re all passing thoughts soon enough,” she’d ramble.
These moments would end with us walking back home. The conversation would devolve into racial politics with mutual agreement, then to musings of past nights, towed cars, and drunken 3am rants that were more song than word. Conversations tend to have life cycles for talkers. This was A’s system. One that would sink into the walls of our mold chewed apartment. I endured these turbulent consciousness streams about twice a month, none the same, all with a pang of mortified curiosity and pity between us. A could talk with a chirpiness no matter her awful mood. There’s few times I can think it turned into something else. I was bound to notice when it did. Moments like that came out in loud shrill bursts. They came through the walls, pointed at no one but the dying succulents. I’ve never had the internal projection to scream in public, not even for joy.
Last winter I considered teaching myself to metal scream. I didn’t pursue it any further than a five minute Youtube tutorial. I’d have to smoke for a while to get it down. That’s what all the local vocalists do. It’s pure unfiltered camels in the south. You never see a serious metal head without one, at least in Florida. Despite my desire to learn, the likelihood of destroying my voice through practice and questionable advice is high. I might not even sound that good by the end of it. I’ve never been a fan of most female metal vocalists. The thought of a Wisconsinite woman putting on a Burzum impression brings shudders down my spine. I still represent my choosen kind at the whole foods store nonetheless. I walk around UF campus and mainstreet in a sweaty battle vest I’ll never wash. I don it for three types of occasions: good vibes, nightlife, and shows. It’s about twelve dollars for a local gig, perhaps about forty for the bigger acts in Tampa.
I look back on these times with hesitant nostalgia, undulating memories of pain, disappointment, and triumph; nam flashbacks of idle vans on the freeway, humid nights lurching through parking lots of black mud quicksand, wet air blowing through open car windows as I tempt ninety on the interstate, stories of painstaking journeys with questionable rewards. Some days the idea of a local metal show is several baked bands in a room a six people. All of them muddling between acts in candid conversation to stave off exhaustion. It’s an endurance test of boredom and wondering how long you can push off the fact your car might get robbed by nightfall. I learned the hard way that nothing is guaranteed with local acts. That’s the fun and pain of it.
The things I do to get in the zone, even a few seconds in the zone. It’s the hardest and easiest state of mind to achieve. That energy more so chooses you than you choose it. I came across it the first time when Power Trip was still an active band. Metal is like no other form of listening experience. It’s a wave you either catch or don’t. When you catch that wave, it’s a mindset comparable to a deep meditational state, this eerie but powerful moment of lightness, a dancing monk in spikes, arms swinging to a crowd of no one, and the crowd answering back. There’s more dimensions to thrashing than most take credit for. Sometimes the best results come from a fire being lit under my ass. I’m not one to fantasize disemboweling though my tunes, I can transfer my pain in some ways however, see it as mere electrical vibrations, ones with a tantalizing rhythm. Once I hear it, I can not unhear it. For as far as anyone knows I’m not myself in these moments. I’m part of something powerful and indescribable, a transcendence of any cliche it may have sprouted from. It’s futile to ponder the state for long, perhaps equally futile to find it again,
I’m not sure what trying means. It’s a state so easy to remember and forget at the same time. There’s some use doing, but less use trying. It’s a horrid pendulum of both forces, one side there and back again, neither bringing out quality insight. Coherent thoughts come out in small spurts. It’s back to nebulousness then after that, a game of going somewhere and only being semi correct on the final destination. You don’t touch the same water twice, I suppose thoughts are like that. I suppose dreams are like that as well. The bigger question is, what’s the water in the first place, is it atoms, molecules, sounds, feelings, tastes? It’s the bane of a “deep” sixteen year old's existence, and one that still puzzles me to this day. I can never choose a creative endeavor without feeling its the right time to do so. It changes by years, months, minutes. I’ll be out of it all soon. All I can do is vibe and hope for the best.
Sometimes I walk up the giant hill in my yard and wonder, what now? It’s the only place that isn’t level ground. Wyoming is pancake flat, except for the smooth swells that come up out of nowhere. Once on it, my tired shoes crunch over crumbling rocks and bits of quartz. It’s not really a hill, more like a cartoonist rendition of one, circular, symmetrical, a perfect smoothness to it, sort of like a large zit. I don’t go up there much in winter. There’s nothing around me but white. Nothing of visual interest near me, but that hill. That’s how my mind works most of the time. I can only focus on one thing, and I can’t make connections to others. For as far as my immediate reality is concerned, any distant bluff doesn’t exist.
Two weeks ago I was walking around the local store. While browsing the liquor section, I noticed someone I hadn’t seen before. It was a younger man, my best guess was mid twenties. I say best guess in that his demeanor seemed to age him five years more. The guy was a half head shorter than me, had brown hair that screamed a few good days of bead head. He wore faded tennis shoes, a Pokemon shirt, orange basketball shorts, and a backpack with cartoon pony figurines attached to the zippers. It didn’t take a genius to realize he was from out of town. The outside temperature was below seven. I had no idea how he’d survived the morning without a coat or pants.
His chubby fingers were grabbing a six pack of Iron Maiden branded beer. I’m old enough to know what that is. I’m also old enough realize this man was fascinated with it in the most peculiar way. His cracked lips sputtered out the first few lines I could hear.
“Whoa, look at that, British beer.”
He was talking to himself, not me. From what I could gather, he’d been doing it for a while. A phone with a pulverized screen shook in his caffeine ridden hand. He held it on video over the cans. His free fingers turned one to show its label.
“I’ve never had British beer before. I think they sold these at the Piggly Wiggly in Chicago, but I never got one. There selling them here though.”
One by one. He took the cans out of their cardboard box and lined them up on the shelf.
“Run to the Hills, the trooper....”
The listing came out in a long stuttering monotone drawl. For a second I suspected he was having trouble reading the words on each can. He pointed his phone at each label before moving to the next. His entire figure exuded a tired temper as he went on his knees to get the right angle. This part of him remained so for the entire time I encountered him, but it didn’t become apparent until now.
“Why do my stupid legs have to be so tired all the time? I’ve been breaking my back over Doordash, that’s why. This stupid loser gave me two stars last week because I couldn’t find his stupid driveway which looked like a hiking trail. I do not deserve that shit. We’re in the pandemic, I’m an essential worker. Do you hear that? An essential worker. People need my services in this time of need. How ungrateful do you have to be to shit on an essential worker? Very shitty!”
He took the basket at his feet and knocked each can into it. The thin aluminum clanked against the plastic bottom.
“Well you aren’t getting five Chickfila meals from me today asshole! Not from me! Your getting nothin! I bet you’ll miss me to. It’s not like anyone else can find your stupid driveway. It’s not like anyone else knows how to go speeding down neighborhood streets without crashing into someone. What I do for you people in this damn job. I’m an essential worker. If people like you don’t know how to treat essential workers, maybe I’ll just leave huh!”
