Chapter Three - a meeting of the mimes
Doc Barlow and I had been through a lot together, the dives, the barroom brawls, huddling and shivering together with no money in no-man’s land. We’d watched the endless stream of abandoning musicians pole-vaulting their way to greener pastures, yet we had persevered. Doc and I had been there to the bitter end with the Oral Blondes trying to make a go of it, sticking our fingers in a dyke full of holes, leaking badly. Finally, we had given up the ghost to accept the end even while our newest members, a guitarist named Serge and a drummer named Tony, argued over our musical direction.
“Serge, play dat note.”
“No Tony. Do dat beat.”
“Play dat note!”
“Do dat beat! Ah forgetta bow-dit ya mamaluke.”
Now I needed a yes or no answer from a man I had not spoken to in years, hoping our history together would somehow yield a future.
I’d driven up to his house, met the wife, and sat next to the hydrangeas in the backyard. I drank the fresh brewed, and reminisced with Doc much the same way Wires and I had done two years ago, when he’d blown through town on his tight schedule.
Doc still appeared much the same— his curly dark locks of hair now peppered with gray, his tall physical presence and his lanky appendages. He had put on some weight, but hadn’t we all? Gone however, were the glasses and the mustache, bowing to contacts and the electric razor. It was as if, like the rest of us, he was trying to turn back the clock a notch or two. Even with the physical changes he was still Doc— more visceral than visual— and I took strange consolation in it.
We sat under the cedar shingles of a covered deck where a hot-tub churned and bubbled underneath its lid like a boiling pot. The aromatic drift of coffee invaded the nostrils and stimulated the senses. How could he say yes? Why would he say yes? I shouldn’t have come. The doubt was creeping back in and dragging fear with it by the ankles. He’s embedded in this world now. The life of Better Homes and Gardens. Talking about the good old days isn’t going to change that . . . However, I was about to find, although the concrete had been poured long ago, it had not yet set.
Somewhere between the buttered scones, the third cup of java, and an hour-and-a-half of light-hearted conversation starting mostly with, “Remember what Wally did?” he took me down to a room in his basement. It had the comfort and placement of a feminine touch. A knitted afghan was draped across the couch with a pattern to match the curtains, and the square cushions were turned on their points to diamonds near the armrests. There was a plush carpet reminding you to remove your shoes and rows of shelves with stuffed animals, amid delicate things, marshaling chaos to order. The smell of potpourri with a hint of cinnamon emanated from a tiny
dish of leaves and pine cone on the coffee table. It was guarded by a glass unicorn pinning down a quartet of coasters. I found myself fighting off a sudden drowsiness overcoming my rebel instinct to scream.
Yet, in a room to the side was a portal to the past, a place where cables hung, crossed and connected like bloodlines to a different time. It was a domain where the marriage between the ivory keys and the nickle wound strings still existed. There were solid panels of gently blinking lights— a studio cockpit in need of a pilot. A microphone, perhaps still with the subtle reek of beer, jutted out from the long arm of a metal stand and radiated with the low razor hum of electric life.
“Doc, all your equipment . . . it’s still set up? I’m impressed. I’d have to fight my way through layers of cobwebs in the ass-end of a storage room, to find my stuff.”
“I like to play around on occasion. It’s a nice sanctuary away from the mundane daily routine at the book bindery I’ll tell ya. Some days, it’s all that keeps me going.”
“So . . . you still have the music in you . . . fuck. Forgive me. That sounded so lame.”
“Of course, don’t you? And you’re right Sparky. It sounded extremely lame.”
“You know, a couple of months ago I wouldn’t have even thought about picking up an instrument, Doc. But now . . . things have changed. I have the urge to know for sure. The Oral Blondes didn’t end in a natural order and I think it’s up to us to see they do. We worked too hard to get nothing out of it.”
“Oh-oh... Sparky’s got a hankering to throw his money away again— sleep in a crusty old bed— eat grilled cheese off a hot-plate. You really want to watch the locals kick the crap out of one another while the police stand by and place wagers? Maybe I should get that agent on the phone . . . what’s his name? Murray Sleezak? He’s probably still booking that shit. Although, I’m not sure if he’d be interested in a band of one?”
“I knew you wouldn’t be excited— ”
“— in what? Touring again? Of groupies invading our inner sanctum and fucking things up royally. Shit no Who would? We have bills to pay and families to think of. The days of reckless abandon are long gone, Sparky.”
“I know but— ”
“— Spit it out Sparky. Why are you really here?”
“Touring . . . no way. Nothing that extensive Doc. A little recording. Maybe play live again. Nothing we can’t do ourselves. It’ll be fun. You, me, Skunk, Grub and Wally. The original five Blondes.”
