Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesday Excerpt

No fanfare, no glitz, glamour or paparazi. Just straight up fiction tonight. And before I get hit with a barage of questions...yes. This is fiction. Yes, I used my name for the narrator's character. But if I was going to do that and write a real story that really happened, I would have gone ahead and used everybody and their real names. A few things are based in fact, so if you want to know, ask me which bits are. But don't assume. Please. Fiction.

So, I love music. And I took an advanced fiction writing workshop this past semester at school. I wrote three stories; the first of which reflected my mood at the time, and it's dark and dreary and depressing and I hate it, especially the main character. Then I wrote my play, which tacked the same subject (the end of a relationship) in a much better way than what I had written as a story.

My second story was an attempt at working in current events; it dealt with a guy who is making a great living not by preying on other peoples' misfortunes, but by nonetheless benefitting from them: he works for a title abstracting company (sound familiar?) and spends his days researching properties that have been foreclosed on. I don't want to give away too much because it might be worth Tuesday Excerpting later this summer.

But for my third story, I took that love of music I randomly mentioned above and ran with it. I created a band, they're called Left Ventricle. It was the best I could come up with at the time, but that's not really important. What is important is that the band is based loosely on The Hitchhikers, but really, anybody who has ever been in a band will recognize something (I hope) from this. You may remember Joe Dubinsky of Heart Beat. Well, Left Ventricle belongs to the same universe, not one in which bands Come Together and Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day, but one in which there comes a day when The Music Dies. Like Heart Beat, Left Ventricle will never become the bands the members emulate; but like Skins from Tainted Batteries (aka Heart Beat), somebody may make it some day. Anyway, this is the most put-together portion of the story, and I'm still working on it, but, ah hell, I done introduced it enough. I give you...


from North for Salvation, April-June 2008.

“Rock and roll doesn’t necessarily mean a band. It doesn’t mean a singer, and it doesn’t mean a lyric, really. It’s that question of trying to be immortal.” –Malcolm McLaren

“When buying a used car, punch the buttons on the radio. If all the stations are rock and roll, there’s a good chance the transmission is shot.” –Larry Lujack

“It’s been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.” –Robert Plant

Bingo’s tires whining on the surface of the pavement, Corey sitting next to me and I can tell he’s got one ear on the radio and one ear on the engine, and he’s only got two ears, and I can’t blame him for sparing one for Grace Slick as she seeps out of Bingo’s speakers and permeates the van, but still, I wish somebody would listen to me, and Corey (whom I’ve never seen asleep) and I are the only two awake. But he’s got his other ear listening to Bingo’s engine, which he knows better than any human could know another human. He named Bingo, he says, because when he walked onto the instant credit used car lot they advertise on late night reruns, he saw the thing, pointed, and said, “Bingo.” The name stuck, and when he sold it to us, to the band, Corey stuck too.

The mix CD Ryan had put together for the tour spins, the tracks coming at us like the pavement of Interstate 70. Ryan himself, sleeping soundlessly, head hanging back, mouth open obscenely and drooling. I can’t see Johnny, except no, John now, he’s insisting, just John, Johnny is for boys and rock stars who want to mean it. Whatever that means. I can’t take it. “Corey,” I say, pausing the music.

“End of the song first,” he says, clearly willing to listen, our first real talk ever, maybe, but he resumes the music now. Normal conversations between us regard only the placement of my drums in the back of the van so they won’t get scratched up, timetables on when Bingo will be back up and running. “Coupla minutes, boys,” he always says, be it a couple of minutes or a couple of hours away from completion. I take a moment to remember if we’ve ever had a conversation not about the van, and it comes to me; once. I had asked him what he was doing one night, two years ago, on a tour of New England we booked opening for The Slip for three weeks, and Bingo was not acting up and we had the night off in Boston. “Hang out at the hotel, I guess,” he had said, and I invited him to a baseball game, Fenway Park. The Red Sox’s miraculous season but I cheered for them, not knowing they would win that game against Cleveland and go on to defeat my home team in the Fall Classic. “Thanks, Elliot,” Corey said afterwards. “I liked that game.”