Again, he wasn’t speaking to me, only some nebulous adversary. I got my usual pack of buds and left. The guy was still mulling around in his area by the time I got to checkout. It didn’t take peak observational skills to find his car in the parking lot. In the third to last row sat an unfamiliar gray mini van with a missing front bumper. The thing had to be over ten years old and had several dozen pony bobble heads glued to the dash. Even from a distance, it was obvious the back seats were buried in yellowed Styrofoam containers. Several yards behind me, the man exited the building. He took his bag full of beer, trudged to his car, and flung them in the passenger seat.
“No one’s getting on my ass today. No sir. I got British beer.”
When he’d entered the car and closed its doors, I could still hear him cussing as he fiddled with the ignition. I’d never heard a voice I’d describe as anal until that moment. The minivan started with a cough and loud techno music blared from its tinny speakers. It pulled out and made a fast tight turn onto the road. I could still hear the Skrillex beat a block down before it faded away.
I’m getting too tired to climb the hill these days. When I do get to it, my thoughts are already swirling by the time I get to its base.
That horrid question with infinite answers, many of which are only answers in my fantasy. I ponder on them for hours in that high cold. I’m a lonely man. That doesn’t mean I’m not curious, a little too curious for my own good. It’s not good for me anymore, I’m aware of that, but I wish I had some closure to it all, an assuredness of what the future held beyond my passing. This will never come unless I believe it so, but belief is nonsense, so are those far bluffs.
Just a Dream 5/29/1984
I miss the old factory buildings in the inner cities. Most are still there, but they aren’t the same. They’re lifeless now. I mean lifeless in strange terms. They’ve always been that way in some sense, I just find the prior more poetic. I used to sleep in old slop houses if the the risk of getting booted out was minimal. It may seem like a beggars option, and it was. Touring in a bus with three other people is hell enough. Tommy James of the Shondells called it “a sewer on wheels”. That’s exactly what it is. When one has smelled every foul orfice in a space the size of a large bunk bed for months, it can drive anyone crazy. In retrospect, an abandoned bakery or brick mill isn’t that bad.
Even the smallest of establishments have eons more room than van. There’s more people as a plus, new people, bastards you haven’t shared a toothbrush with. It’s a breath of fresh air to not hear stories that have been told to you over a dozen times. One word: rice with shit. Getting it is a rare delicacy in America. The perks of being a musician can pay off here nonetheless. No one had to know who I was, I just had to live that life. The thought of us lights a fire in anyone, even those with less than ourselves. It’s like we have a lottery ticket in our hands, a possible one at least. People just want to know you, it’s that simple. They don’t want you to succeed, they don’t want you to fail either, they just want to hear the hells you’ve withstood making it, trying to make it, or not making it.
Going in one of these places felt like going back two decades in time, a dingy hope of punks, students, outlaws, and homeless all uniting in one humble unit. It was a sanctuary of sorts, even for a man of capitalistic excess as myself. People were living it rough, but they didn’t make it about themselves. These people gave the feel of meeting long lost second cousins, good ones at that. They weren’t there to strip you dry. That was for the streets. This was for the “movement”. I mean it in vague terms as it is more of a lifestyle than any tangible political belief.
There was plenty of cocaine and weed of course. They’d give you anything else under the sun if you just asked. I never understood how these places didn’t devolve into drug dens. Perhaps there was an unspoken code of buy first use later. That would explain why I didn’t see much more than a few punk heads smoking a joint. It also wasn’t uncommon to see a passerby try to snort a remaining coat of snow off of the floor or someones shoe.
I’ll never revisit my old haunts. I remember them when they were good. I have no desire to see a shell of the good times. The smell of cold stone, cigarette walls, and thick dust will always bring a bittersweet nostalgia in me. The only experience equivalent to it was my outdoor escapades as a boy, the building of flimsy lean toos that got destroyed by rival neighboring kids, the secret spaces under cars to find dirty magazines, the backyard camping in puny pup tents, the urban legends I’d hear about the local woods. Squatting was a “mature” variation of all those things.
We were all kids at the end of the day. We had places to go, scene friends to meet, shows to attend, and tours to run. Most importantly, we had tangible goals, things to look forward to. There was always an excited buzzing. Any person with a creative side would post flyers or poetry on the walls. The papers would peel off in the moist air over the beds and roached furniture. It gave a squatters cave their classic grunge look. For the fortunate doomsday photographer, there was no need to look further. The perfect home for the last of humanity was right before their disbelieving eyes. We were proud prowlers of the dungeons. Enter if you dare.
The time I almost got caught in one is a time I’ll never forget. That’s what this is really all about, my story. I had to accentuate the fondness of couch crashing before I began. In reality I was a half mile away. I’d ran one of my first marathons in downtown Jacksonville. I’ve never been much of a runner, but perhaps that was to my benefit. I went through the whole stretch with two guys about half my height. We called them dwarves then, midgets now. I don’t think either term is any less questionable. Randall and Briggs were their names. Their titles matched the two perfectly. Randall was skinny with blond hair and shoes that looked beyond their sell by date. Briggs was the chubby type. He wore a Wichita State jersey and a baseball cap where ever he went.
Our formation looked like the works of a mild prank, me in the middle, the short ones at my sides. We were like this for the whole stretch, a perfect line. Curious eyes followed us where ever a crowd gathered at the curbs to watch. It’s also important to add that I was in stage clothes. Picture a perverse combination of Bowie's striped suit, hair metal spandex, and pink feathered anklets. That’s what I was wearing. By anyone’s guess, the companions were my entourage. To what place of importance, no one had a clue, not even Randall and Briggs, no one but me.
Of all states, Florida’s architectural landscape is the most disjointed. When walking down the street of any city there’s luxury apartments and old shops that look like crack houses on the other side of the street. Jacksonville’s like that in some ways. The main parts of it are alight until you get to certain pockets. Even in the day time, these areas feel like your entering a failed mecca within a third world country. Within the first lengths we were passing massive yachts in the harbor, crumbling suburban slums in the next. That’s where I intended to go when this was all over. My two friends agreed.
“I wonder what kind of women hang out in these parts,” said Randall as our shoes crunched against the hot pavement.
“Don’t get your hopes up. No one knows I’m coming,” I replied.
“Aww man, don’t bum me out like that, we’re only half way done with this thing.”
“Picture white bearded college guys smoking a joint, they probably think their super cool hanging out in the inner city.”
“Your killing me here! I’d take a bald punk chick over that.”
“Be prepared to talk heavily misguided, but well intentioned racial political theories.”
“Boooo!” panted Randall.
I’m glad we were running in conversational pace, the two might have not made it after this sobering realization. Maybe if the others had known my whereabouts, there’d be more than a few cops hanging in the area. I say this to myself to feel better about the incident. Sometimes I think we cast a curse on that hideaway. We were dressed as we would’ve been at any good backstage party. Anyone who didn’t just see it as a funny gag, got the joke. Randall and Briggs had been my wingmen from the beginning. A picture of them both beside me wearing our respective outfits became a sort of early meme. We were standing backstage after a festival in Cincinnati.
