Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When It's All Over

Johnny Russo’s hotel room overlooked a small, run-down Spanish grocery store where a man spent several hours every morning announcing: “Flowers!” and “Fresh produce!” to the passerby, Johnny looked out the window anticipating the man taking his place in a few short hours. “You sure you want me to leave?” the girl asked, pulling the sheets up to her chest. “Yeah, I’m sure,” Johnny answered punching out a cigarette on the coffee table. He continued to gaze out the window, where the regular routine had yet to begin in earnest. Stragglers in paper top hats with noise makers still clung to their dates and stumbled down the sidewalk. The girl slunk through her pink-glittery dress and grabbed her spiked heels in her hand. She grabbed a wad of crumbled up bills off the nightstand and stuffed them into her purse. “Well, Happy New Year,” she croaked through a groggy voice. Johnny nodded back shortly and she exited through the door. He sighed deeply now that he was alone and rose from his chair and entered the bathroom. His hair was long and greasy, his beard long and wiry. Bluish circles formed under his eyes. He splashed some water on his face hoping it would wash away some of the evidence of having been up for the last 36 hours. He re-tied the belt across his coffee beige bathrobe. He pulled a gold watch out from the robe’s pocket, it had been a gift from the record company after his first Gold Record. It had been only three hours since 1972 had dissolved into 1973 and he had a slight, unexplained feeling of optimism. After tonight he was going to get his act together. He had run into Fred Bannister earlier in the night and explained that he was looking to get back in the game. Fred didn’t make him any promises but Johnny knew, he knew that if he just applied himself, if he really focused this time, he could get back to the top. “Johnny you were never on top,” he recalled Lisa had told him when he broke what he thought was exciting news. “Besides, Fred Bannister? You know what he does these days? He books those oldies shows, they get a few acts who had hits like 10 years ago. They come out, play their hits with the house band and collect their check until the next time Fred calls.” This deflated him so much that he left the bar, infuriated at his wife for popping the first bubble of good news his career had had in the last 5 years. Convinced this was the last straw in a marriage that was already fractured he returned to home and grabbed a large portion of his wardrobe, including some of his stage costumes in the pockets of which he hid money from his wife mostly for when a dealer would come by, but also in case he ever needed to leave for a few days. That was two days ago and he had yet to call Lisa. He’d burned through most of the money, though he was sure he forgot a patent red leather blazer that he wore during his last appearance on American Bandstand and a white cotton sports coat that he wore on his first television appearance, (The Clay Cole Show in 1961) both of which had a small fortune in them. The room was dark except for the street lights glow leaking in through the paper thin curtains. He turned on the television and rolled the dial across the channels but they’d all signed off. Abandoning the television he slid a dime off the nightstand, rolling it around in his fingers for a moment he finally sprung off the bed, his hand clenched tightly around the coin, he left the room and headed down the hallway to the pay phone. “Hello?” a voice answered sleepily after nearly a dozen rings. “Hey,” he said nervously. “Johnny? No, we’re not doing this now,” Lisa said, anger slowly awakening her voice. “But, I want to come home,” he said sweetly. “You mean my home? I am the only one who pays for anything around here Johnny you do know that don’t you? That while you’re out there chasing whatever fame you think you’re entitled to I’m the one who is paying the bills, you do realize that don’t you?” “You have to throw that in my fucking face every time, Lisa?” Johnny barked. “I’m not doing this with you now, it’s almost four-o’clock in the morning.” “Fine, I’ll just twist out here in the wind while her holiness decides she’s ready to talk to me about it,” he screamed. “Keep it down out there,” a voice yelled through the door of the room in front of the phone. “Shut up!” Johnny yelled back. “Save your voice Johnny, remember you’re gonna be back on top,” Lisa said coldly and hung up the phone. Johnny hung the receiver up calmly and slowly walked back to his room. He sat on the bed, tears welling up in his eyes. The door closet still opened, half full with clothes he’d worn in better times. “Those clothes were on t.v.” he thought. “I was on t.v.” In his closet at home he’d taken the time to arrange them chronologically, and the fraction he’d snatched from home maintained their order when he hung them in them at the motel. Noticeably standing out from the elegant jackets was a brown, suede jacket with tassels. Johnny rolled his eyes when his eyes came to it. “That’s what did me in,” he said. “Fucking hippie bullshit.” In 1966 his manager decided since Johnny’s records weren’t selling like they used to that he was going to do a whole album of more contemporary music. Johnny grew his hair out to an acceptable shaggy-length and let his moustache come in. He started wearing peace-beads and bell bottoms. He was 29, only slightly older than some of his rock-n-roll peers. Stylistically however, they were miles apart and Johnny managed to alienate both his core audience who were accustomed to his carefully managed clean-cut persona, and the younger audience who recognized the record as attempt to cash in and save his fledgling career. He didn’t make another record for almost 4 years when he abandoned the counter-culture look and adopted a more laid-back style. His new manager told him “you’re not singing to kids anymore, you’re singing to mothers” he released an album of standards arranged with a contemporary pop sound. The American Bandstand performance aired the night before the album was released and Johnny was sure that this would restore his career. Unfortunately the sales were week and he spent the next two years touring as a supporting act, before ultimately accepting a 3 month stint in the lounge at the Sands in Las Vegas, however only a month and a half into the engagement he performed so drunk the manager was forced to fire him on the spot after a heated verbal exchange with a heckler. Since then he’d been plotting a career resurrection with no success. All these memories flushed through him right up until watching the ball drop in Times Square just a few short hours ago, in the arms of a hired woman. He kicked the empty, scotch bottle across the room and swung the closet door, bear-hugging his wardrobe and carrying them into the bathroom where he threw the pile into the tub. He flicked his cigarette lighter and held the sleeve of the light-blue, butterfly-collared shirt he wore on the Ed Sullivan show under the flame until it finally started to burn. He released the sleeve and watched the flame engulfed more of the shirt and blackened one of the crisp, ivory jackets beneath it. He stared at the flame feeling no sense of liberation. A wave of panic hit him in the chest as black smoke began to arise out of the mound of clothes. He quickly turned on the shower faucet and the flame was quickly extinguished. He shut the water and scooped the wet pile out of the tub and gently placed them on the bed, carefully drying the red-leather blazer with a towel. “You never know,” he said out loud to no one in particular, “I may get hot again.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Face Off 2: Yellvis

