the limits of respectability
chapter thirty-two - the white chocolate rabbit and the cheese Jesus
Journal entry- Day 68- We have struggled through the rest of this week hovering just above madness, braving the elements, the severe temperatures, (mostly on stage), the verbal abuse from the clientele, and the scraping pangs of hunger. On Thursday there was still no word from Walden- an alarming signal. Space doled out a twenty-dollar advance to each of us to help get through the remainder of our stay in Bugtussle, but an atmosphere of doom and gloom has permeated the band. Our stage performance has been lifeless and unenthusiastic. Levity is nonexistent. It’s only a matter of time before something, or someone else comes undone.
“How did we end up at the bottom of this escalator?” Doc asked. “Things were looking up. I was even writing my acceptance speech for the many awards we were going to win. Now it’s all gone.” Doc snapped his fingers. “Just like that. And here we sit on God’s great sphincter waiting for a fart to oblivion.”
“That’s a little harsh, Doc, don’t you think? Although I like your description. All’s not lost, it’s just postponed. We have to decide what to do with the downtime while we recharge the batteries. Change our direction.”
“You’re starting to sound like Space.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing?” Actually I felt rather chipper sitting with Doc in the coffee shop. It had been bleak all week but now at least the sun was shining through the elements. Tonight, thankfully, would be our last night in front of all the nobodies at Flap Jack’s and we’d be moving on. It was a comforting thought since any place was better than our current surroundings.
“So how do you propose we change things, Sparky? Come on, you’re the answer man, the guy with the ideas. Don’t go, Wally, on me now.”
“I don’t know exactly, Doc, but something will happen to make it clear. An act of God, if you believe in such signs.”
Doc motioned to our sound-man. “Here comes your act of God now.”
Wires walked into the coffee shop and joined us at the table. He plopped his sketch book down in front of himself but did not open it. I could see he’d been working in it heavily in the past few days and many of the pages had been dog-eared. Many times the band’s misery had been a gift to his creativity.
Doc tried to sound gleeful but came across more sarcastic.“What’s the good word my man?”
“The word’s not good Doc. Did you expect any different? – Hey you shaved your mustache off. I’m going to have to redo all my drawings.”
“I felt I needed to make a change,” Barlow replied. He ran his fingers over his naked upper lip. “Change is good especially in a town like this, but I feel so naked.”
“What’s going on Wires?” I said hoping this wasn’t going to affect my mood.
“Space finally got hold of Walden this morning. There is no gig next week.”
Doc erupted. “Bastard! No wonder he was avoiding us. I knew it! So what do we do, panhandle? Be buskers in a town where no one gives a shit?”
“Sell Wally to medical science for ten bucks?” I chimed in.
“Walden wants us to stay here and wait for a back-end.”
“A back-end? Wires, that’s bullshit!” Doc declared. “We know it. You know it. Space is the only one who’s lying to himself. He’s still living in the land of Rock Star La-de-da.”
“I know. We’re screwed big time. We either wait here for the gig that will never come and then have no money to get home . . . or . . . we go home.” Wires looked at me as he finished his sentence. It was clear the latter part of his statement was the course we should take, and he was waiting for my confirmation.
“I think we should pull the troops out of Nam and go home.”
“I agree with Sparky,” Wires said. “And Bronson will be on board. Spike and Casey have had enough, I know that. So . . . There’s a majority right there. What do you say Doc?”
“Let’s go home. I don’t want to stay in this place one minute more than I have to. Those sheets make me itch.” Doc grimaced and started to scratch his stomach through his sweatshirt.
Wally walked by the window of the coffee shop. Only his nose and his smile were visible, peeking out from the fur rim of his parka. He held his arms aloft. In them he had two submarine sandwiches, one in each mitten, like he’d just returned from a fishing excursion and was grasping the ones that didn’t get away. Doc waved him in. He bounded into the shop like a little puppy.
“What you got there Wally?”
“I see Wally. For who?”
“Just me, myself and I.”
Wires jested. “Shouldn’t there be three subs then?”
“I would have, but it was the last of my money.”
“Wally we were just discussing our travel plans for next week and we’d like your input.”
“Is this a joke? You want my input?” His nose moved from side to side nervously under his parka hood, as if he was awaiting a sneak attack from behind.