Our manager and aspiring photographer took the photo with a polaroid. It somehow ended up alongside a featured article in Rip magazine: The boyz are back in town. That was the title. Picture and all took up two whole pages. 80s metal mags liked to annunciate Z in everything, even if it made little to no sense. The scoop was that I'd started another tour after a third album release and a two year hiatus. My two buddies had been around before that. It just took one moment for them to come into the limelight. The funny thing about it all is that they usually wore matching lime green jumpsuits to gigs. I would've found that picture funnier, but the latter stuck. That night their clothes would be soaked in booze, mustard, whipped cream, and silly string on all sides. Perhaps that's what those cops pictured when they approached the hangout.
When we came near it on the course, we'd reached a lull within the running crowd. The wheelchairs were far ahead of us and those going slower were a half mile behind. The forces that be wanted us and only us to see the raid as we passed by. Several cop cars had parked outside a half cylindrical brick building. I'd heard the place was used for ammunition during World War 2. There was a set of sleeping quarters and a homemade stage at the back. Kids would use it to recite their political slam poetry or novel on busy nights. In this moment none of us were sure if we should continue running past the cars. There was no one else with us to signify we were runners and not stoners a little too late to the party. We decided to slow our pace and wait for the cops to get inside.
It didn't take them long to make a move. At least ten of them busted though the doors five hundred feet in front of us. Everything that happened after is all here say. A few fans that were there explained to me later that the authorities caught wind of weed dealings. Even in its squatter state, the inside was torn to pieces after the search was finished. In my mind I could picture several dozen yuppies reaching in desperation behind tank ammunition shells, below bunk beds, and between tetanus inducing piles of steel pipes. I doubt the cops found all the weed that day. Half of it made out the back door with the kids. The other quarter is wedged in the infinite heaps of scrap metal. Anyone in Florida who wants free weed should give this place a visit, but its been twenty years now. I'm not sure if pot gets better with age.
Nine people were brought out by the time us three passed the scene. I could see the rest of them making a mad dash out the factories other end. The cops didn't notice us flying by. They were too busy making heads and tales of the escapees. I had to turn my gaze away from it, but it didn't matter. My good vibes were gone. I was in for ten more miles of physical anguish with nothing to look forward to after. I couldn't imagine how hard it was for my shorter counterparts. Somehow we all finished the whole thing without stopping. That was a hard deed to live by in those sobering moments. I wanted to sneak behind the building and lead the runners toward another hideout in the nearby swamp. The authorities around there had a stigma against alligators. I can confirm the caimans don't mind a few people moping around from personal experience.
Before we knew it, it was over; the marathon, the 80's, the 90's, the last tour with my band, the end of a glorious era so bittersweet. The Florida hideout is long abandoned. People don't gather like they used to, not even the youth. Sometimes I wonder if there's still people out there that want to be like me. If they do, there's no sign of commitment. That's how things go I guess, trends of the ideal front man. They fade away, come back, and fade away again. I miss the old times, as many do, that fun chaos, that feeling you could mess up as much as you wanted and still come out okay. Everyone is so afraid now. But perhaps at the end of the day we are all confused souls trying to outrun cops, a pound bag of pot in hand.
Little does the general public know, there's a little more leniency to paperwork than one might think. I'm talking about music industry papers, the ones that say who owns what, what money goes to whom, and when it ends. It can mean a variety of things; cash flow, tours, marriages, ground rules for heroin use on the bus, all of that. Like all productive citizens of American society, these musicians tend to keep their records with whomever owns them. It's a simple and straight forward system, but you always have a paranoid few to complicate things.
In truth, the record labels are like banks, there's a lot of people out there that would rather stuff their mattresses or walls with bills, for musicians its ownership papers, even more so their masters. This isn't so much of a problem today as we have reliable computers, which I will get to later. Unlike those redneck hoodlums stuffing crumpled money stacks into their drywall, the paranoid rich musician has a more classy approach, a spacious closet or two for a strongbox or locked filing cabinet. If he or she has some extra capital to spend, they may add a fireproof wall or two, a CIA esque keypad for the final touch.
For outsiders this may seem a reasonable approach. In many ways it is, but in many others it isn't. Context is important in these matters, so is that fateful September the 5th 2002, the bloody Sunday for the aging hair metal act. I'm not talking about a warehouse fire that destroyed hundreds of master recordings, this is a different tale of woe, but similar in many ways.
I'll never forget those words. I was watching house hunters when these tough guy bastards decided it was better to give me a false sense of security. The doorbell rang and I answered the door.
"Hey ya there Bush!"
I was down on the floor in an instant, an instant upper cut to the face, no challenge for a fight, nothing. I could've gotten through a few of them if I thought twice about it. My next door neighbor never lost her cat in the evenings, there was little to no chance it was her. I was paying for my judgement lapse with a broken nose pressed to the tile, one guy holding my frail hair, another my neck, both pulling me outside and smashing my face down on the front step.
No one said anything to me until I was chained up to a light post by my pool. By the time I opened my eyes again, several guys had made their way into my house. I could hear those gremlins clunking their boots up the stairs to the master bedroom, the master master bedroom. It would only be a matter of time that they reached the second bedroom. I didn't see the scene unfold, but I can imagine it well enough in my head, several guys that look like they're straight out of Afghanistan busting in there, looking around, and seeing this random kid cowering in his crib.
Stevie V came out second. They spared him a beating. He yelled and complained about the whole thing anyways. He was thrown to the ground and chained behind me on the pole. They at least had the decency to not give his kid the restraints. This didn't make it better for Stevie though. The guys watched over him in the living room until the whole thing was over. I thought my friend was going to have a heart attack.
They could've been punting him across the kitchen like a small dog for all he knew, but that was unlikely. In reality, his anxious fatherly instincts were creating a scene from a grimdark comedy. Three year old Greg was eating a half emptied bowl of cheetos on the island. He watched the last half of a house renovation in New Jersey. The backdoors of the new place were rebuilt using Romanian hardwood. "A feature to extinguish the auburn tones of the fairy garden". I heard all of it fizzle out from the open windows.
The man who'd given the misleading greeting came up to me. His name was Larry del Davis. What he really is is a dollar store Barry Manilow, and that's saying something. To call him that might even be a disrespect to Barry Manilow now when I think about it. Larry was to the soft rock scene as James Corden is to Hollywood. He was everywhere, despite no one wanting him. Larry sucked up to every business head in music. I could argue he was one himself at this point. Rumor has it he's known for starting law suits with local musicians in Florida. The Crime? Having a chord too similar to something else bringing in more money. A forgettable snitch: that's all you need to know about him.
I used to wipe my ass on a banner with his name on it at my concerts. The guy just seemed too boring and docile to do anything about it, but I was dead wrong. They carted out every filing cabinet I had to the poolside. I knew they had no reason to wreak most of it, but they'd do it anyways. What got them riled up had little to do with me. I'd just done a favor for a friend and forgot about it. He was the front man for a popular hair band called Lionheart. They were ahead of their time in late nineties, the firsts to sign a contract they they'd retire from touring by year 2000. It was a popular, but futile feat to be repeated by acts such as the legendary Motley Crue.