He doesn’t turn the music off, just down, but I recognize the tune as Play With Fire by the Rolling Stones and now I want to wait until the end of the song, but I don’t. “Corey, do you want Bingo back?”

“Why?” he asks, his bowl cut plastered to his sweaty forehead. He runs the back of a meaty hand across it, pushes the hair to his right temple.

“Well, I mean, so you have a car, I know how much you like working on Bingo and everything, you-“

“Why the fuck do I want this piece of shit? I stick around with you guys so it keeps running, and because you guys have a good time, I get to have a good time…so fuck it. If you’re done, I’m done. But why can’t you replace Johnny?” I think of this, briefly, but the thought is replaced by the envelope from Berklee School of music in my backpack tucked behind the driver’s seat.

“It’s not that simple,” I say. “We can’t just replace Johnny.”

Which is utter bullshit, because what is Johnny? Ryan’s the poet and he’s the composer, and I mean that, he doesn’t just string chords together, he does that too but he composes and interweaves and his voice cries with the sadness Johnny’s heart has never been able to comprehend, which is why Johnny doesn’t sing for us anymore. But Ryan has no head for the business end, and while I don’t either, I’ve at least got the stomach for working out deals with club owners and I know how to answer an e-mail. But Johnny, he played the bass, and bass players are two a penny. It was his persona that was irreplaceable, but some things are better left untouched.

I want to say all of this. Corey looks at me in the flash of a passing semi, but his eyes are glazed over. He might be high, or tired, but he has no interest in Bingo beyond the van being a ticket to some fun, and now he says “Fuck it” so finally and with glazed eyes that I can’t help thinking of that song by The Slip: “He made up his mind/can’t live knowing that there’s some other world.” Like now, Corey has no purpose.

I turn away from Corey, turn the music back up. He turns it back down.

“What are you getting at?”

“We can’t replace Johnny, so Left Ventricle’s done. He moves to Kansas City at the end of the summer, he starts his fucking bank job or whatever it is, then we’re done.”

“So start another band.” And he turns the music back up.

And he’s right, we could. And he’s also right that we could replace Johnny. Two out of three ain’t bad, at least that’s what the song says. But then there’s the envelope in my backpack, the yes inside of it, the financial benefits. The song says nothing of one out of three being worth anything.

Except back in Minneapolis, on our night off this tour, before Johnny made his announcement and became John, Ryan didn’t take the night off. And neither did I. Johnny and Corey hit up some campus bars, I sat in with an old high school friend’s band because he was celebrating his anniversary, and Ryan did an acoustic solo set at a coffee shop. Maybe Ryan doesn’t need two out of three. Maybe all he needs is himself.


Slamming my foot down on the gas to pass a semi, and the transmission drops a gear and Bingo kicks up speed. “Easy,” Corey says, “Bingo’s not as young as she used to be,” and he’s right, because Bingo is almost thirty years old now, ancient for a Ford Cargo van that’s been converted into a passenger van. The odometer says there are four hundred and fifteen thousand miles on the engine, a testament to the previous owner’s meticulous care and Corey’s ongoing maintenance. But everything eventually goes, even Corey’s admitted this, everything eventually stops running.

Ryan stirs in the back. “Where are we?” he asks.

“Between Kansas City and Columbia,” I say. “And we need gas soon.”

Ryan looks out the window. “Hey, alright, Porn Shop and Church alley. We need to stop? Do we want to be saved or commit unspeakable acts of sin?”

“We’re going North,” I say. “This time. Last time we came through, we turned South each time. North this time.”

“Ah, come on…that’s mostly salvation.” Ryan closes his eyes again and leans back.

“We don’t need a repeat of Johnny’s Rosary,” I say, pointing to the offending object as it dangles from the rear view mirror. It’s made of a glow-in-the dark novelty cross, mint flavored dental floss and anal beads Johnny purchased on our last trip down I-70. He wears it onstage some nights, dressed in tight black clothes and eyeliner smeared on his eyelids.

Ryan looks back at Johnny. “Should I wake him up, get his vote?”

“Fuck him,” Corey says. “He’s not part of the band anymore.” Corey turns to Ryan. “You guys aren’t gonna quit just because he’s out, right? You guys are gonna replace him, right?”

