the limits of respectability
chapter thirty-four - time takes a cigarette
Journal entry- Day 1- Today is the beginning of a new tour, a new era, perhaps a whole new life for me. It’s funny how when you reach the bottom, (Absolute zero as-it-were), you can see with stunning clarity what has to be done. You must first lose it all, to realize what you have, and what must be achieved. We’ve been home for a week now. The time off has been nice but anything more than a week and I get antsy especially when there’s someone else sleeping in my bed. I may have lost a lot of weight out on the road, but it appears in my absence, Lorraine has gained some— in another person. There’s just one more unresolved issue to take care of. Something I couldn’t do . . . until now.
I had camped out on the couch since my return. How could I be upset at Lorraine? This had been coming for a long time. I hadn’t exactly been singing in the choir myself. My time away from home had not been an exercise in monogamy, and I was still checking over my shoulder occasionally, expecting Megan to reappear. I was surprisingly calm about the whole ordeal. There was no yelling, no screaming, no charging at the unfaithful with a butter knife. Or was it . . . I was just desensitized by the madness of the past few months? Anyway, it was good to be back in a hotel room and the familiar comfort of four solid walls protecting and embracing, like enveloping arms hugging me to a mother’s bosom.
We all sat around in a pre-performance powwow, pondering the future and waiting for Space to arrive with news of our next destination. Our head count had diminished since last we gathered in the same vicinity. Bronson and Casey had both decided to choose other vocations than subject themselves to the rigors of another tour.
“Just like old times huh, Wires? Pulling double duty with lights and sound.”
Wires shrugged and continued to puff on his cigarette as he sat cross-legged on one of the beds. Wally sat on the mattress next to Wires and Doc and I sat on the other one, across from them. Spike reclined in a lounge chair with his dark sunglasses over his eyes, looking at god-knows-what. The real hot topic of conversation had been my story of finding Magic in my bed when I got home and Wally was still harping on the subject. “That’s harsh guy. It’s one thing to find your woman screwing around, but with someone you know. Ouch!”
“At least we know what Magic’s been up to since he got home.”
I gave Doc a smirk and addressed my attention to Spike. “How come Casey’s not coming with us?”
“She found the band too stressful,” he said. He was still looking past me. It was like talking to a blind guy. “She’s staying home this time.”
“I thought you guys were . . . ?”
“We are. I’ll have to see what happens in the next few weeks.”
“I hope Magic doesn’t know where you live.”
Spike growled. “Doc!”
“What? Magic’s a good-looking guy. I’d have sex with him if I was a chick.”
“That’s enough Barlow!” Ok, now I could tell Spike was gazing directly at Doc. You could feel the heat behind those dark orbs. He gripped the arms of his chair, ready to rise up and confront our keyboard player further phone book or no.
“It’s Ok, Spike. Doc didn’t mean anything by it. Did you Doc?”
“No just a little humor, that’s all.”
“It’s not funny. Not for me. Not for Sparky.”
“Spike, it’s not like Lorraine and I were a relationship for the ages. We weren’t as tight as you and Casey are. The fact I’m not bothered by it has to tell you something.”
“It tells me we need to change things. Breathe some life into this band.”
No one responded to Spike’s statement and there was a glut of silence and fidgeting. Finally Spike broke in with his opinion anyway. “I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for sometime. Actually since we left Bugtussle. You know what we need to do? We need to revamp our style and our long range goals. No more Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Spandau Ballet,— too bubble-gum. No more obscure cover songs no one’s heard before. No more Sparky originals, they’re too depressing. We need songs, more uplifting and aggressive. Stuff like U2, or REM. That’s where music’s going. We need to be on that train.”
“What do you mean, the stuff I write is too depressing?”
“It is, Sparky.”
“People can identify with songs like that, Spike. Life is misery much of the time, or were you not on tour with us?”
“No, they can’t identify, and neither can I.”
“Do you know why I don’t write happy songs, Spike? Well do ya? It’s because when I’m happy, I’m out enjoying life. When I’m pissed off, or angry, I write, I purge. I want the world to know how fucked up I feel. I want the filth and crap to go through the emotional grinder and come out on paper. I’ll probably get a ton of material out of my current living situation.”
“I thought you didn’t care?” Doc quizzed.
“I don’t . . .I care to the point of creativity.”
“It’d make a good country song,” Wally added. “Seven days since she left me and yet it feels like a week.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion Spike, but remember I’m part of this band too. If we can’t have compromise with this new direction you propose, then we’re in no better shape than we are now. You’d just be the new dictator.”