Futile is a dismal term to describe a legal contract, but it's the one that fits. A musician signing a paper that they'll never tour again is like a meth head signing a paper to renounce his addiction. In the long run, it doesn't mean much of anything. A band as big as the Crue doesn't fade from the limelight in a graceful manner, they crawl along well past their sell by date. To call it a crawl is an understatement. Coming out of retirement is a curse wrought upon anyone who fails to die young, something Larry cast on all of us.
The infamous Lionheart contract had its original stored at their label. A secretary plucked it out five months later and gave it a go through the shredder. While this was a conundrum, Lionheart was thinking ahead. They wanted to make a statement with this thing. Both the drummer and front man had suffered decades of severe alcoholism on the road and wanted a real official end to it all. A copy was sent out to every guitarist, producer, drummer, aunt, second cousin, dog, and label exec that helped them through rehab. There were a dozen of them in total, one at my place.
As could be predicted, Lionheart's message didn't go over well with many fans and higher ups. A classic eighties act didn't simply disappear from the face of the earth, neither did their demand. I’ve always believed the whole set up was about intimidation. It didn't matter if a lost copy still existed somewhere.
I don't remember the paper in question being burned, but I'm sure its ashes joined the others as they blew into my pool. Everyone had invited themselves to the midday cookout. Piles of documents melted into the outdoor fire pit. It soon became more of a raging blaze. There was enough smoke to set off the alarm in the house and burn a hole through the screen surrounding my porch. I better remember Larry's excited lips flapping about. The guys he brought did all the work, but he had his fun. He'd found a little league bat in the front closet and went to town with it.
"You hear that Bush? We're all screwed! Every last one of us!"
The small stick of wood came pounding down on a broken filing cabinet. It put a good dent in its side. It would've been more impressive if he opened the thing, but the job was done already. Each lock was drilled through and torn from its frame. I'd never seen him smile as much as he did until he said those words. Those feeble arms shaking as he swung. The bat kept swinging hard against the metal, it twanged long and shrill. By the fourth blow it snapped along the middle grain. It's new twin rattled onto the pool deck. Larry held the other half. He stabbed it in the air a few times before chucking it into the water.
After the first shredder was fired, it was all over. At least six other raids occurred that day. Three were easy break ins as most celebrities have several houses they don't live in. The other half didn't go down without a fight. At 12:31 pm in Houston Texas, the lead singer of Lionheart was having a verbal dispute with his wife. It had something to do with him using the wrong laundry detergent from what I was told. What's important is that they ignored the knocks on the door for a while. When the couple realized these people weren't going to leave, it all escalated. The wife, who'd just snorted five lines of coke, scaled three floors, dumping industrial bleach on the front entrance. Further confusion arose when the men wouldn't move. Soon the scene became a game of what headless chicken could run in the right direction. The drugged out couple jumped right on them the moment they got through the door. A guy got bit five times in the leg before he got to the papers. In the end, the deed was done, despite burning eyes and crazy dead weight being thrown and hog tied in the living room. The front man had no clue what they'd taken until a week later, assuming the event to be a swatting.
Two hours later, another posse entered the residence of Lionhearts drummer. The door was wide open. He wasn't the type to think much of those things. It's important to consider that he lived in Hawaii. The theives had gotten to his papers by the time he'd sat up in bed. Years of hearing damage gave him the illusion the curious noises were coming from outside. The vision of a large tree monitor came to mind. He locked all the doors from a remote on his nightstand to keep the bastard out. Six men were locked inside the house with no working keys. They called the island bonfire off and burnt the second to last contract with a lighter. The drummer was dead meat when they discovered him upstairs. They woke him up from his continued nap and made him let them go.
The last victim was a friend of mine. He was the only one who knew what was going down before it happened. When the dreaded knock came to the door, he was in the back of my studio. With two hands he ripped out an old macintosh computer and made a beeline for the back door. He made it to the ravine before the others started after him. The plan was to crawl into the woods and hide it in a tree. This scheme ended when his foot snagged on a rock. His entire body and computer went in a painful tumble down the ridge. By the time anyone caught up with him, he'd bounced over several tree stumps before landing in the stream bed. What was left of the macintosh lay strewn about several feet away. The battle was over, and some label exec in New York was having a good day.
By 2006, the boys were back on the road again. The tragedy of all this is that they'd still be doing it without the raids. I think people just want to kick someone else into the dirt. The charade lasted at my place for five hours before anyone left. My hands were numb by the time they uncuffed me. By the early evening, Travel Channel had played through a full season of Ghost Adventures. I begged the kid to change it to something else, but I have no skill in the area of telepathy. My backyard devolved into a charred warzone in the matter of an afternoon.
I have little memory of the exchange that caused all of this. It was a mere unremembered favor for a few musicians I'd toured with a decade ago. I don't even know their real names, most of their fans don't either. Larry sat beside me as the others let us go. He lit a cigarette and gave another to me, which I took. My fingers couldn't feel the thing as he passed a lighter under it.
"Jeeze, you really took that like a champ didn't you?" he chirped.
"If you don't get off my property, I'm gonna break your nose into splinters."
"No need for hard feelings. I'm doing what I'm paid to do, just like you. I can't believe I got to do this, standing right in front of you, wow, todays been such a rush."
Larry got up and observed the light pole I'd been tied to seconds earlier.
"Is that stained glass?" he asked.
"I've been trying to find something like that. They're beautiful aren't they? I saw one selling for a thousand at an auction last Thursday, it was in the design of Starry Night and supposedly hung in an office at the empire state building at one point."
I blew a few drags before pressing the but onto the pavement.
"I'm going in for a beer," I muttered.
"Holy shit, is that Stevie V? You cut your hair. I've been standing here forever and didn't even recognize you."
"Where's my son?!" gasped Stevie.
With that I left and never spoke to the man again. Sometimes I still think about him when the pool is illuminated at night. I changed the lamp shade long ago, but its color against the while tiles remains similar. I wonder what an innocent menace like him is doing nowadays. After that thought, I remember he once implied to have AIDs in order to collect sympathy donations from other rich rock bands and conclude he's not worth my headspace. I shut off the lights for the night and move on.
These years just get more tiring. People like to say it got bad after the eighties, but it was always like that. Everyone goes down the shitter eventually, no matter how many times they say they like you. To make things worse, I can't help but have a beer with these fiends. No matter how many times they trash my house, I'm their breed. It's my passion to play games with them until I lose, not like there's anything much better to do these days.
Hard Drive Bomb
This was the age before computers, functional ones at least. Everything was put to tape, all one hundred twenty two tracks worth. A hard drive containing the songs malfunctioned last November. Malfunctioned is a gentle term in this case. The cheap plastic innards of a hard drive can malfunction, but they can't get confused the same way a computer does. It's an isolated object from the interface, in need of physical damage to stop functioning. This damage came in a grey molasses smoke wafting out from its end when plugged into the main monitor, an unintentional electrical burn incense stick.