“Corey, come on,” I say, “Just let it go, we’ll…we’ll figure it all out in a couple days. After the show back home.”

But Ryan’s already made up the collective band mind. “Corey, if Johnny goes through with this-“

“John, you mean. He was pretty adamant about that tonight,” I remind him.

In the rearview mirror, I see Ryan flash a sinister glance at me. “If Johnny goes through with this, then yes, we’ll find somebody new. It’s cool.”

Corey is still agitated. “That’s not what Elliot said.”

Ryan grabs his glasses from the seat beside him and pushes them onto his nose. “Really? Elliot, that true?”

“I guess I just thought that there was no Left Ventricle without Johnny.”

“Hell, Corey, face it,” Ryan leans up between Corey and I, lowering his voice. “With Johnny gone, we’d never have to find a YMCA just so he could shower again. We’d never have to track him down at some girl’s apartment in the morning and get out of town two hours late. Think of it.”

And he was right, Johnny was the one who subscribed to the Rock and Roll lifestyle most strictly; if you spent a week with Left Ventricle expecting sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll, it would suit your interest to stick close to Johnny. I could get you the Rock ‘n Roll and a few beers. Ryan could just as easily have gotten you the sex, but he’d pass on it himself. Really, for Ryan, if it wasn’t the music, there was little point. A friend of ours from another band assigned each of us an existing rock persona, somebody who had already made a name for themselves in music. Ryan got to be Conor Oberst, I got to be Max Weinberg. Johnny got to be Nigel Tufnel. “But he’s not real,” Johnny had protested at the time. “Neither are you,” Ryan had said.

Ryan leans back into his seat and rubs the gelled spikes out of his hair. “Shit,” he says. “I should just cut out with the hair product, what’s even the point? The people don’t come to look at us, they come to hear us, right?” He reaches into the back seat where I guess Johnny is lying asleep. He stabs with his hand. “Right?”

A muffled grunt comes from the back. Ryan spins around on his seat and faces back, leaning down. The gas light blinks on and I search the horizon for the beacon of a gas station.

“Are you really going to fuck us, man? I mean, really?” I look in the rear view mirror and see Ryan shift to my left as Johnny’s spectral form rises from the back seat. He’s got his shirt off and his hair is matted to the right side of his face.

“We’re not going to talk about this, Ryan.” I focus my attention back on the road but my eyes are getting tired. “Elliot, Corey, where are we?”

“About seventy miles from Columbia.”

“We got a show there?”

“Yeah,” Ryan says. “But I bet you want to just keep going until we get back to St. Louis, come back out for the show tomorrow night, right?”

“What time is it?”

“About three, Johnny,” Corey says.

Johnny yawns. “It’s just John now. Fuck. Where’s my phone?” I can hear him rummaging in his back pack.

“You’re still Johnny while you’re still part of Left Ventricle,” Ryan says, “Elliot, we stop in Columbia. I don’t want to give Mister Jonathan Avery Meyers a chance to shave and put on his business suit before we clear the end of this tour.”

“Fuck you, Ryan, um…uh…”

“Philip,” Ryan says.


“My middle name.”

“Oh. Fuck you, Ryan Philip Creesey. What time did you say it was?”

A Shell sign appears from behind a tree-clad hill, about a mile away, and I put my blinker on and get back in the right lane. “Three in the morning,” Corey says again.

“Fuck. What day of the week is it?”

“Tomorrow is a banking day, if that’s what you’re asking,” Ryan says.

Johnny yawns again. “Fuck, Ryan, you’re not making me want to finish this tour.”

“I’m not making you do anything. I’m just asking for a little explanation, that’s all.”
“Not now,” I say. “Can we three just be civil until after Saturday night?” I make for the exit.

“Yeah, okay, Elliot,” Johnny says. “And how many days away is that?”

Ryan now: “It’s Friday morning now, asshole.”

I can hear Johnny punch a number into his phone. “I love Thirsty Thursdays.”


"I do not like to write - I like to have written." -Gloria Steinem


bridget said...

it's about time you started blogging again...i was starting to think "you're not ok, you're not all write". nice job.

Molly said...