"It's been nearly four months since Sean Archer allegedly disposed of long time nemesis Castor Troy, though some doubts linger about Archer's identity. Some question whether Archer, who allegedly volunteered to have his face removed and placed on the body of arch-Villain Troy. Troy, in a coma after getting blown into a wall by a jet engine in an airplane hangar, awoke to discover his face was missing. Somehow he was able to overpower a room of fully faced doctors and policemen, forcing them to restore Archer's face onto his body, then proceeded to burn the facility down with the doctors and police inside, thus eliminating anyone who knew Archer's true identity. After an unnecessarily long boat chase Archer (as Troy) was able to over come Troy (as Archer) with a harpoon gun. Afterwards, his face was transplanted back, and, at Mr. Archer's insistence, Castor Troy's face burned. From what we have learned Mr. Archer adopted Troy's illegitimate son who is roughly the same age that Mr. Archer's son Michael would have been had Mr. Troy not accidentally shot him while aiming for Mr. Archer. Mr. Archer's true identity was established probably by his wife because she's apparently some kind of doctor but does that really prove anything? Can we trust Sean Archer as chief of police or whatever he wound up getting promoted to? Let us know what you think when we eventually put this article on the Internet in about 2 or 3 years and offer a comments section."
-Santa Cruz Examiner August 7, 1997

Sean Archer wasn't Sean Archer, sure he was the same man that used to be Sean Archer, married with a confused teenage daughter who was trying too hard. But he wasn't the same after finally defeating Castor Troy. His life had become an obsession with catching Troy, extracting revenge but Troy was ever elusive and it never seemed as if his work would ever be done. After this last incident with the face switching thing Archer thought that Troy had one. He thought he was going to die with the face of his worst enemy while Troy went about ruining whatever was left of his life.

Now that Troy was dead the feeling of relief that initially washed over him was replaced by emptiness. Who was there to chase now? Local thugs, punks, drug dealers? None of this appealed to Archer any longer and two weeks after he retired from the police force he left his family and rented a room at  the Carribean Queen Motel in downtown Los Angeles. He began researching strange surgeries, limb replacements, eye transplants, even botched plastic surgeries. There were no known successful face transplants on record.

See Sean Archer had a dream, something he'd secretly wanted to do before all this Castor Troy nonsense had started. A dream to sing, to dance; to entertain. He would have to go to Memphis Tennessee to execute the first part of his plan.

Meanwhile Castor Troy was again in a coma. Being kept alive in a secret facility just outside of central Los Angeles.

The first part of Sean Archer's plan was unsuccessful and he was thrown off the grounds of Graceland and cited for trespassing. After pulling a few strings he was released and returned to Los Angeles. He had spent three months (probably) trapped behind the face of the man he hated most in the world. He was now determined to spend the rest of his life with the face of the man he'd admired most in the world. But Graceland was a tough safe to crack and there was no guarantees that even if he could get in that he'd be able to use the face of the King of Rock N Roll to replace his own. But now he had another idea and this one would be cheaper.

Meanwhile Castor Troy remained in a coma.

Sean Archer returned to the hospital where his face was returned to him. A plastic bag in hand, he searched out the world famous surgeon Dr. Johan Franktuesian.

"Hi Doc, I just wanted to thank you again for fixing my face, I gotta tell ya, you do great work, I can't even tell this puppy was off."

"Thank you Mr. Archer, I have to say I consider your procedure my masterpiece."

"Well how bout I give you another crack at it?"

"What do you mean?"

Archer produced a gun from his pocket and shooed the doctor into a near by operating room.

"I want this on my face," Archer threw the bag down on to the bed to reveal a rubber Elvis mask.

"You're, you're crazy that would never..."

:"Just do it."

Castor Troy.....Coma.

