Chapter Eighteen- The Tiger lounge
Darkness descended on the room courtesy of a passing cloud blocking out the sun. It smothered any optimism remaining and I felt the dour clutches of despair. They all stood motionless, even Suds and Tiny who hid behind his tissue veil. They were waiting for the next words and they had to come from me. I began my journey through remorse. “You were all the last to agree . . . or at least that’s what I told you.”
“I’m sorry. I should have been straight up with everyone, I realize it now. I was afraid this wouldn’t happen If I didn’t . . . push a little.”
“You lied to me Sparky. To all of us.”
“I know Doc. There’s no excuse for what I did. I should have had more faith in all of you. I just got carried away with the opportunity. A chance to finally do something with my life. Yank it out of the mundane and set it on a new course. I wanted that for us all. We don’t exactly have great jobs with banker son’s hours. I am truly sorry for the inconvenience I’ve caused you, as a result of my actions. I hope, if not today, you can find it in yourself, to someday forgive me. If you don’t want to continue, I’ll understand. I’ll call Alexander and tell him we couldn’t do it. There will be no further harm done.”
“Under the circumstances I don’t see how we can continue anyway. The drums look totaled.” Doc said.
“There’s a place in Crabbucket. They might have stuff.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Suds,” I reposed. “I’m sure this is the final straw. We’ve been defeated, and by what? My own careless folly. As much as I feel we should pack it in, I don’t like to quit. I’d like to see this through, but the decision’s no longer mine to make.”
The others stood silent, looking at me, weighing the history of our friendships against the underhanded deed. The long list of disasters and deceptions of others, to the newest exposé from one of their own.
Skunk spoke first. “We’ve been through a lot together, Sparky. A couple more days won’t make a difference. Besides we’re already here.”
“I’ll take Grub into town and see if we can’t get some replacement skins.”
Grub nodded in agreement to Wally’s offer.
Doc slapped me in the back. “Looks like you have a reprieve Sparky. Call it a last minute call from the Governor. I don’t like to quit either.”
After all was said and done the damage to the drums, seemed to be less than first thought. Only the snare was in need of an official make-over. Everything else, with a little reconstruction and duct tape, could be rectified.
Wally set out with Suds and Grub in the Honey-wagon, in a quest for replacement parts. Tiny set the raccoon traps as Miss Agnes had instructed and returned to gently clear the mess he’d caused. Skunk, Doc and I, convened in the console room and began to jam out some early song ideas.
It was a good three hours before the lads returned with substitute skins and another four before we found ourselves at the same point we’d witnessed late Friday night. We plowed on through lunch and dinner, choosing to snack instead. Somehow we managed to deliver the skeleton of a workable bed-track as the sun faded from view. Everyone seemed to be recovering the fractured shards of their damaged spirit.
“It’s getting on, Doc. We have to head to the casino soon, to talk to Matt’s drummer. Skunk and Grub can stay here and add to what we did this afternoon. — Fire up the beast Wally.”
“All the same Sparky. I’m bushed. I’d rather stay here. I’m tired of playing taxi any how.”
“How are we supposed to get there, Wally, take the tractor?”
“No, take the Honey-wagon.” He tossed the keys to Doc. “You know how to drive standard?”
Doc nodded affirmatively, "What, am I new?"
“All right, Wally, but I also need your shoes," I replied.
“God damn it, Sparky.” He started to unlace.
Suds added. “Take Tiny with you. He knows the back way, and will get you there quick.”
With Tiny squeezed into the middle, we hopped aboard the Honey-wagon. We headed out for the casino, with Doc behind the wheel and a shoeless Wally, waving in the side mirrors. Our gregarious group in a transport of waste-tanks, pumps and hoses.
Forty minutes later, we pulled into a long, widened stretch of pavement. The casino blinked at us from the distance. An electronic sign bid us welcome to Little Big Horn, under a passageway of a thousand bulbs.
“Let’s get the valet parking.”
“Doc no. We can’t afford it.”
“Who cares about that. I want to see the guy’s face when we pull up in this chick magnet and tell him to park it.”