“As opposed to the old dic— ” Doc added, but was interrupted by the turning of the door handle. The door swung open. Our current dictator entered the room. Wires uncrossed his legs and stretched out looking upward to the ceiling but remained mute. Spike, somewhat agitated had leaned forward to the television and began to flick through the channels. Wally opened a bag of potato chips and shoveled handfuls into his mouth spreading the crumbs on the floor.
“So where are we off to next?” Doc asked, as he held out his hand to Wally for some chips.
“I spoke with Ron Huber.”
“The Ron Huber who double-booked us last New Year’s eve?” I inquired. “The guy who left us stranded several times with no gigs to go to. The agent with nothing but shit for rooms? Oh, that Ron Huber?”
“Yes. Be happy Sparky, there’s still an agent who’s willing to book this band.”
Doc moaned through a mouthful. “Huber makes Sleezyk look like an all-star.”
“Go on, I have to hear where were playing next,” I said.
“We’re at The Cave in Lexburough next week.”
“The cave? That’s sixteen hours from here, Space.”
“Just the first gig. The next four are close together.”
“Where? What’s close to Lexburough? Nothing unless he’s got us booked at service stations and roadside rest-stops. Christ we’ll be there for Christmas.”
“Look guys. We are back on the ladder.”
Doc spat. Potato chip remnants shot out of his mouth. “— at the bottom rung.”
“I’m not going, Space.”
“I worked very hard to get this Doc— What did you say Sparky?”
“I said. I’m not going. I’ve played The Cave before . . . remember. We spent the entire week hiding from fat inbreeds looking to get impregnated and have us take them away from their miserable incestuous existence. I couldn’t get "Dueling Banjos" out of my head for a month. No. Whether I need the money or not, I’m not playing The Cave and I’m not touring dives through Christmas. This is the last gig. I’m done after this week. I don’t need this shit. Whoever wants to come with me, is welcome.”
“I’ll go,” Spike said, as he continued to channel surf.
“With all due respect Spike— no. I want to do depressing music, songs about finding your ex-light-man in bed with your girlfriend, that sort-of-thing, you’d only be unhappy.”
Spike huffed and turned his back to me.
“What are you going to do Sparky, work nine-to-five somewhere?”
“If I have to . . . yes. I spoke with Skunk this week. You do remember Skunk don’t you Space? You unceremoniously fired her ass once. Maybe I’ll do something with her?”
“You can’t do this, Sparky. We have contracts. We can’t cancel.”
“No, you have contracts. I didn’t sign anything. It’s your problem. Listen Space, this is the last gig, Bitter Romance is no longer, it died when Walden booked us in Bugtussle like every other act passing through that hell hole. We can’t possibly carve out a career the way things are now. I’m moving in a new direction, that unfortunately, you are not apart of. Sound familiar? I wish you the best.”
“Sparky, think about what you’re doing, the bridges you’re burning.”
“I have Space. Those bridges have been swinging in the wind on the verge of collapse for some time. I want the chance to get to the next level. It’s not going to happen here, especially playing places like The Cave where no one cares what we play, or if we even show up. My decision’s final, I’ll finish the week but that’s it.”
“Alright! Fine! After all we’ve been through, quit! Doc can play bass.”
“Actually, Sparky’s idea sounds pretty good to me. I’m going to go with him and Skunk.”
“Is everyone deserting?”
“No just Sparky and Doc and me,” Wally added.
Space stood, his arms limp at his side, stunned. I’d grown accustomed to seeing the look on his face. Wires still said nothing, he just blew out smoke rings and listened.
“Enjoy your little mutiny boys, but I expect you to perform the week. If you aren’t going to be friends, at least be professionals!” Space stomped off, slamming the door behind him.
Wally jammed another handful of potato chips into his mouth. “I thought thhat wen thwell?”
After the show I approached Wires who was replacing the cover on the sound console for the night. Space and Spike, had left for the hotel immediately following the encore, and Doc was outside the club talking with a few friends who had come out to see us. Wally sat close by, half-in-the-bag, from a night of drinking on stage and off. He was eyeing a cute waitress who was clearing off tables and shooing the last of the drunken patrons out of the club.
“You didn’t say much today, Wires.”
“A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do. Nothing I could’ve said today to change it.”
“Listen, I’ve talked to Doc and Wally and I know Skunk would be happy to have you join us in this new group.” Wires continued with the cover on the console and snapping it into place. “We could really use someone with your talent. You could even play guitar, follow that dream of yours.”
Wires paused as he clipped the last clasp into place and glanced up at me appreciatively. He sat down in his chair and motioned for me to sit on one across from him. He reached for his pack, taking the time to take a cigarette. I put my bass case down and obliged him, grabbing the closest chair. I could hear a drunk Wally behind me getting vocal with the waitress. “Ooooh you gots an ass like a sixteen-year-old . . . uhhh.”
“Thanks for sharing with us, Wally, but the Chub competition is over. Space won. Remember?”