One heck of a gig
His name was Harold Reeves. He was the competing head of my head of the whole operation. Like my boss Gary, he worked at a label. Strangely enough he was an executive and not the owner. They had a more complex system down there. No one person took the reins like where I'd worked. Perhaps that was their problem. Anyone with even a crumb of involvement got some cut of the whole thing. At least that's what I was told.
The guy was about sixty and looked like a bloated aunt. Even his usual cowboy attire couldn't hide his doghey face and fading red hair. Every morning he'd come in wearing a tanned buckskin jacket, snakeskin pants, a gun holster belt, and a ten gallon hat. It was the only thing that looked a tad good on him if I'm being honest, but alas it wouldn't last the day. That whole building had shit air conditioning. At 4:34 pm he'd take most of it off and saunter from his office for a late pot of coffee.
Harold was resourceful, but that didn't make him not a weird prick. I only had to visit the place a few times to see the subtle leers people gave him. During a sales meeting I'd crashed, he talked a good ten minutes about sheep herding in a bloated attempt to tie it back to earnings figures in metaphor.
The man had side gigs in the narcotics trade, dog fighting, and even child traffiking, but what got people really worked up was that fact that he discontinued their Christmas bonuses. I still consider my work with him as my most satisfying "prank". Not a single person called the cops. That's how it was around there. If something like that happened to you in broad daylight, you had it coming, and you deserved it, no questions asked.
I think you've never felt the true fruits of fame until your teenaged fans are washing your hair and giving you a quality pedicure like an emperor. Some times they even brush my teeth for me without being asked. I find much of this excess pandering annoying and unnecessary, but I can't ignore its crucial utility.
Every five hours post concert, a few dozen pickpockets and mild muggings occur within a two mile radius of the show grounds. Most of these incidents go unnoticed until the departing concert goer finds a small tear in their backpack, or an empty space in their jeans. By then they're on the night train, on a permanent away journey from their cash, credit cards, and drivers license.
A reward of pot is enough to get them on board. Often its nothing at all. It's the same setup in every city, the nearby blocks the hunting grounds, my hotel room home base. On a typical night I collect around three thousand dollars. On a great night around five thousand. The key is to take advantage of VIP crowd. Anyone with minimal robbery skills is fair game. There's no shortage of these types in groupie crowds. They've got a good taste for mischief. Something the public at large doesn't give them enough credit for.
As etiquette, I give them some more pointers before handing them a pocket knife and sending them on their way. I make sure my road crew plays loud music from the speakers when the show is over. As a plus, there's mediocre lighting and barricades that encourage crowd pile ups, an easy environment for wallet snatchings. Most of my recruits go for the gullet in the front. More seasoned veterans take assignments further into town.
ATM machines and noisy arcades are ideal areas to score. Anyone exiting a bus is a win too. In that case its strength in numbers. The groupies must strike like starving children in a third world country, ambush anyone with their shoes fresh to the pavement, shredding hard through their jackets, pants, and purses until nothing is left, save for those lucky passengers with pockets in their baseball caps.
The only time things get out of hand is when the rush of beginners success gives them an inflated sense of ego. I had an incident a year back when a girl staked a knife through a man's achilleas tendon. The only way I learned about it was through word of mouth. I'm glad I did. I bailed her out of jail the morning after. She hadn't told a thing about me to the cops. That's the rules. I've kept her around since. Her name is Darla. She's the only girl I don't think is lying when she claims to have killed a guy.
I've gotten better at spotting Darla types. I keep my eyes peeled in poorer cities. You find more hardened folks in those parts. I'll talk to any girl that seems a little too crazy for her own good. A rabid dependence on cheap drugs is a plus, so is a maximal celebrity worship for yours truly. I've found a good few of these people through observing their behavior at parties, but in general their discovery is a happy accident. I got Darla secretary work at the label I'm part of.
After a good run of "focus testing" I ended up with fourteen girls. Most of them had to be around sixteen and eighteen as they where the tallest. Each one had to be capable of lifting forty pounds and throw a bowling ball six feet. Above all else, a steely stomach was mandatory. I whittled down the original group of twenty four with a visit to the morgue. I had a buddy that owned the place and we had free reign. I landed on a former sales rep for a downtown Chico's in LA and a tall smoker named Maxwell Laurence. Both were set for cremation in the following two days. They looked like stuck pigs by the time we were done with them.
I find the technique of staking in a knife properly an underrated skill. Every girl that didn't walk out was given a through lesson. There must be a stab and twist. If not that then a merciless constant staking through the gut, kidney, or appendix, prison style. It's also good to know formation. In this assignment, numbers were important, so was acting natural, but there was no need to teach them much of the last one.
Harold wasn't a stuttering fogey with a walker, but his knees were quite busted. He used the weigh three hundred pounds. Now he was two hundred. I knew that under those shiny pants were pale exes. His gait was stiff and not compliant to fast reactions. In late spring, their biggest chart topper, Stevie V, was giving a visit to the label. This gave his groupies a free pass inside, an inflow prohibited on most days at the office.
My group came in with everyone else. Harold was crossing the hall, albeit a little slower from the crowd rushing against him. He'd left his gun in the office and nothing was on him except for his snake pants and embroidered dress shirt. The fourteen came up to him and fondled his belt. A few hugged his sides and made suggestive glances towards Stevie whom was entering an boardroom ahead of them. It was a strange moment of coyness until one dug a knife into his side. Everyone followed suit.
Harold had some time to yell and shove. His retorts where drowned out by the massive crowd of screaming fans, so were his legs. The guy was packed within surge like a helpless sardine. One of the taller girls had climbed on his shoulders pre attack. She sliced deep into his neck. Almost no one noticed the moment he hit the ground. He still put up a fight. It wasn't hard for him to throw a few girls out of the way, but there were too many. One getting punched in the face was just replaced by another. He was getting forked in all directions. The girls choose an inmate maneuver, that vicious up and down with the arm.
It took a while for the injuries to get critical, but it was quick enough. Soon he was near motionless on the floor. The sprays of blood had freaked out unsuspecting girls nearby. Soon these kids were running and screaming in all directions. Much of the group joined them, blending in with the crowd. People in neighboring offices looked out confused. A few thought someone had brought out a gun. A few tripped up in the running crowds and got trampled. A few even rushed to Stevie's boardroom expecting an assassination attempt on the guitarist.
The only hiccup was that some of my group decided it was a good idea to start smashing things. A few too many confused secretaries witnessed teenagers screaming into their offices, throwing chairs, and chucking heavy paperweights towards the windows. Someone even found a bat to get a quicker job done. No one knew what to think of this sudden vandalism. No one noticed Harold's body for a good ten minutes either.
They all made it out of there in one piece, save for some big bruises and a set of broken toes. The authorities couldn't follow the blood, even it they wanted to. Anyone within a few feet of the guy was covered in it. Not a soul working there called the cops when it happened. The ones who did were bystanders watching horrified teens pouring out from the building. Rumor has it that another exec stuffed the body in a janitorial closet before more eyes were on them. They explained the incident away as a harsh scuffle between two teens and didn't know where the injured ran off to.