Dr. Franktuesian's surgery with what can only be described as breathtaking results. The resemblance to Elivs Presley was uncanny, even if Archer had to apply an expensive Nitro Glycerin Jelly to his face every four hours to keep whatever remaining rubber elastic enough to support his facial movements. After a month of growing accustomed to his new mug, he started booking appearances under the name "Agent Archer" singing mostly standards, peppering his set with an occasional Elvis song, closing with "My Way". Unfortunately he tried to make up for what he lacked in vocal range by raising the volume of his voice the result of which threw him further off key.

After his third show the club owner, a short balding man name "Cocktail" Earl, approached Archer.
"Kid, I'm sorry but I can't use you any more. Sure you've got a great look but your voice, it's just not there."

"I understand Earl, I understand. Let's just say you put me on for tomorrow night, and I, well," Archer unsheathed his .45 magnum "I'll let you live."

"Archer, Archer, relax. Alright, I'll keep you on. Just put the piece away."

Archer headlined the club for the next three weeks. The Los Angeles Gazette finally reviewed his act gave him the moniker "Yell-vis" and described "enduring" a set as "painful".

Undeterred Archer continued to do his act, making slight changes when he felt appropriate but the more he belted out songs the smaller the crowds got, until finally Cocktail Earl's was practically vacant. Without any other options Earl went to the police. At first he wasn't taken seriously and was sent to the "Small Crimes Unit."

But as fate would have it the Commander of Small Crimes, Mimi Van Rogers, was once an underling of Sean Archer demoted when Archer left the force.

"If what you say is true, Cocktail Earl," Mimi Van Rogers said "than there is only one man who can stop him."

Castor Troy was still in a Coma when Van Rogers and Cocktail Earl arrived at the hospital. His face burned as per Archer's instructions however the remains were kept in an undefined clear liquid in a jar near his bed.

"I need this man, we have people being terrorized in this city Captain and you want us to just stand back and let it happen?" Van Rogers shouted.

"You remember what happened the last time he was on the streets? It was like Demotlition Man or that show from the 80's Sledgehammer. He was a menace."

"But wouldn't you agree Captain that to stop a maniac, we may need to send a maniac?"

"No, I wouldn't. But this is your case, so I don't care what you do."

Castor Troy's face was restored with three coats of house paint and some Spackle. He was brought out of his coma and brought up to date.

"So you want me to go after Archer, what's in it for me?"

"Your freedom. A full pardon for all offenses against you."

Troy considered this for a moment while a cigarette dangled from his lips.

"Alright, but only because it's Archer. Now get me my guns."

Troy's twin golden Beretta's lay shining in the velvet green box. He strapped them into the back of his holster and draped himself in an electric blue suit.

A helicopter brought him to Cocktail Earl's.

"We can drop you on the roof, you can sneak in through the fire escape."

"Oh no, I'm going in through the front door."

Castor approached the entrance and kicked the double doors open.

The club was dark.

"I've been waiting for you." Archer's voice rang out from the darkness. "I knew you weren't dead."

"As long as you're alive I'll be here to haunt you. You need me. You need me to have purpose."

"Not anymore. I've found something new."

The Jukebox kicked on along with the stage lights bouncing off a disco ball above the dance floor. Archer stood in a a sleek white, jeweled jump suite holding two magnums gleaming with rhinestones. Troy produced his two guns and aimed them, a flock of doves flew in from the doors behind him. They exchanged a knowing grin and sprung into action.

As if in slow motion glass was shattering everywhere. Troy gained an early advantage sending Archer retreating behind the drum set on stage. Archer quickly reloaded and came out firing. Troy flipped a long wooden table and took cover behind it. A cloud of smoke and feathers hung in the room, the jukebox had been shot out and not just produced a tinny, distorted buzz. Troy looked up at the poster on the wall in front of Archer. "Every Weeknight, Come See 'Yell-vis'" it read.

"So you're singing now?" Troy yelled across the room. "Elvis songs? That's pretty cool."

"Don't mock me. I won't be mocked," Archer shrieked and fired a few shots towards his voice.

"No, I'm not mocking actually. I used to love Elvis, before all of this started. Before all of this madness."

"Yeah, me too. I don't know how we got started on this. You start off wanting to do the right thing and the next thing you know you forget who the bad guy is."

"I don't know. I'm not sure I've ever know if I ever knew what the right thing is."

"What's going on in here?" Van Rogers and the Captain burst through the door. "Troy, did you get him?"

"No, he's back there" Troy motioned towards the stage.

"What's the matter Captain? Had to send Troy to do your dirty work?" Archer yelled and fired a random shot.

"Sean, c'mon. This is over. Let's just end this before anyone gets hurt. You can go back to your wife. Your daughter."

"No, I don't want that. Not anymore. I'm a performer now."

"Sean, we've heard you sing, it's...well it's terrible. It's really God-awful, I mean I honestly, what is it 1997? I've been listening to music for 43 years, and it's seriously the worst thing I've ever heard in my life. Seriously, setting Graceland on fire and pissing it out would be more respectful to Elvis Presley than what you are doing. I mean that."

Archer's eyes swelled with tears. "You really don't think I'm any good?"

"Sean, no, it's unbelievably bad. We gave a pardon to a career criminal just to stop you."

"Alright, I'll...I'll come out. I give up."
Archer began to rise out from behind the drum set.

