Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Limits of Respectability

There it was suddenly, at the end of the road, Nasty Tree, its one main street, with its one grocery store and coffee shop. Its strip mall with the video, convenience store, laundry and barbershop. Its only public and high schools, its Department store, Bingo hall, and its local Legion all flying old glory. The colonial town hall, the rustic Inn, the police station, the cheesy restaurant, and the beauty salon with its exterior of bubble gum pink.

Behind the hedge of the main street buildings were the gardens of houses. Row upon row of wooden structures decorating the horizontal offshoots of the main drag in various shades of peeling paint and well-worn grays. Houses inhabited by the town’s citizens, merchants, loggers, welfare cases, and the hopeless youth with no future but the bleak horizon disappearing behind the expansive pines.

At the end of the main street, we could now see a crumbling red brick building. It was the stop sign, ceasing our forward motion, a dead end marking the termination of our road, the bar called, The Oasis Hotel. The name was proudly displayed in neon, atop a marquee with two green palm trees on either side of a double door entrance. The building and bar were so far away from being tropical, it made one laugh, even if it was nervous laughter.

The club seemed to be coming at us instead of the other way around. It loomed before our vehicle called the Ghost, as we passed down the main drag. All that we traveled by somehow appeared to close in behind us, as if the buildings were alive, a living entity full of awareness, malice and loathing, cutting off any chance of retreat.

Thumper cried in dismay, "Oh no! Guys, look at the marquee!" The reader board above the club had us listed, This week: Bitter Romaine.

"Is that supposed to be for us or are they warning people about the salad bar?"

"Maybe it’s better that they think it’s about food," I concluded.

We pulled the Ghost around back and parked. Next to our truck, were angled, horizontal, basement doors that led down into the club. They reminded me of the cellar doors that people barely got closed in time before the tornado hit and took their crops, their house and their livelihood.

Wires walked with an incognito Space around to the front of the building to make the bar owner aware of our arrival. After several minutes the doors swung outward and Space appeared. He looked the same as when he’d left us, just like Claude Raines I thought. With dark shades, fedora and scarf pulled tightly around his mouth and neck, he was an invisible man.

"Let’s get the gear in guys. Quickly," he said and then returned to the recesses of the protective darkness deep in the club.

We loaded the equipment in. The bar was just as I remembered it, dark and dank with the smell of stale beer and a stained carpet, a little squishy in places from a spilled pitcher or two. Most of the tables were round and surrounded with cheap uncomfortable chairs, of which some were ripped and repaired with duct tape. I used to pass by places like this with my grandfather when I was young, never seeing the inside. But it looked now much as it had smelled and
sounded then. The warm alcohol odor, the chatting voices of despair and the occasional smack of billiard balls.

Space was talking to the new owner conveying the error in the spelling on the marquee. The man apologized and agreed he would have it taken care of. It appeared that the kid who put up the letters didn’t understand English having just moved here from the Middle East. probably fast-tracked through immigration if he agreed to live in this remote locale.

We set up the rest of the gear and even had a decent sound check. As per Spaces’ instructions the lights had been diverted from the drums to other places on the stage and his cymbals had been set up in such a way that they created a small fortress of brass around the kit. Even when the lights were eventually hooked up, it would be hard to determine if there was anyone back there.

Wires called me over to a small cul-de-sac next to the stage and handed me a 2x4.

"What’s this for?"

"I have to hook up the 220 feed for the lights. If I make a mistake and it looks like I’m frying I want you to hit me as hard as you can."

"Why don’t you get Wally to help you? He used to be an electrician."

"I don’t know where he is. He went off to eat."

"Wires, I agreed to help you with lights but there’s no fuckin’ way I’m smacking you with a hunk of wood."

"Sparky it’s 220 volts of electric current. I won’t be tiptoeing . . ."

I cut in, " — ‘Tiptoe through the two-twenty’– Good name for an album. Remind me to write that down."

"... besides I don’t want you to smash me in the melon. Just a good hard shot in the abs to get me away from the electrical feed."

I had damn near been electrocuted once on stage. There had been a bad ground on the
plug for my amp and I had been shocked when I grabbed the microphone stand. I certainly
understood Wires’ paranoia on the subject. I had been unable to let go of the stand and my wrist had been welded across my bass strings. All I could do was stand there and feel the surge of electricity coursing through my arms and across my shoulders in a tingling paralysis as I weekly whispered for help with widened eyes until someone pulled the plug.

I called for Thumper. When he arrived, I handed him the board as Wires began to hook up the 220. "Here. You’re the new guy. Wires looks like he’s being electrocuted hit him with this."

Thumper looked at the plank, "OK . . . Sparky. Hey, you guys played here last tour right?"


"Well, how come no one has said anything about that gig. You're all quick to add your two cents about other places you played, women to watch out for, places to eat, but no one’s said word one about this town."

"What do you want to know Thumper? That we had a bad experience when we were here last time. That this gig is the reason we changed the name of the band to Bitter Romance? That the rationale behind the band rule that, no one goes anywhere alone when we leave the hotel, is because of this gig?"

"Wha’ happened?"

Wires had stopped to grab a wrench and light a smoke as I spoke. "Space. Somehow it always begins and ends with him. He was screwin’ around with two chicks last time we were here. One was an older woman, attractive for here age, fairly adventurous, nice bod, huge . . ." I brought my hands up and cupped them, ". . . Space’s type, you know. . . But the younger chick was an absolute knockout, wavy, golden blonde hair, beautiful smile, a really sweet girl, yet with a nasty, kinky side to her or so we heard . . ."

"Right through the walls," Wires added as he popped his cigarette back into his mouth and resumed hooking up the light feed.

"....anyway . . . Space alternated them for the first part of the week. Monday . . . older. Tuesday . . . younger. Saturday they both show up to the gig. They’re in different areas of the club but they both have designs on seeing him after the show. Now! Most guys would choose one and lie to the other. Not Space. With his ego, he tells me he’s just going to invite the two of them up to his room and suggest a little three-way action."

"No way?"

"Yup! Every living breathing male’s desire, When I get tired, I can watch."

"Better watch Thumper, Sparky. He’s got wood."

"...So after the gig Space goes up to his room. He’s spraying cologne on. He’s got candles burning, soft music, the bed turned down, wearing nothing but his boxers and waiting for the knock. The young one arrives first. Space tells her the plan. She’s all for it. ‘Bring it on,’ she says. In fact, they start to get into it a little before the older chick gets there. When the older one finally arrives and knocks on the door, Space just tells her to come on in. She opens the door and starts screamin’ and yellin’ at Space and the younger chick. So the younger chick starts yellin’ and screamin’ right back. She jumps out of bed in nothing more than what she came into this
world with and the two start pushing each other. Space is sittin there gap jawed, he can’t believe this is all going down and getting out of control."

"I guess the older one wasn’t too keen on the idea of having a three-way?"

"No. Especially when it’s a three-way with your own daughter."

Thumper almost dropped the 2x4, "No fuckin’ way?"

"Focus! Focus!" Wires scolded. Thumper raised the hunk of wood while listening to me further.

"Oh yeah. But that’s not the best part Thumper. Not only is she the mother of the girl who had shared her lover all week, she’s the wife of this town’s sheriff."

Wires let out a terrible screech, "AHHHHHH!!!!" His hands knotted into clenched fists
grabbing the light cable that jutted from the power box. His face twisted, his body convulsing.

Thumper began to freak out, "WHAT DO I DO?! WHAT DO I DO?!"

Tomorrow excerpt from: Tip-toe through the two-twenty

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