No one knew if the authorities would become suspicious and return. What they did know was some main players were in for a big pay day. The guy was cheap. Too cheap for his own good. One thing you never want to be is cheap in criminal business. I don't know why the guy thought he could hold out for so long. Perhaps those cowboy fetishisms had gotten to his head. A employee of his told me he'd bought two horse ranches and an outfit from a Clint Eastwood movie before he died. He was a sucker from the start, a useless dud, a goner.
This Tuesday, Darla got to handle her first few bundles of cold hard cash. Each girl got a share of thirty thousand. I imagine they'll burn it on booze and coke for the next few months. Passing that girl at work has become a pleasant routine. She's always watching someone or something from a distance, a loose smile on her face. Every month or so she gets fake nails. She likes them beach themed. This time she'd gotten a set with blue oil inside. Within that blue liquid were rubber dolphins and beach balls, all flowing in a joyous bounce each time she taps them against the key board. I get in a mood each time a see them, a taste of catharsis in some sense, a paradise microcosm, something safe, but out of reach, and comforting in its own strange way. Sometimes I wish I had something like that to wear, that feeling. But I can't dwell on the bittersweet, only swig my coffee and return to the studio.
It took ten minutes for Sammy to scale five floors. He found himself giggling to random secretaries on the last dozen steps. His drunk slog and melted into a crawl. By the time he got to the hall door, an accountant wearing a drab suit took pity on him and opened it. Sammy half bear walked, half human walked into the hall. He almost hurled onto the orange carpet and flopped against the psychedelic wallpaper. All its loud colors swirled around him. They churned together in unappetizing patterns, but it wasn't enough to stop him on his journey.
His boss and label owner Gary Morris had his office a recliner sofa down. In order to stand up, he needed to get ahold of its smooth leather armrest. The poor guy failed to get a grip of the thing until wrapping his arm full around. He pulled himself to his feet. The entire bottom half of his body acted like dead weight.
Gary's door was open. Sammy leaned forward to see six other men gathered in the office. Gary stood at his desk. His son Oliver Morris stood behind him. He was a seventeen year old kid in disco clothes and a nervous grin. Rival label owner Todd Willard stood on the opposite end. Both parties were complimented with Bush Stevens, a band front man signed to Gary. He sat in a swirling chair between both groups. Gary had sent him in as mediator.
"Come on, why all of this standing and moping around. Let's smoke some pot. Pass it around. Take it easy," chided Bush.
The remaining party didn't move from their places. Gary and Todd stared at each other like brothers preparing for a fist fight.
"Tell me what happened," said Gary.
"I'll tell you what happened. Just a few guys who wanted to play with fireworks when it wasn't fourth of July," said Bush.
Everyone in the room turned to him in mild amusement, even Oliver. The poor guy was out of place in the situation. He had a lions mane of hair, a net tank top, and white spandex with blue and red stripes. No one knew why he choose to dress in his stage cloths, and no one cared.
"Two of our guys tried to torch a record store. The owner was selling cutouts that weren't our own. The slimy bastard knew we were coming, the place was crawling with cops..." said Todd.
He paused for a moment and glanced at Bush.
"Do you have a blunt, for real?"
"At your service my liege," said Bush.
He took a lighter and a smoke from his pocket and handed it to Todd, lighting it for him and returning to his seat.
"Is he always like this?" asked Todd to Gary.
"Only I can answer that, and I can confirm I'm monkey hour twenty four seven," said Bush.
He grinned like a used car salesman every time he talked. It followed with his usual strained laughter. This grated on everyone's ears, but they had more pressing matters at hand.
"I bet you are," mumbled Todd.
His gaze wandered to the son. The kid was playing with a large shark knife attached to his belt. Despite his awkward presence, his attention remained strapped to the conversation. Something about it made the old man uneasy.
"...When they got arrested there was at least a hundred boxes of our own product in their truck. I don't know how it happened, it was bad, it is bad. At least a hundred thousand down the drain for both of us," continued Todd.
"For as far as I'm concerned this is your problem. It doesn't matter if you can't get back your half. You still owe me mine," said Gary.
Todd took a long drag from his blunt. He stood there silent. Bush gazed up at the ceiling, his legs reclined against another chair. Todd pulled it out from under him and took a seat. The singers black napoleon boots clunked to the floor. He bolted upright, his eyes snapping back to Todd. He gave Bush a snide grin before lifting his feet onto the desk. Like Bush he sported gaudy footwear. They were cowboy boots with chains on the back that clinked against the wood.
"I can stay here all day if I want," he said.
"Now we're talkin! You see Gary, sometimes you've got to take a page from my book every once in a while. We can stand around and leer and give sour glances to each other and argue, but it's not gonna get us anywhere. We've got to be teenagers about this. Have a good school yard fight to let it go and put it behind us," said Bush.
"I wish it could be that way, but something tells me there's more than money to worry about in this thing," said Gary.
"My guys barely shot anything off before they got cuffed. They didn't spill the beans," said Todd.
"They have our cutouts. It's only a matter of time before they trace it back to the warehouse."
"We'll move it elsewhere."
"We don't have enough time for that, we're screwed."
"So this is how it ends. You two are in for a wild ride. What's it gonna be for each of you, sailing off to Venice, or living in that Cuban slum apartment you all love so much?" said Bush.
"I say we flip on it," said Todd.
"And you give me my fifty thousand before running off," said Gary.
"We'll see about that."
"Before we get all doom and gloom about the possibilities, I will say that Cuba is an overhated country. They've got really cool beaches and all these car people," said Bush.
Todd's gaze traveled back to the boy whose fidgeting hands had flickered at the corner of his eye. The strange blade in his hand continued to twist at his belt. Its siblings sat in an unlocked display case behind him. Above it were several mounted sword fish and a spear gun.
"You want to go fishin kid?"
Todd nodded towards the kid. Gary turned to see his son taking out another knife from the case to play with in his other hand. He held them at his waist like two handguns in a wild west shootout.
"Jezus boy, put those down, you're going to split your hand open again," scolded Gary.
"I haven't done that since I was five," argued Oliver.
Despite his retortful words, his voice was monotone and matter of fact. He made no attempt to contort his face into a sneer. Instead, he made a queer slow walk to the desk, placing both knives at opposing ends. With his gentle fingers, he positioned each blade toward each other.
"I didn't come here for a knife fight," said Todd.
"How does a game of darts sound?" said Gary.
"How about a game of cards?"
"How about a compromise?"
Their exchange was interrupted by a creak at the door. Sammy's tired face came bumbling into the room. He leaned hard on the knob in a near freefall into the office.
"Heeyyy guys! What's up?" he slurred.
Bush rushed out of his seat and grabbed Sammy by the shoulders. His once charismatic eyes flashed into that of panic.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed.
Sammy tried to stumble further into the room, but Bush kept him back. He looked towards Gary, flopping his loose frame to get their attention.
"I would totally go to Cuba with you guys, but I'm touring.... I need that tour money...you keep not giving me my paycheck...I need that A..S..A..P," mumbled Sammy.