"No, Sean stop. There's no reason you should give up your dream just because they don't like it. No, if you want sing Elvis songs then you should do that."

"Well I do some standards too, it's not all just Elvis."

"That's what you should do then."

"Well he's not going to do it at my club! He's too terrible!" Cocktail Earl yelled.

"Troy, have you forgotten about our deal? You want to go back into that coma?" the Captain snarled.

"No, but I think I'm about to make a better deal, count it off Sean"

"One for the money..." Archer belted and emerged from behind the drums, guns out and firing at the Captain, Van Rogers and Earl.

Troy leaped slowly to his left firing at the trio as well.

When it was all over Troy and Archer burned Cocktail Earl's to the ground. Any and all evidence of their various deals and surgeries burned up with it. They stole a powder-blue convertible, like the one Nick Nolte drove in 48 Hrs and headed to Las Vegas.

They started an act; Yelvis and Troy, it didn't do very well and eventually Archer couldn't afford his Nitro Glycerin Jelly and his face became a hideous sight. Troy went solo, playing folk songs. In 2003 he provided the soundtrack and starred in an independent art house film
In 2008 Yelvis and Troy reunited for a brief stint. As of 2011 they have no further plans to work together.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Everybody Liked You Better When You Were Still A Boxer

               Oh it’s still dark green October out. Better go back inside, better get ready for some doom. Better do better tomorrow. No wait. Shut up. Enough of that. Everything has a little distortion on it in October.
               But man it gets loud in here. It gets scary in here. Heart beat speeds up. Hope I don’t pass out. Hope I don’t black out. Hope this helium in my head is just in my head. Hope this bridge isn’t just a ramp into the horizon. Hope everything’s ok with you.

                Panic starts and stops uninterrupted at any part in the day. Tumors and thick bloods running and getting stuck on vitals and other sugary conditions as of yet undiscovered in medical glossaries.

                Sorry dad, these are some dark songs, but these are dark times traced in neon lights. Uninterrupted, please.  No more arguments, please. We’ve been through this before.

                This is out of our depth. Throw rocks until all the windows are broken but they’ll just fix them tomorrow. No one will know. No one will care. A hundred years until tomorrow anyway.

                Sorry but I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing anymore, anyway.  Confusion and disgust and indifference all get blurry and instead of putting on your deciphering glasses let’s just sum it up with a big shrug.

                Hopefully the roof stays put. Hopefully the car starts. Hopefully the water runs and the power is on. Hopefully it’s never anything serious. Hopefully the phone doesn’t ring.

                Study hall day dreams about scraping by; doing things you’re not sure you have any business doing. You’ll be the exception. Everyone else will get by. Everyone else will make it look easy but tell you that it’s really not. Everyone else will get over it.

                But it’s dark, October, cold breeze anchors, crayon-drawn trees, miserable uncertain ghosts; dress it up in orange and black, get it drunk, tell it everything will be ok and then send it off to bed and hope for a flash of optimism in the morning. . Maybe it won’t be so dark anymore.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Up Amongst the Golden Hills of Saddle River

Richard Nixon's Hall of Fame Speech

Halloween. Plastic pumpkins filled with shiny wrappers and loose change, candy corn doomed to be tossed into the street, at passing cars or ultimately thrown into a black garbage back along with any giant juicy red apples just in case some lonely, old sociopath discovered a technique of sliding razor blades into them with out cutting them in half. 

This year however there would be none of that. This year they were going up to the rich towns. Tales of full candy bars being handed out like...well like candy made their way down to the lower suburbs and thus the plan was concocted. 
Joe and Andrew were too old to be trick or treating, Andrew camouflaged this by bringing his 11-year old cousin Frederick along, however he was ill-matched in his plastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume traveling with two 17-year-olds in white and black makeup liberally doused in red corn syrup.
"What are you guys supposed to be anyway?" Frederick innocently enough. 

"Warlocks," Joe answered as if it was obvious.
"Well I think I'm more of just a random, demon-type. Maybe a guy who works in a castle, something like that."

"Oh," Frederick nodded seemingly more interested in putting on his rubber mask than listening to his cousin's answer.
Joe drove his white Buick, a hand-me-down from his father up the hill until he found a quiet side street. 

"This looks good. We'll park here and work our way up this road," he said, sliding the car into park and removing his keys in one motion.
"There's only like 10 houses on this street," Andrew answered incredulously.

"Yeah but they're huge, this will be like hitting 25 houses in Arlington, you realize how much stuff they'll give us? Besides there's a few more side streets ahead." 

They exited the car, Andrew keeping Frederick close to him, Joe leading the way. It was still light out when they arrived at the first house. They made their way down the long driveway and up to the glittering glass doors. Joe pushed the button and what sounded like cathedral bells rattled the door frame and a light went on behind a second floor window.

"Hello?" a voice squawked through the speaker just below door bell.

"Uh, trick or treat" Joe said unenthusiastically.

"Oh dear, I'm sorry, I don't have anything for you, we don't really get too many trick-or-treaters here. I'm sorry.

"Oh, that's okay," Andrew started.

"Okay then.." the voice concluded and the light in the window went out.