“Would you remove that ridiculous fur thing, Nanook, so we can see you?” Doc reprimanded. Wally transferred his subs to the same hand and pulled back the hood.
Wires continued. “We can either stay here or— ”
“— Stay here? Fuck no! Let’s get the hell out.”
“That just leaves Space. Wires you want to tell him what the band’s decided?”
“Sure right after we finish loading, Sparky.”
Our last night in Bugtussle, was a joyous occasion, a huge celebration of slaves finally released from the cotton fields, and it showed. Our performance was back to what we all expected, with a little extra gusto, even with the restrictive manacles of our layered clothing. When the crowd heckled us, we gave it right back, smiling and laughing and jumping around even more. I made jerk-off motions on my bass with it sticking between my legs. Space’s face was priceless, the picture of puzzlement as he was the only one who had no idea we’d be leaving for home after the show. It felt good to take charge of our lives again, jettison more agent baggage like an excretion of fecal remnants. Suicidal? Perhaps, but satisfying for now, and it was all that mattered to us.
“Sparky. We should probably tone down the taunting, or we’re gonna get our ass’s kicked.”
“You ever see a drunk guy try to fight in snowshoes, Doc? It’s not pretty. Besides we have Bronson. Don’t worry I’m packed and ready to go. We’ll be out of here in no time and if Space wants to stay he can hitch a ride home.” But there was no ass-kicking to counteract our belligerence and Flap Jack’s cleared out at the end of the night with minimal incidents and maximum insults, just as it had done all week.
Space went to get the rest of our pay from the bar manager and call Walden one last time. We started to tear the equipment down. When we had nearly finished, he returned looking like he’d just lost game seven in the bottom of the ninth.
Doc sounded like he was talking to a two-year-old. “Awww, Still no giggy-wiggy for next week?”
“No. Gary says he’s, ‘still working on it.’ The bar manager told me there’s a motel three hours south of here called The Four Leaf Clover. It’s cheap and we can stay there. He needs the rooms here for the next band.”
“You mean someone else has pissed in Sleezyk’s margarita, or Walden’s, or whatever-fuck-agent? That’s hard to believe?” I said.
“There is one other problem.”
“Only one?” Wires said as he wrapped up a cable near to us.
Space anguished. “After everything’s paid, we don’t have a lot of money left.” I could see Doc calculating expenses in his head.
“So what else is new?” I replied.
Space continued. “We’ll have to share a room at the motel.”
“What, all eight of us? In a double bed?” Memories of my first gig ever, came flooding back to me.
Doc said jubilantly. “I’ll alert Guinness! It has to be a world record.”
“Probably not, Doc. They shoot pornos in rooms like that,” Wires said.
“You’re right. Silly me. What about the agent’s cut? I say fuck ‘em let’s use their money. After playing here this week, I’d say they deserve to get the same ass-probing we’ve been taking.”
“Walden and Sleezyk have the percentage taken off the top by the bar owner. They’ve been screwed before.”
I blurted out. “I know what that feels like.”
“Are we ready Wires?”
“Half an hour, give or take.”
“Good! Get your personals guys. We should move.”
Within the hour we were leaving Bugtussle behind in a cloud of dust and spitting gravel thumping across the train tracks that had marked the beginning of our week in hell. There was a collective sigh of relief as the Ghost’s tires once again kissed pavement. Wires picked up the pace and we thundered down the road, slicing through the quiet night. Headlights loomed in the distance as if we were driving into a black mirror. With the flatness of the land, the two lights seemed to hang in the air forever, growing slowly, until they, and the bus they were attached to rumbled by us.
Doc said. “Hey, wasn’t that Badd Kredytz’ tour bus?”
“Where they headed?”
Wires spoke between drags. “Only one place at the end of that road, Wally.”
“I never thought I’d say this about them,” I said, “ . . . but those poor bastards.”
“Suddenly I don’t feel so bad,” Space added.
We drove on. Further into our travel, a visible sign, peeked out from the tree line on the right hand side of the road. It was The Four Leaf Clover motel and its neon vacancy was now perceptible. Wires did not slow down, blowing by the place like it was a mirage.
“Wires! What are you doing? That’s the place we’re heading to. Turn around!”
Wires blew out a cloud of smoke. “No Space! We’re not stopping there. We’re going home. All of us.”
“Neville you can’t make decisions for everyone!”