The night sky was alight from Little Big Horn’s illumination as Doc, Tiny and I, wedged the Honey-wagon between a Volkswagen and a Smart Car, in lot touted as, Tomahawk Row F, and headed in. Beneath a neon tepee of red and gold we passed through the exterior of huge glass doors sliding silently open to bid us welcome. Front door greeters in full Indian regalia waved us in and we jumped aboard the escalator to the action. The ringing and jingling increased with every metal step folding into the floor in front of us. Suddenly we were accosted by rows upon rows of slot machines, some in mid pull. It was like a great mechanical hedge maze where smoke signals rose from the tips of a thousand cigarettes. Around us the gamblers went to work — gold panhandlers trying to scrape out a fortune— sinking their hard earned money into the cess pool of dreams. In ways it was a lot like the music industry, except we had gambled with our creativity and spun the great wheel of chance hoping the tumblers would deliver jackpot across the board. Our financial death had taken longer, but was just as painful with pockets equally empty. Doc lagged behind. He pumped a few quarters into a slot called Blazing Arrows.
“Doc, no time to gamble. We have a purpose.”
“Woo-hoo!” Doc yodeled as his machine paid off. “Twenty bucks just like that Sparky.”
Tiny looked down and clapped appreciatively. A blue-haired woman, howled from the stool next to him. “That was my machine!” She had been tickling the window of her slot like some good luck, voodoo curse, as the images whizzed by. A cigarette hung from her mouth with a burnt ash extending almost to the butt. Her face was in an broadened prune pucker and she seemed quite upset. “Couldn’t you see I was playin’ it you son of a bitch?”
“Hey, lady. It was vacant when I got here.”
“I play three at a time. That’s my machine and so is this one here.” She waved at another vacant machine next to her, with a stool holding nothing but her purse. “That’s my money, Sonny!”
“Look Mam, calm down. First of all, those are my quarters in the machine that won, not yours. Secondly— ”
“— I’ve been here for four hours on these same machines. Ask anyone around here.”
“Split it with her Doc.”
“No Sparky. This is a matter of principle. It’s obvious this woman has addiction problems or worse . . . ” He turned back to her. “ . . . mental! I'd only be contributing to her sickness by giving her the money.” He started to scoop the coins into his hands and then his pockets. The woman grabbed at Doc’s arms and tried to pull at the small treasure. Some of the coins flipped, falling to the carpet in a rain of heads and tails. Her protests escalated as Doc vented during the struggle. “Did you know that gambling addiction is rampant in this country to the tune of five hundred billion dollars annually you crazy bitch?”
“GIVE . . . ME . . . MY . . . MONEY!”
Tiny reached down and lifted the poor woman off her feet as she screamed bloody murder. He put her down two machines away to her continuing cries of, “HELP! HELP! RAPE! FIRE! MURDER!” Other people had turned and glared at us as if we had interrupted their ability to lose money. A crowd began to gather as the woman yelled unabated and pounded away at Tiny’s midriff. He had stepped between her and her foe. Doc was on all fours collecting the last of his booty.
“What’s going on here . . . Oh! Not you guys again.” Johnny Two Fingers stated as he and Phil Screaming Eagle fought their way through the crowd to our position. They had traded in the Ranger green for the dark blue of security and their weekend moonlighting. “I thought we’d seen the last of you? Aren’t you supposed to be at Faith Studios recording?”
“Hi, yes, sorry.” I volunteered. “We ran into a small snag and had to come here to talk to one of the musicians in the Tiger Lounge.”
“If that’s so, then why are out here angering the patrons?”
The blue-haired woman pointed a finger of accusation. “That one there, stole my machine and my money. And this giant tried to violate me sexually!” She spat, amid pants of feigned exhaustion.
“I doubt that,” Doc shot back. “You couldn’t get sexually violated if you had the loosest slot in here.”
She clutched her chest. “Oh my heart! Oh my heart!”
“Quiet!” Phil grumbled. They forced Tiny aside and separated the two at arms length. They waited, heard both sides of the story, and the one-sided comments of biased gamblers who had been with in earshot.
“As I see it Missus.” Johnny Two Fingers reported. “The money legally belongs to this man, but we’ll escort these gentlemen out of the casino so they don’t cause you any further distraction. Not to worry.”
“Escort us out! We didn’t do anything!”
“You created a disturbance to others. That’s against casino policies.”
The woman seemed pleased we were being thrown out on our haunches and went back to playing her three machines, shifting her voodoo fingers to full speed.