“Wally? Je-sus How the hell you going to find Wally? Even Wally doesn’t know where Wally is.”
“That’s the way it has to be Doc, all or nothing. He was there in the beginning. He should be apart of whatever end.”
“Sparky you may have not noticed, but we’re all old now.”
“Christ Doc, you make it sound like we all need walkers, or Viagra, or something?”
“No, but we’re in our forties.”
“Grub’s still in his thirties . . . ”
“Even so, It’s a little late to be contemplating a comeback as a, boy band.”
“Don’t let Skunk hear you say that. She’d kick your ass.”
“What are we going to call ourselves, The Fat Five? Shit, I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning my knees hurt so much.”
There was a moment of silence between us until Doc Barlow spoke again. “Sparky did you know that babies grow into their eyes? Really. It’s the truth. The pupils are the same size at birth as the are when they become adults. They just lose that innocent look. It’s the years of being lied to. The broken promises, no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no sex after marriage. You and I, we both have lost the look of innocence. You seem to have forgotten all the knee-deep crap we went through, but I haven’t. Aside from that....I’ll tell you this. If you can get everyone else to agree, including Wally wherever he is, I’ll do it for old-time-sake. I’ll take it as divine intervention, or whatever, and give it one last try with childlike enthusiasm. Dust off the moth-infested, doctor stage clothes and everything. Why not? The house is paid off. I’ve got all the toys I want. I need some excitement in the Ol’ libido burrito— even if it is a little creaky in the joints from time to time.”
I couldn’t deny, it was encouraging to hear him announce he was on board. Even if it was only with one foot on the band-wagon while the other dragged in the dirt behind. I’d take the comfort however cold. It had gone better than I’d expected.
Driving along the capillaries of highways on my way home from Doc, I felt very much like being in the blood steam of some massive creature— insignificant and minuscule. I realized how hard this was going to be. Writing one song was a piece of cake compared to getting everyone to agree to record it. They all had their own lives now, removed and sheltered from the dreamlike past of music with its tiny victories and massive failures. I still knew where to find the others. But Wally? I hadn’t even considered the logistics.
“I hope you know what you’re doing Wires?” I mumbled. I took a ramp off the highway and pulled into a service station for gas. I rolled up to a pump and mechanically ran through the motions of obtaining fuel while I was lost in thought. Doc’s words ran laps on a track in my head. Wally doesn’t even know where Wally is. “What have I gotten myself into?”
A voice interrupted the sequence and jolted me into the waking world. It was low and raspy, yet strangely familiar. It came from a vehicle pulling up along side of me.
It said, “Hey white boy you gonna be long pumpin?” It was followed by a curt laugh.
“Huh . . . ?”
“Relax Dog. I ain’t gonna pop a cap in yo ass.”
“Fuck me ...Apples?”
“Fuck you? I ain’t missed ya that much fool,” he laughed again. He extended his hand out of the driver side window as we touched fists. “And it’s just ‘A’ now, Bro.”
“ . . . A. . . . Wow This is such an unexpected surprise. How are you? What you been up to? You’re still performing right? So many questions. I don’t know where to begin?”
“Move out-da-way. Let me get my shit, and then I’ll sit down witcha. Give you the 411.”
I finished my task and paid the attendant. I moved into an abandoned parking space next to the near empty diner. It was away from the pumps and the mind numbing intoxicant of gasoline. There I waited for Apples to fill his vehicle— a Hummer with chrome plated bumpers and tinted windows.
A light drizzle began to fall bringing a cool freshness and glistened on the tarmac like a wet black pool. Once he was finished, he pulled into a spot three spaces down and got out. He approached me with one of his entourage.
His companion was a small guy with baggy pants below his waist, leaving his boxers exposed. His shirt was loose and open, divulging a tattoo of an arrow pointing down with the words, “Big is relative,” written in Gothic print. He also had a string of gold chains hung around his neck. There was a Red Sox baseball cap swung to the side and a bandanna tied tight around his head beneath it. It almost concealed his eyes. In fact, he had to keep tilting his head back to look forward as they approached. Must be fighting the weight of all those chains, I thought.
Apples in contrast, had an air of wealth about him. His clothes were stylish and well made. His grill of diamond inlays twinkled from his open smile and I knew whatever he’d been doing, he’d done it well. He popped open an umbrella as they approached.
Swaggering up to me Apples spoke. “This is my home-boy Oranges but just call him ‘O’ Bro.”
“O? That’s not Oranges, unless he’s gone Michael Jacksonese. From what I remember, Oranges was black and taller. This guy’s short and whiter than I am.”
“Who you callin’ white, bitch?” This O guy seemed quite upset at my description of reality.