"Well so much for that," Andrew said as they made their way back up the driveway.

They made their way to the next house, an equally impressive driveway curled up the front yard with a sleek looking BMW parked next to a fiery red Porsche. 

"This one should be good," Joe assured them as he again climbed the small set of stairs and rang the door bell.

A moment later a pretty blond woman in denim shorts and a t-shirt opened the door. 

"Trick-or-tre..." Frederick started.

"Oh, right," she said as if she'd been expecting them. "Just hold on for a second," she smiled and closed the door half way.

They heard "looks like two 20 years olds and a kid, trick or treating" echo from the large house. 
She returned a moment later with three cans of Sprite in her hand.

"Sorry this is all I've got," she smiled. She handed all three to Joe and closed the door as they were saying thank you.

Joe immediately opened his and took a long sip. 

"You see what I'm saying?" he turned to Andrew.

"No I don't. Look at what just happened, she probably thought we were going to mug her or something."

"Whatever, we have to take advantage of that. They're probably going to be a little scared of us. We're like city kids to them, and it's okay for us to be on their property tonight so maybe they'll give us a little extra just so we don't toilet paper their houses or throw rocks through their windows."

"We're not going to throw rocks through anyone's window are we?" Frederick turned nervously towards Andrew.

"No, your Uncle Joe is just an idiot."

"Whatever man, you'll see."

At the next three houses they received the following:
-A zip-locked bag of stale corn chips
-A dollar bill
-A small paper bag of the dreaded candy corn.

It was not until leaving the 6th house that they had finally received the fabled full sized Snicker's bar. 

"See I told you," Joe said before taking a mouthful of he bar. 

"Told me what? You said every house would be like that," he shot back.

"You shouldn't eat that Uncle Joe, you'll have nothing left for later at this rate."

The next house they approached was the biggest one yet. It was finally getting dark and the long street was filled with leafless trees and flood lights so that all corners of the massive properties were ominously visible. Joe looked up.

"The sky is red, it's probably going to rain soon."

Andrew looked up. The trees looked like they were drawn in black crayon on the scarlet canvas sky. 

"What are you Al Roker now?"

"I'm just saying we should probably get moving."

The house, aside from being undoubtedly a mansion, was distinct in another way; a flurry of people cascaded around the doors.  Men in dark suits a few still with dark sunglasses walked in no particular pattern all over the grounds.

"What are they supposed to be Men in Black?" Frederick asked sincerely. 

"I'm sorry gentleman, I'm just going to need a look inside the pumpkins," one of the dark suit men said in an iron voice as he stood in front of them.

"What for?" Joe asked, somewhat annoyed.

"Security," the man answered as he closely inspected the bag of corn chips.

"What does someone famous live here?" Joe asked, unimpressed.

"I'm not at liberty to say, sir," the man, now holding a flashlight to the paper bag of candy corns, answered.

After having gone through each item in their plastic pumpkin heads and giving them each a light pat down he told them they had been cleared to go up to the door.

Joe rang the bell. The trio waited with mild anticipation at who might be famous enough to require this kind of protection from two warlocks and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. 

"Yeah that's alright Pat, that's alright," an elderly man opened the door but was still facing someone inside the house, already engaged in conversation. "Trick-or-treat, huh?" he warbled. 

"Yeah," Joe said flatly.

"Well, I don't have anything here but why don't you come in for a minute and we'll see if we can find something for you," but he stood in front of the entrance and looked back into the dark house "Is that alright Bob, can they come in? Okay, yes, yes, c'mon in," he now opened the door wider.

Upon entering the large foyer the three noticed two more men in dark suits were inside the house, one no more than five feet from the elderly man another down the hallway in the brightly lit kitchen.

"Did you find anything, Pat?" the man yelled down the hall.

"I don't think we have anything Dick," a voice cried back.

"Alright, well why don't you boys have a seat over here," just beyond the foyer was a room that looked and smelled like a library with a rich maroon leather couch. The three looked around and plopped down, taking in the enormity of the house. "I'll be right back." 

The man disappeared off towards the kitchen while one of the men in dark suites remained behind his eyes blankly staring forward, arms crossed. He didn't seem to take any of them as a security risk, if anything he looked to be searching for an answer in his head at how he became assigned to this detail. 

"I think that's Richard Ni.." Andrew started at Joe.

"It is," the man in the dark suite answered robotically. 

"Are you serious?" Andrew asked.

The man held his hand out motioning towards the bookshelves where framed pictures stood of the elderly man, slightly younger, shaking hands and smiling with foreign dignitaries, other former Presidents, and perhaps most impressively, Elvis Presley.

"I'm sorry boys, I don't seem to have anything for you..."

The three rose as one expecting to be shown the door.

"No, no, no that's okay, I have Pat putting on the kettle, do you boys prefer tea or coffee?" he asked without a hint of irony.

"I'll have tea, but I think Frederick might be a little young for either," Andrew said nervously.

"Oh right, of course, well," he smiled as if an idea had just occurred to him, "we'll just have to bring him some hot chocolate then. How does that sound, Frederick?" 

Frederick nodded.
"I'm Dick by the way, I don't know if you boys might have recognized me," he grinned hopefully while extending his hand and vigorously shaking each of theirs.