"You need to leave," scolded Bush in a harsh whisper.
"I ain't going to Cuba without you brother!"
He proceeded to shove Sammy's body out the office. The drunkard ragdolled onto the outside carpet before Bush slammed the door in his face. Sammy rose to his hands as the click of a lock came from the other side. He looked like some black leather clad cavemen, his curly long hair cascading down his eyes as he crawled back to the door. By some miracle he returned to his feet.
"Hey, what gives?" he groaned.
He gave several loud knocks with his sweaty fist.
"How did he get up here? That's the better question," said Gary.
Todd put his head in his hands and sighed.
"This is crazy I can't do this. I can't!" he said.
"Don't be in the mindset that this is your first rodeo. It'll only make things worse. We'll probably make it back here fine once the dust settles. That's usually how it goes," said Gary.
"Your just saying that to make be go along with it. I know what shit we're in, don't bother."
"Let's get on with it then."
Gary pointed behind him to a bookshelf.
"I've got a fresh five million in the safe. We'll divvy it up once we get this sorted," he said.
"I think I might actually use this thing," joked Todd.
He grasped the shark knife handle. Gary laughed with him and turned to Bush.
"Don't worry you will," said Gary.
"We gotta play this same circus routine again? Why can't we go to the roof and tightrope like last time. Gary! Back me up on this one!" laughed Bush.
"I say you're dressed for the occasion regardless," said Gary.
Bush walked to the other end of the office. He took a cutout of himself and posed spread eagle with it in front of him. Despite his humorous disposition, he struggled to stop shaking. Gary and Todd joined each other at the front of the desk. They took their respective knives and stretched their arms.
"What do you say? Out of three?" asked Todd.
"I say one's enough," said Gary.
"And get rid of that stupid piece of cardboard."
Bush threw the cutout to the ground. He repositioned himself, closing his eyes. Gary threw a ruler from his desk to create a line. The duo stepped behind it. As they continued to scope out their aim, Oliver wandered to Gary's chair. He fumbled around with the dozen drawers without notice.
"You first," said Gary.
Todd made a sideways stance. The shark knife blade laid loose between his fingers. He stepped a pace back before making his follow thru. His arm made a full arc, the knife sailing smooth from his hand. It ended its journey in the dry wall with a dull thud. A few strands of Bush's hair floated to the ground. It stuck a pinheads length away from his cheek.
"You think you can best me? Well you're dead wrong," said Gary.
Like Todd he took a step back.
"Don't you dare squirm around. I want to win this fair and square," he said to Bush.
The singer remained immobile. His eyes clenched harder shut. In those last moments, he wondered if he was going to faint. The next thing he heard was a quiet swish followed by a breeze to his other cheek followed by a sharp pain at his ear. Bush's jerk reaction was to yelp and move away, but he was pinned to the wall. A warm thin stream flowed down his face.
"Gotcha!" cheered Gary.
"What do you mean gotcha? I'm the guy who won," said Todd.
"You didn't win I won."
"I got it closest, you got his ear."
"That's closer than you."
"You can't change the rules like that. The goal is to not slice them. That's how we did it last time."
"That's not how it is now."
"You slimeball! You cheat me out of everything."
"A deal is a deal. It's Cuba for you."
"I demand a rematch!"
Todd gave Gary a hard shove. Gary returned the favor.
"You ain't demanding anything in my house," he said.
Soon they were spitting in each others faces. Cycling though the same argument several times. Their voices raised each time around. It was enough to reverberate through the outside halls and nearby offices.
"All your doing is stepping on me. I'm not giving you you're money," said Todd.
Bush groaned and pulled the second knife from the wall. It had punctured the bottom lobe of his ear. He stared at the bloodied tip in his shaking palm for a few seconds, just in time to look up and see the kid holding an automatic in his hands.
"What's going on in there?" moaned Sammy.
He grinned and gave the door a few more hard knocks.
"Knock knock!" he said.
"Who's there?" he answered to himself.
"I am Cornholio!"
He pulled his shirt collar over his head and made disjointed circles around the couch.
"I need TP for my bunghole!"
Sammy returned giggling to the door. He pounded his fist on it again.
Bush came bursting out, crashing hard into Sammy. In pure panic he shoved the drunkard to the ground and slammed the door behind him. Several gunshots rang out in the room. Several more came ripping through the door. Weak splinters of pine came raining down on their backs. Bush got up and went into a full sprint down the hall.
"Run fool run!" he yelled.
Sammy pushed himself up and went into a panicked flounder at Bush's heels. He made it as far as the end of the couch before falling over. Another volley of gunfire came though the walls. Bullets grazed the tight sofa leather and ripped through the powdery drywall. Sammy got up again, but stumbled back to his stomach after a few steps. Bush looped around to drag him away, but his body was loose weight.
"Come on! I'm not dying for you bastard," he groaned.
Bush dropped Sammy's arm and let him flop to the ground. He remained there face down and motionless. He hadn't been shot, but he was blackout drunk. Bush left him in his place. He snapped around and burst through the stairway door. More shots whizzed above Sammy's head, out of range from his dead posture.
Within the office, Todd lay punctured like swiss cheese on the floor. Gary had been hit twice in his leg and once in his shoulder. He'd escaped behind a foldout table and taken out his pistol. Shots came firing in the kids direction. He ducked behind the desk as lead pierced through its thick mahogany. Despite the sudden onslaught, Gary's last stand was short lived. After six shots his gun was emptied. Oliver loaded his last clip and rolled out from his spot. He fired rounds into the plastic table top from behind which his father lay. It all ended in a frustrated cry, then silence.
The kid lowered the automatic to his waist and crept over to the table. Gary was lying sideways behind it, shot to hell and dead. He prodded him a few times to be sure of it before meandering back to the bookshelf. Oliver grabbed several encyclopedias and threw them to the floor. The safe was fastened to the wall between a world atlas and a coin collectors weekly. He dialed the combination with quick fingers and opened it.
To his disappointment, the only bag in the room was the gun case. It lay in the opened secret hatch at the foot of the desk. The kid took it and started stuffing it full with money. He paused for a moment while doing this, looking at the gun, which was empty of rounds. He listened for approaching footsteps or police sirens and heard none. Despite this, a desire to move fast settled within him. His eyes traveled to the spear gun, then to Todd's body.
Sammy still lay half asleep in the hallway. The click of the doorknob behind him brought him to his hands. He turned around. Old hinges opened in a dull creak. From the door came a spear tip, then the gun, then the kid coming out in slow walk. He looked like a young disc jockey that had walked out of a zombie massacre. His shirt and long pants were sprayed with a fine dark blood, as was his newly donned footwear. Todd's boots and their metal chains clinked as he approached Sammy.
He raised the spear gun and pointed it downward. Sammy pushed himself into a panicked crawl. The ammo shot out in a clean hiss. It dug itself deep into a couch cushion. Soft upholstery snowed out from the puncture. The downed man continued his vain crawl. The fluff came down and stuck to his sweating neck. Oliver took another two steps, the gun reloaded. Another spear sailed through the hall. It whizzed past Sammy's head and stuck a record display case on the wall. A small breeze parted his hair before glass rained down on him.