“Get a leash on your guy, Apples. Geesh . . . ”
“...It’s just ‘A’ Bro.”
“Yeah, yeah Just ‘A’ mutherfucka, ” O mimicked.
Whatever the name he went by, he’d always be Apples to me.
Apples continued. “Don’t pay him no mind Bro. He’s just tryin’ to get into the lifestyle.”
“What, the pissin me off lifestyle?”
“Gangsta on yo ass Bro. You know— 'The lifestyle'. Dat’s what I’m talkin bout. I’m rappin’ Gangsta in my baby momma’s house deez days. You know what I’m sayin’?”
“Gangsta rap? What the hell happened to the reggae?”
“Gotta change when the wind blows Dog. Gotta go where the bling is. No-doubt-bout it.”
“Ya, ya, motherfucka. Bling! Bling! Like a bullet to the brain.” O went so far as to put a finger to his head. He mimed pulling the imaginary trigger while he peered out at me from under his bandanna with one, big, wide eye.
“I did notice the retirement plan in your mouth, and your ‘boss pimpin’ ride . . . A’,” I said, as I quoted the air.
“Sweet tain’t it? It was time I bonded wit my peeps. Sing about my brother’s gettin’ righteous. Injustice in the ghet-to. Bitches, bang and blow, Bro. It don’t hurt to make some cha-ching in the process.” The last part of his statement he recited as if it were the beginning of a new rap.
“You’re not from the ghetto Apples . . . sorry . . . ‘A’. You’re from a prestigious neighborhood in Cambridge. Your father was a professor at Yale— for God’s sake. In fact, I can still hear a hint of Bostonian when you speak. And I know your crazy-cracker, banker’s son here, can’t be from anywhere other than Riverdale....Right Jughead?”
O folded his arms across his chest and cocked his head to the side, but not before sticking his fingers in my face and saying, “I’ll fuck you up!” He accentuated each syllable with see-saw shoulders and the twisting of his fingers.
“Easy nigger,” Apples cautioned him. “Me and my Bro here, go way back.”
“So that’s what it’s come down to now? Music is all sex, money, guns, dying young and leaving a rebellious corpse? Changing direction every time your dick gets hard? What happened to the good old days when musicians sang words of substance and meaning? Are there no songs left about mystical journeys to the fairy king of the woodland realm? Kubla Khan and the pleasure dome? Houses of the Holy? Tales of Topographic Oceans?”
“The wha– Bro?”
“Oh forget it. I’m just lamenting how out of touch I am. So much has changed. It’s very disheartening. I don’t even know why I’m contemplating getting back into the life?”
“You gettin’ back in the life Bro? Sweet!”
“Ah . . . Fuck it. I’m too old now.”
“Do it for the bitches. It’s always da bitches.”
“Maybe years ago but as you get older, for me, integrity comes first. And I’m not sure I’ve got much of that left either? So . . . no offence to O but what happened to the original Oranges?”
“Bitches, it’s always da bitches.”
“You just said that.”
“I know Dog, but you asked me about Oranges and I’m tellin’. Bitches, it’s always da bitches.”
“Yeah, yeah. Bitches muthafucka!”
“Is there an echo?” I teased, looking around the near empty lot.
Apples continued after O interrupted. “Oranges met dis psycho bitch in a bar on slice night,” (Slice night, is what Apples called Ladies night.) “She messed with his mind real good. Gettin’ all jealous on his ass. She tell him, 'Nigger! I will cut your seeds if you fuck some other ho.' He’s all 'yes', and, 'No way baby. I loves you.' Then she dump him for some brother from another mother. Fuuuuck. She might as well drive-by and shoot his ass. He all fucked up, can’t perform, can’t do nuthin’. I tell him, 'chill Bro. Take a trip to the islands. Clear yo mind. Get yo groove back wit some other ho. Take care of bidness with a little somethin’ somethin’.' But he was still on about his girl. How see got all this junk in the trunk— Big ol’ ass like two ripe melons ready to bus itsel open. But it’s not like she was all that. My Bro Oranges coulda got better trim. But when he finally listen to my shit and go to get some sun and sand, there’s no comin’ back. They find his ass dead as Tu Pac Shakur.”
“That’s awful. He took his own life over his woman?”
“Fuck no, Dog. Rental car they gave him had no air-conditioning. He wasn’t used to the heat. So he was drivin wit his ass out the window tryin’ to stay cool. The roads there, ain’t very wide Bro. Bus coming in the other lane, erased his face. Took his head clean off.”
“Yeah, yeah. Clean off mutherfucka! Mess him up real good.”
Apples looked at O with disgust and made a sucking sound through the glitter of his molar jewelry. “Dats when I moved my crib to gangsta. Been rappin Westside ever since. Apples and Oranges are history. We’re just A&O in the now. Dats what I’m talkin’ bout.”