"Yeah, of course," Joe said plainly. 

"Very nice to meet you Mr. President," Andrew followed.

"Hi," Frederick said in a small voice.

"I bet you might have heard some rough things about me in some of your classes. What grades are you in anyway?" 

"We're seniors, well 12th, uh Mr. President," Andrew muttered.

"I'm in 6th," Frederick chimed in.

"That's great, that's great, and then off to college I'd hope?" Andrew started to answer but he continued, "nothing more important than a good education. No matter what you might think of me I wouldn't have been able to get to where I was without a good education. My father, he was tough, he wasn't afforded any of the opportunities I was so he made damn sure that I took advantage of them."

"I'm going to Seton Hall next year," Andrew said with a slight hint of pride in his voice.

"Oh good, great school, great school. And what are you plan on studying?" 

"Business," he said flatly. 

"Great. Fantastic. You know I thought about studying business myself but I went into law, you know before politics. People who make the laws have to have a complete and total understanding of it. Do you have any political ambitions?" 

"Well, maybe on a local level," Andrew said but then realized the disappointed look on the man's face so he added to his answer, "you know, I'm running for student body president so I think that'll give me a good taste of whether I have the stomach for it." 

Joe started to question this piece of information but Andrew gave him a slight, unnoticed nudge in the ribs and he retreated. 

"Excellent, it's important to know you're limitations. Maybe running isn't for you, maybe behind the scenes. You know, it's important to surround yourself with good people, at all times, you can never be too picky about who you keep around you, isn't that right Bob?" the man laughed and patted the man in the dark suit on the shoulder. 

"That's right Mr. President," he answered glumly. 

"Oh I think the kettle is ready, I'll be right back boys, you just make yourselves comfortable."

He hurried towards the kitchen. Joe looked at Andrew, careful not to speak too freely in front of Bob. 

"So this is pretty cool, huh?" Joe said even though it didn't sound like he believed it.

"It's really cool," Frederick said. "That man was really the President?" he looked towards Bob.

"That's right, 1969-1974," Bob answered.

The man returned and placed a cup in front of them and poured hot water into each with their specific drink. 

"Now, you young man," he motioned to Joe, "what field are thinking of getting into?" 

"Law enforcement," he said quickly.

"Oh honorable profession. Can't have enough good men ready to sacrifice themselves for others. You know as President I had to call on the service of the National Guard several times, unfortunately, as you probably know the most unfortunate time was
obviously Kent State, but you know, in times of unrest there is nothing more important than capable committed law enforcement," he leaned over and heartily patted Joe on the shoulder and then fell back into his leather chair turning his attention back to Frederick; "How is your hot chocolate, young man?" 

"Good," Frederick took a quick sip off his mug and looked up, "Sir," he began "what was it like being the President?" 

Andrew seemed a little taken aback but Joe leaned in to listen.

"Well," the man sighed deeply while Bob quietly rolled his eyes behind him, "it was the best job in the world. It was also the worst job in the world." 

"What do you mean?" Frederick followed up.

"Frederick I don't think you should bother Mr. Ni.." 

"No, no it's perfectly alright, nothing wrong with a little curiosity," the man smiled fully, his face turning into putty,  hard features disappearing into a dimpled rubber mask. "Little fella," he began.

"Frederick," he interrupted.

"Frederick," the man corrected himself, "sometimes when you want something so bad, when it's within your reach, when it's taken from you and then you finally get it, let's say it's something as simple as a toy, maybe one of your video game systems or something like that, or if it's a lifelong dream of showing everyone that you're not weak, that just because you weren't born with a silver spoon, that you can make something out of yourself. To achieve that, to get to the top of the mountain is without a doubt one of the best feelings a person can have. To have arrived, but eventually that wears off and the job is still there. I liked doing the work, but eventually when you're on top the only place to go is down." 

Frederick watched innocently as the man squirmed a little in his chair, obviously wanting to say more but not sure if he should. He finally crossed his legs and looked back at Bob, "Make me an, uh, apple juice, would ya? You boys want anything?" 

Both Andrew and Joe waved him off and Frederick sat fixated, waiting for more. Bob quickly returned with a large tumbler, ice dancing against the walls of the glass.

"Ah, thank you Bob," the man took a long sip off it, "now where was I? Right the downfalls of the job, you see it's like I was saying to your friend here, you have to trust the people you have around you, and maybe, to some degrees, I was too trusting of the people I had around me. I trusted them and they trusted people, people, not bad people mind you," he took another long sip and jangled his glass for a refill, Bob obliged and he continued, "but people who thought they were doing the right thing for their country but didn't go about it perhaps in the best ways, now if you go back to the 1950's Eisenhower for instance had his guys around at all times..." 

The man went on like this for some time, Frederick continued to listen intently whereas the other two were getting dizzily hypnotized by all the circle talking. Finally, as he began to trail off a little bit Bob stepped in.

"Mr. President, I think maybe that is enough conversation for one evening."

"Perhaps you're right, Bob," the man said sadly and looked wearily into his empty tumbler "I do appreciate you boys stopping by, feel free to come by any time if you want to chat about anything," and suddenly his demeanor turned sunny again. "I'll let you get back to your ahh" he seemed to be searching for the right word, "trick and treating." 