“I didn’t, we all decided, and it’s Wires, Space. Don’t ever call me Neville again. You’ve never earned the right.” Wire’s voice remained calm, eerily calm. Space didn’t know what to say to this new insubordination. He was at a loss for words, something that seldom happened.
Finally he uttered. “All of you decided this?” He looked around to affirmative nods.
“We all made the decision,” Wires reaffirmed. “So you can either give us the gas money when we need it, or get out and help push when we run out of fuel. The choice is yours, but we’re going home, that’s definite.” I was so proud of Wires standing up to Space like he did, finally taking control, realizing his potential. There was no doubt in my mind, if he wanted to, he could overcome his stage fright and follow his dream. He could perform in front of an audience, express himself through his guitar playing. He could make it happen, this was the first step.
“Suit yourselves. It appears I have no say in the matter. But we’re cutting our own throats I’m telling you.”
“Better we cut our own, then wait for the agents to do it for us,” Doc retorted. "suicide's more preferably to me than execution."
Space sat in silence for a long time as if his mind was struggling to process the information. Everything was suddenly out of whack in one of Doc’s alternate universes. There were times I observed him, I actually thought he was going to cry.
Spike grit his teeth in annoyance. “You’re always hungry Wally.”
“I have to eat regularly or my stomach gets upset.”
“Five o’clock in the morning is regularly?”
“He’s right Spike,” I agreed. “You didn’t have to room with him all week, and believe me, you don’t want the smell in here. Because as they say in the music business, Wally’s reek ‘has definite crossover potential.’”
Wally grabbed a small white plastic bag he had brought on board with him and started to rummage through it. “It’s all right Spike. I have something here. It’s not like we have to stop, or pull over. But . . . what to eat first? What to eat?" Wally pulled out a white chocolate rabbit from his bag, like it was a magic trick, and what looked like a cheese Jesus. The Easter rabbit was still protected by a cardboard box and sealed in plastic. It gaped at us with one pink, paranoid, candy, eye. The cheese Jesus was marbled and praying skyward minus the crucifix.
“That’s right, Doc.” Wally wiggled the cheese figure at Barlow. “I was going to eat the rabbit first but if you insist.”
“I’ve seen it all now,” Spike laughed. “The white chocolate rabbit and the cheese Jesus, together again for the first time. Only you, Wally.”
“What? I’m hungry.”
I bemoaned. “Couldn’t you find something more . . . normal . . . like . . . I don’t know . . . kippered beef?”
Doc shook his head in disbelief. It seemed he was doing that a lot to Wally these days. “I don’t know what I find more disturbing, the fact that you were able to find an Easter bunny in the middle of December, in a remote location like Bugtussle, or the fact someone had the audacity to make a deity out of a dairy product?”
Wally began to remove the protective covering on the Jesus, making it crackle.
“Where did you find a place open in Bugtussle at such a late hour? That town shuts up tighter than a drum after six.”
“I stole some things from the fridge in the kitchen when no one was around Sparky.”
Spike said. “Those monstrosities were in the fridge in the kitchen? Boy am I ever glad we’re going home.”
Space came out of his coma. “Wally! Shit what if the bar complains to Gary or Sleezyk? We’ll get black-listed. We can’t afford to take a chance like that. How could you be so stupid? Wires, turn the truck around! We have to go back and return them.”
“Fuck Walden! And Fuck Sleezyk! Fuck Bugtussle! Fuck the white chocolate rabbit and fuck the cheese Jesus! Fuck you Space! And Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! FUCK THEM ALL!” Silence. . . and not just from Space this time, from all of us. Wally had stopped unwrapping his Jesus. Spike cupped Casey’s ears so hard she let out a little whimper. Doc and I just gazed at each other in a stunned hush, our mouths gaped wide. We couldn’t believe Bronson had just gone ballistic. He was so quiet, so reserve, so . . . Bronson. This definitely was a day of firsts.
“I’ll bet that was therapeutic for him?” Doc whispered to me. Wally bit the head off his religious icon and started to chew. Finally Space managed to verbalize a few words, like a little boy who knows he has done wrong and tries to defend his actions anyway. “It’ll get better, Bronson, you’ll see.”
Doc mumbled to me. “It can’t get much worse.”
“No Doc I think Space is right this time. It is going to get better . . . For some of us anyway.”