A&O? It sounds like a specialty channel, I thought.
“Yeah, yeah. A&O mutherfucka!”
I continued to ignore O. “Walden still booking you?”
“Fuck no Dog. Left his ass shortly after you did that big showcase for all the record companies. Remember the one?”
“I’d rather not. It didn’t go too well, or did you forget?....How’s Beeje?”
“Gone. He in jail for bigamy. He had eight bitches wit families set up all over before they caught up wit his ass. Twenty-two kids. He was one busy motherfucker. I don’t know how he found time to manage us. Chico Savarious handlin’ my career now.”
“Chico Savarious? Sounds like a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians?”
“Chico’s big time Bro Surprised chu ain’t heard of him? Gots all the connections.”
“Like I said I’ve been out of the life for some time.”
“Only one way to go wit Chico, and dats up. If it’s gold, he knows it. That boy can smell success. You know what I’m sayin’? I got no complaints. Damn straight. No-doubt-bout it.”
Once all my questions had been exhausted, I began my tale of events both past and post mortem. I filled Apples in on the recent conversations with Doc Barlow, and what I knew about Wires. He seemed intrigued by my intentions to track Grub, Wally and Skunk down.
“I’m just returning from Doc Barlow’s now as a matter of fact. Really the only one I’m going to have problems finding is Wally. No one’s seen him in years. But I have to try. Wires has really set a fire under my ass.”
“Well, relax Dog. We know where he is.”
“You shitting me Apples? You know where I can find Wally?”
“Just ‘A’ Bro.”
“Ya, ya just ‘A’ muthafucka! Respect da man!”
“OK OK ‘A’ You know where Wally is?”
“Damn straight. Me and my nigger O was doin this fest up north off the I- 90. Smokin’ bill, Beastie’s, and Snoop Dogg in the house.”
“Ya ya cool Muthafu . . . ”
“...Nigger will ya let me tell the man! Shit! I’ve been wit yo ass fo too long.”
O hung his head. “Sorry. Please continue.” He suddenly sounded more like a Wall Street broker than a homey from the hood.
Apples continued telling me about Wally. “Damn if I didn’t spy that MF cleaning the outhouses in the VIP area. He’s put on pounds, but still the same W A double L Y.” Apples looked at O. He still had his head down but sensed the gaze and made a zipping motion in front of his lips. “I didn’t have time to talk to him. We had a set to do. When we got off, he was gone. In and out, the boy is fast. Hope he ain’t like that wit the ladies?” Apples chuckled. It was soft and more like a staggered cough this time. “Anyways, he got into a truck said, Grissim & Sons, or Grizzly & Sons— something like that, on the side.”
“He’s working for a sanitation company?”
“No-doubt-bout-it Bro. Shouldn’t be too hard to locate his ass. Can’t be too many companies suckin’ shit up that way.”
“Thanks. You don’t know how important this is to me . . . to Wires.”
“If you guys are serious about doing it, let me know. Maybe I can get Chico to come and listen to yo shit.” Apples flipped me a business card. “Got my personals on it Bro. Just call when you’re ready and I’ll hook a brother up.” He took a pen from his vest pocket and wrote the name Chico Savarious across the back in short quick strokes.
“Cool,” I said.
“You lucky, Dog. Dis here card reserved for the ho’s. But it’s the least I can do for you guys and my main Bro Wires.”
“Great, I’ll be in touch.”
“Stay real baby.”
“Yeah, yeah, Peace out mutherfucka— ”
“— O what did I say to you about layin’ off dat shit?”
“Sorry. Nice to meet you,” O responded. Solemnly he turned to leave.
Apples gave me one final wave before he joined him and scolded O back to the Hummer. “You better be practicing yo Marcel Marseau the rest of the night before I can your sorry ass.”
I watched as A&O mounted up and peeled out of the station, kicking up a wet spray. On their way to meet the crew at their next gig somewhere down the black ribbon of road no doubt.
God, Doc was worried about us being too old. Apples had to be pushing fifty and here he was with his little posse, still performing to the masses. You had to admire the man getting up there like Dorian Gray and tackling the physical demands of his musical genre. Somewhere I still had Apples and Oranges first album on vinyl, back in the days when they were doing R&B for a living. They used to sell them at their gigs saying, “Give your girl the best twelve inches she ever had.”
It seemed so long ago now, like I hadn’t been there at all. A story passed down through the generations. But if ever there was a time when doubt left me it was the moment I watched the taillights of the Hummer disappear, swallowed by the night, hauling my reverence with it. I now knew where to start looking for Wally. Wires must have known. This was just meant to be.