Wally looked at me, glassy eyed. “Space won?”
“Yes, Wally. Space won. You bought him dinner last week.”
“Space always wins.” He slammed a fist down on the table.
“Not after this week,” I said under my breath. I turned back to Wires. He was wrapping up some loose cables from the floor and shutting down the effects. “Wires, we’d like you to come with us. This is a chance for you to shine and be apart of something special.”
“I appreciate the offer, Sparky. I really do. There’s plenty of people for me to hide behind but you already have two guitarists you don’t need a third.” He paused to take a drag. “I’m not sure you even need two. Skunk’s a hell of a lead guitarist. You really want Wally?”
I glanced over my shoulder. Wally was mumbling something about being an organ donor and he had an organ he’d insert into the waitress if he got the chance.
“He’s a good guy,” I said.
“I agree,” Wires responded. He blew out some smoke. “I’m just pointing out, if you are going to be a leader, loyalty sometimes has to suffer. Do you think Space was always the way he is now?”
“I’ve never known him to be any other way.”
“I grew up with him Sparky. He was very much like you are now, but he realized he had to make tough decisions to get to where he wanted to go. They are not always popular ones. Are you prepared to accept his role?”
“In answer to your question, Wires. Yes, I want him with me. I want Wally. I think you can balance. You can have leadership and have loyalty to one another. You are right about the guitars, three would be too many, but will you not come with us and do our sound? Wires, we need you.”
There was a thud as Wally passed out and his head hit the table behind us. He mumbled something about, “wearing panties on his head” and “a cold day in June.” Then he started to drool onto the table.
Doc stuck his head in through the door of the club. “Where the hell is Wally?”
“Sleeping beauty’s right there Doc.”
Barlow entered and stopped short of Wally’s position, studying the logistics of moving him. “Sparky, he’s heavy. Help me walk him out.”
“Just get him outside. I’ll be out in a minute, Doc.”
Doc coaxed Wally to his feet with a few, “Je-sus,’” thrown in there and Wally staggered out of the club with Barlow’s guidance.
“What did he drink tonight that messed him up, Wires?”
“He was sitting at a table with the birthday girl. The one out with all her friends.”
“Who was he putting the moves on?”
“All of them I think. They kept getting shooters and Wally drank with them. Or it could have been the pickle brine.” Wires motioned to the bar where the jar of pickles had once occupied a spot next to a pillar. It had been taken away.
“Poor Wally,” I said.
“Poor Doc, if Wally throws up that concoction all over him.” We both chuckled.
“You do realize, you don’t have a drummer for this new band of yours?”
“Technicalities. Wires, drummers are a dime a dozen. How hard can it be to find a guy? We’ll use a drum machine while we look for the right one. It’s not a problem. — Wires, this is the right thing to do, I feel it. I’m just spinning my wheels staying with Space and so are you. Come with us.”
“I can’t. My place is here. It always has been. Can’t you see that Sparky?”
“You’re staying with Space, after all he’s put you through? He doesn’t respect you, Wires. He treats you like afterbirth or shooters in pickle brine to use a recent example. You should be with people who appreciate your strengths and skills. People who appreciate you.”
“I can’t explain it, Sparky. Like I said, we’ve known each other a long time. There is respect there, it’s just on a deeper level and you don’t see it. He is what he is because of all this.” Wires swept his arm slowly around the bar and the stage. “He wants to succeed, he’s just been corrupted, lost his way. I feel I should be here. I can’t abandon him, not yet. It’s just not my time.”
“So that’s your final decision . . . to stay?”
“Here with him?”
“Yup. Here with him.”
“You can’t blame me for trying, Wires. I know we’ve got the rest of the week to go . . . but . . . I just wanted to say . . . You’ve meant a lot to me . . . to us. I believe we wouldn’t have made it through if not for you. You will be missed.”
“That means a great deal, Sparky. Uh . . . let me know when you play your first gig. I’ll come out to see you if I can.”
I got up, grabbed my bass case and started to leave. The place was deserted except for the odd clang in the kitchen and the gentle thwick, thwick, thwick, of bills being counted in the corner by the bar manager as he totaled the night’s receipts. I turned back to our sound-man. “Hey, Wires. Don’t be afraid to perform. Keep trying to get over your stage fright. You are meant for better things than this. Don’t be held back by Space, by anyone, promise me .”
Wires smiled his unmistakable smile, all rugged and GQ, the one belonging on a billboard touting the newest in manly fragrances. It was all the reassurance I needed. We’d all lied, and cheated, and stolen to try to better ourselves, but Wires, he had always kept his integrity. Doc, Wally and I, finished the week but on the first night at the Golden Horseshoe was the real goodbye to a man I respected and greatly admired.