He escorted the three out and stopped them before they left to let Andrew know that if he needed any advice on his school election to feel free to come by but that if he was serious about running he had to 'run the other guy through before he did it to him'. 

They walked up the driveway, it was far too late to continue trick or treating up a dark road with blind curves while they were dressed in black. 

"That was weird," Joe finally broke the silence. "Are you really going to run for class president?" 

"I wasn't but maybe if I could get an official endorsement," Andrew answered with a smirk.

"You really think that would help?" Joe shot back.

"I thought that was kind of cool" Frederick said, "but he didn't give us any candy."

"Oh yeah," and Joe finally realized maybe this wasn't the best area for trick or treating. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crawling Across the Dark

The rain tap danced on the ceiling, the longer I sat there waiting the more I was convinced a huge splash would crash through and crush me to death. 

"What the hell are you doing up there?" I yelled upstairs to Dave.

"Nothing," he appeared at the landing draped in his worn out leather jacket, thin layer of eye-liner applied. 

"You're still going with the make up thing?"

"What do you mean?" he asked innocently, then nodded as if he realized my error, "Oh this? No I know it looks like eye liner but I'm just really tired. I haven't slept well in like a week."

"Yeah. You're full of shit," I said and we headed out to the car. 

It was cold out; one of those horrible February nights that reminded you summer was a long ways off. 

"Are you driving?" I asked.

"No, you drive," Dave insisted. 

Fine. I'll drive. My white 1986 Pontiac Grand Am was more comfortable than Dave's rusting Coupe De Ville. 

Dave got in and grabbed my pack of cigarettes off the dashboard, took one and lit it. 
I wanted to ask if there was anything else he needed from me but I remembered that he had lent me $5 yesterday which I had used to buy said pack of cigarettes. 

I had a better way of getting back at him; while we waited for the car to heat up I reached under the seat for my case of tapes, I had a special row of things that Dave hated, specifically Hagar-era Van Halen and post-heroin Aerosmith. 

Dave had worn out his copy of Metallica's black album and whatever the last Megadeth album was, I didn't know because I was never really into them. And to be honest I wasn't really into Van Hagar or Aerosmith anymore either (though I did revisit Pump once in a while).

"Oh man, you're killing me, OU812? You don't have anything with Roth on it?" Dave winced.

"Yeah I have the case for 1984, but I lost the tape." 

It occurred to me as we drove with the window cracked just enough to let the cigarette smoke get sucked out, that I was kind of sick of music. 

If you had access to a database with every song in recorded history and told me I had my pick I'd have no idea what to put on. I thought I had everything I wanted at this point and heard it 500 times already. I listened to every tape I had until the point of almost wearing them out, I had mix cassettes filled with songs I taped off the radio or from friend's collections but I didn't have any preference any more. 

We were going to see a band perform in some dark basement club somewhere near but not quite in the city. I knew the name of the club was the Hellfire which made me hate it right off the bat. I knew how to get there because it was near a bar called Mulligan's that I'd been to earlier in the year due to their relaxed attitude regarding checking I.D. That was my back up plan should the Hellfire flame out. Yes, that was a terrible pun.

It was always night in the late 80's, if you remember otherwise you are mistaken. Everything was dark and peppered with bright neon lights and saxophone solos. 

We parked on the street right in front of Mulligans and walked the icy block to the small line outside the Hellfire. Once the doors opened red lights and a combination of fog machine and cigarette smoke poured out. Rows of faces and the buzz of dozens of different conversations reduced The Cure to background noise leaking out of the crooked speakers dug into the corner of the room.  

"Maybe we should just go to Mulligans" I suggested to Dave.

"What?" he yelled.

We fought our way through the lumps of people holding beer bottles and neon glasses of booze. Everyone looked at us but no one noticed us. Everyone was tarted up in black leather and bright make up. All the pretty girls with blood red lips. We were just conveyor belt extras in their little movie, pushing past them to get nowhere in particular. 

We got into the back room. It was a smaller room with a short bar set up. You'd have though more people would have retreated here if only to hear each other speak or get a quicker drink, but these people were peacocks. They weren't here to listen to each other talk, or get a quick drink they were here to see who else was here and who looked better and hope for drama to unfold as the night went on and everyone's vision got blurrier and the music got louder. 

The thrill of getting served at a bar hadn't worn off and when the bartender didn't give me a second look when I ordered a Miller I couldn't help but feeling slightly impressed with myself. 

After handing him $10 for it and only getting back a few singles and some change I did some quick math and realized the drinking portion of the evening was not going to last too long.

"So you want to go down and see these guys are what?" I asked Dave.

"What's your rush?" he asked, sucking back on a Miller of his own. 

"Nothing going on in here, and besides I'm almost out of money already."

He nodded disappointedly and we made our way down a narrow hallway, again lit with a red flood light. The hallway was much quieter and littered with flyers of shows long since past. Sometime around my 17th birthday a government micro-chip was implanted in to my brain causing me to be cynical about such things. This club looked old, but it just looked old. They wanted it to look like the New York Dolls had blown through here in 1975 and did coke in the coat room. And maybe they had but there was something new about this place. Like the pain hadn't quite dried yet. Like they designed it around pictures they'd seen of CBGB's. 