Sammy continued to crawl. His heart pounded hard. At any moment he thought he might faint, but his unreliable limps kept floundering across the floor. He got himself to his feet and attempted a run. The kid advanced again. He aimed the spear gun to the back of Sammy's head. After a few quick steps, Sammy fell again on his face. He lay there, dazed and motionless. The clicking boot chains came closer.
Oliver stopped over him. He pressed the spearhead against the we back of Sammy's neck. A light grin spread across his face. He freed his hand from the trigger and made a shooting gesture to his head.
"Poof," he said.
The kid relaxed the point against Sammy's neck, hugged the gun against his arm and walked off. The last thing the to be victim saw was a bloodied frame disappearing into the stairs.
For further context, I'm sixty two years old. My partner and I were talking deep shit about death before I went into the kitchen for a bag of blow. I live in Tokyo now, not LA. People here come up to me, but they're polite. I don't take drugs as much as I did back in the states. I'm a casual smoker at best. I can't sing much anymore, but that didn't stop me from singing along to dancing in the moonlight. It was playing loud on the kitchen radio. I don't have those bluetooth things. I put in an old fashioned CD and put it on loop. There wasn't any powder under the sink where I'd left it. The bastard had beaten me to it. My ways of hiding things were getting sloppy, but I didn't mind.
I did mind the fact he was playing me however. This guy came to my doorstep an hour ago. I was amazed the poor soul was still alive. He looked rougher than my late guitarist who'd lost a battle with severe alcoholism. My visitor had gone the meth route. All his teeth were gone at the tender age of forty four, and he somehow looked better than my bandmate. Some people are like that. I'm like that. Their bodies crumble to shit, but their inner youth supersedes it. Jim was his name. He was pro soccer player before the drugs and age took ahold of him. He shot the same spiel as he always did when I opened that door.
"I'm back! You have a room?" he chirped.
I like to see myself as high energy in most situations, but his enthusiasm in these moments stumped even me. I was going to make a light quip about there being a room for one, but ushered him inside instead. Soon we were talking it up on the couch. It was an unbroken ritual of ours. Someone in our lives was in hot water, or fully cooked, and we'd talk about it. That's all people like us could talk about these days. It would start with our favorite seafood place and morph into a marijuana bust of a once esteemed tiger handler. I'd taken a well circulated photo with him in 86. Jim thought I had to know.
As it turned out, the guys cousin was a stagehand. He'd been part of my crew in that same year. Was one of those guys that likes to think they know you more than they do. He told the story to Jim to pass onto me. I don't know what his deal was, spilling the beans on his family drama like that. I don't know Jim's deal either. He felt I wanted to hear it and I guess I did. The thought of Florida cops finding five pound bags of weed concealed in tire swings made for big cats was comical. It made you laugh, but not in a dark humored way. I couldn't care less what happened to the guy. He seemed nice enough, but it wasn't my business. I was glad for once it wasn't.
As it happened, that cousin tried to visit old spider fingers in the hospital before he passed. His "real" name was Stevie V. His wife found him lying next to his Les Paul in their home studio. They said he played it with heavy drink for forty eight hours before seizing up like a dead bug. The darned cousin had somehow found the hospital address. I wish he didn't. Because of it, Jim and I were no longer talking about tigers. I much preferred to keep my thoughts on exotic animals and weed. By this trajectory, it was only a matter of time that we'd get on to the coke.
The second I saw the torn duck tape and no bag, I knew it was all a ruse. Jim was in wise guy mode that evening. I didn't like it. He was a man that relished in hyperactive doom filled ramblings. At the end of the day, we both wondered what would become of us in the next ten years. I should've never taken the bait, but I always did, I couldn't help myself. All he ever did was waste my time. I returned to living room in an annoyed daze. Who knew that night was the last time he'd sit on my couch.
It took me a moment to process the scene when I came through the doorway. Jim was sitting were he was on the leather sofa. The bag of coke sat on the glass coffee table, its twisty tie pulled off. A cardboard box lay at his feet. Its once taped over flaps were torn ajar. Despite the undisturbed bag, Jim was holding a rolled up twenty. It was midway between the table and his nose. My eyes averted to the box and back to the table. On the glass were several lines of grey dust. The dollar bill united with substance and nostril. My entire being reeled into shock.
"Wha...what are you doing?!" I stuttered.
It was the only thing that could come out. The line disappeared. He went on to the next, taking no account of my cry. It flushed down his nose in the blink of an eye.
"Come on friend, let's enjoy the circle of life," he coughed.
I rushed to the table and covered the remaining lines with my hand. My free arm reached to the box and snatched it from his feet. His greasy fingers came down on mine. Both of us were gridlocked over the table.
"Hey, don't flatten those man! I was snorting Stevie V!" he bellowed.
"I think I'm getting superpowers!"
I dragged the box to the edge of the table and wrenched his hand away with my free arm. The ashes cascaded into the opening, some landing on its flaps and the carpet.
"Shit! Shit!" I hissed.
"Do you have a guitar anywhere? Let's see if its working," he said.
A fine grey smear dusted the table. I tried to wipe more off in vain. All it did was make the stuff more airborne. I backed away from the cloud, flopping backward. My tailbone hit the carpet with a hard thud. I covered my nose and mouth with my hands.
"Oh God, please!" I groaned.
Jim wiped his fingertip over the glass and licked it.
"Your no fun anymore," he mused.
I didn't respond, only sat there waiting for the dust to settle. Once it did, I pulled away the box, wrapping it hard around my arms.
"I mixed those lines with coke by the way," said Jim.
"Great, I'm sure he'll appreciate it," I replied, my eyes rolling.
"He'll appreciate it? I think he'd appreciate it if you went with the flow here."
"I think your not welcome on my couch anymore."
"Come on, we were getting into the deep stuff. I was just.... upping the edginess factor a bit. I wanted it to be like uh...like when those goth kids slice their wrists open for blood pacts... something like that."
"Why do you want to go goth?"
"That's not the point."
I got to my feet and placed the box on the TV stand. I rubbed my eyes and took three long breaths.
"You look worn," said Jim.
"I am," I said.
"It scares me."
My nervous feet brought me over to the coke bag. To my relief, there was no gray matter inside. I weighed its contents in my palm.
"I think there's worthier things to be scared about," I said.
"Who are you these days?" said Jim.
"Resigned from what?"
"This...all of this," I said, fanning my hands over him and the table.
"You're down real bad. Didn't think it would happen to you."
"I think you should leave."
"I guess I will."
Jim got up from the couch and brushed past me. He gathered his things at the front door and left without a word. I stayed put. By minute one of his absence, I was already feeling lonely again. I returned the box to the bedroom closet. The coke was rehidden in a strong box. Part of me hoped he'd return. Another part wanted his nasal canal to bleed velvet soot. It didn't matter what happened to him. I was doomed either way.