A long stairway lead to the basement the club was actually called something different, like Ludlo's at the Hellfire club or something like that. It smelled, well it smelled like a basement; an unspecific musk of moisture and mold. The ceiling was low and it was freezing. A few electric heaters were plugged in but I suspected that the group of 50 or so people packed in tightly was creating more heat. 

The band was all in black, leather, pale face make up, thick eyeliner. A low and lazy synthesizer growled over a muddy bass line. There was no drummer, just a girl with red blouse, fashionably torn at the neck, green eyes raccooned in thick black and shiny red lips, tapping on a cow bell and dancing with the tinny beat piping in through the P.A.

"That's the singer's girlfriend, I think they let her do that because she was hanging around all the time," Dave semi-shouted in my ear.

"No it's really good, adds a whole other layer," I answered sarcastically.

The singer brooded up to the microphone fully practiced in the art of Jim Morrisoning the stage. He stalked, he sulked, he winced as if a thousand invisible daggers pierced his silk shirt and leather pants. Each song was drenched in moody baritones and it was difficult to tell if one song had stopped and another started or if this was just one long performance piece. 

Occassionally the singer slurred "yeh c'mon" and a new guitar riff would start chugging along amidst a smattering of applause. 

A fairly large group entered the room, most of them had greasy looking shoulder length hair. They were wearing things like brown leather blazers and ratty torn up cardigans. One had shorts with tie-dyed thermal leggings underneath and combat boots. They were a strange looking bunch after they walked in they spread out across the room, hands in their pockets, they averted eye contact with anyone. 

"Alright this is gonna be our last one, we want to thank you all for coming out tonight, we are the Crystal Souls, that's Matty Bizzare on bass, Roberto Strange on keyboards, Nicholas Insanity on guitars, and the beautiful Lisa Macabre on back up vocals, I'm Lax Panic and this is called And Then Love Dies, thank you guys!"

Then Lax Panic's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he let his head fall back as the drums rolled into a blast of sound, as if everyone was hitting every note on every instrument.

A flood of light came from the stage. Green and Blue. It shot out of the corners of the room right at the band. The music stopped.

"Alright, that's enough!" one of the greasy haired men yelled. He was holding a Fender guitar where the light had shot out from. 

"Who the hell are you guys?" Lax Panic asked.

"I'm Mark Arm and we are here to stop you!"

"What do you mean 'we'?" Lax shot back.

"You didn't really think I'd come alone did you, Lax? Kurt, Eddie, Chris, Layne, fall in," the other men, now also holding guitars like rifles fell in closer. 

"You won't be dropping any more of your tinny beats in this place," the one with long curly hair and a poodle face announced proudly. 

"Oh yeah?" Lisa Macabre asked with a devilish smile. She reached to the floor and grabbed a cable glowing flouresent pink. She plugged it into the amplifier another loud burst and everyone in the band was transformed; their hair was streaked blonde and teased out with what must have taken gallons and gallons of hair spray. Their black leather was replaced with leopard and zebra prints, scarves, spandex, cowboy boots, and ripped up t-shirts. 

Nicholas Insanity started playing some gently distorted power chords.

Lax Panic, now wearing a tiger striped cowboy hat strutted confidently up to his microphone stand: 
"You know my baby, she looks so good.....when I get home you know it's understood. That I've got to got to got to got have it!" 

The rest of the band kicked in. Lisa Macabre was now dancing seductively around a pole.
Matty Strange and Nicholas Insanity played back to back for a few minutes and then played at each other smiling as if every chord change was a magic trick. 

"This is bad. Kurt take your Stratocaster and try to flank them from the left, Eddie, I want you and Layne to try to divert there attention right. And where the hell is Lanegan?"

"Got held up at a Stryper show in Denver," one of them said.

"Okay,then it's up to us. On three then let's do it!"

The men took their positions while the band kept playing:
"Then my baby comes back from work, she's looking real good!"

Again beams of blue and green light hit the stage and again a loud screech and a blinding flash of light that slowly dissolved.

"Is that it? Are they gone?" Kurt yelled.

Slowly  smoke rose up around the stage and a few notes played.
A scream crept up through the notes.
My God it was awful.

"It's worse than we imagined" Eddie said soberly.

"They've, they've turned into Guns n' Roses."

"Layne, Chris, get these people out of here before it's too late. Kurt, Eddie, follow me, set your Fenders to 10," Mark Arm shouted over his shoulder as he charged the stage.

We were stampeded out as people began hurrying up the stairs pushing us along like a wave of mutilation, sounds of broken guitars and cymbals crashing echoed up the hallway until finally we were back in the red lit bar that now seemed quiet by comparison. 

Dave looked at me and took a deep breath. 

"I don't know. I thought they were pretty good." 

"Dave they were terrible," I said shaking my head. 

We headed over to Mulligan's for a few cheap drafts. Dave continued to defend the artistic integrity of Lax Panic and his band, and what do I know, maybe he's right.
After all it was the 80's and things were weird.