Johnny and Phil placed their arms of authority on our shoulders and urged us forward. Tiny trudged in front of us like the prow of some great ship cutting through the icy waters of the North Atlantic. They led us past a barrage of gaming tables, Roulette, Caribbean Stud, and Craps. We’d just sevened out and there was nothing we could do about it. Once we were beyond the Black Jack section and nearing the exit doors next to a place called The Covered Wagon Snack Bar, they abruptly marched us to the left and headed to the Tiger Lounge Saloon. They brought us once again safely to our destination without further incident.
“But I thought . . .?”
“That old codger has given us trouble before. She feels like she owns those machines. The best way to defuse the situation, was to let her believe we were kicking you out.”
“Seems you guys are destined to get us out of jams this weekend.” Doc said.
“I don’t much care for that, believe me,” Johnny Two Fingers replied. “ At least you guys smell better this time. But, I swear to God if we have to come to your rescue one more time . . . ”
“— You better send us a Christmas card that’s for sure.” Phil added.
“OK guys, through that door is the lounge. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something where we’re not needed. Don’t make us look bad, and stay clear of the blue-hairs. Got it?”
We thanked them again and followed Tiny through the saloon type doors as he shoved them both open with his hands.
“Wonder what they did with the chicken, Sparky?”
“Why don’t you ask them next time you see them?”
“I hope there won’t be a next time.”
We strolled through the dark interior of knotted wood, past a line of twinkling pinball machines. They seemed to mesmerize Tiny.
Doc reached into his pocket and handed him a handful of quarters he’d managed to keep from the blue-haired woman. “Here, go play. But don’t wander off,” Doc scolded like a concerned parent. “Remember what the security guards said.”
Tiny took the coins from Doc appreciatively and began to pump them into the slot of the closest configuration of flippers and silver balls. “Tiny play.” He leaned over the machine with a haunted house and spooky decals adorning the bumpers and flashing lanes. I thought he was going to lose his center of gravity and come crashing through the glass, but unlike Grub’s drums, he didn’t. He banged away on the buttons tilting the machine repeatedly. We left him to his devices.
Doc stopped at the Men’s room door. It had the word Pardners etched into it. “Pit stop, Sparky?”
Doc snagged the last open urinal and I was forced into a cubicle. The door banged several times with the exodus of those who had come before us.
Doc echoed. “So, have you thought about what we tell this drummer?”
“No, I wanted to make sure we made it here first, and as you saw, it almost didn’t happen.” Someone entered the restroom with another smack of the door, as I continued my banter with Doc. “I say, we just go up to him and tell him straight out, we need him. It’s urgent, he has to come. We’ll pay him for his services, and that’s that. Agreed?”
“And what if he refuses? We supposed to tie him up and make him do it anyway. You can’t just force someone to their knees against their will.”
“I got Grub to his knees finally, didn't I? Persuasion, Doc. I’m sure he’s been in this situation before where a bunch of guys have needed him to perform. Don’t worry. He’ll rise to the occasion.”
“I hope so. It’s not like we can do it by ourselves.”
I finished, flushed and joined Doc at the sink.
“You know, Sparky, you should pee into the middle of the bowl. The resonation makes your dick sound bigger. Nobody wants to go home with little-man-dink-co.”
“Doc this is a men’s room. Who’s listening to me pee besides you?”
The man who had entered after us, left the urinal he’d occupied and glared at us maliciously. “People like you make me sick!”
“You’d feel differently if you didn’t have a gag reflex.”
The man shot us a seething glance and left with cross words. “Flippin’ Homos.”
“You know, that’s exactly what Johnny and Phil were talking about. Don’t go angering
anyone else tonight, OK? Promise me Doc. We need to remain low key.”
Doc nodded as he turned on the tap to wash his hands. With a blast of liquid soap he started to sing. “Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me . . . ”
“What are you doing now?”
“Singing happy birthday.”
“I can hear that. What on earth for?”
“So I wash my hands for the correct amount of time to sanitize them. One chorus is
usually sufficient. Do you know how many men don’t wash their hands properly after they urinate? It’s disgusting. They leave traces of piss on everything, from door handles to the bowls of peanuts at the bar, or worse seminal fluid and— ”
“— Doc, that’s enough. You’d think by now I’d just stop asking you questions.”
Doc grabbed a paper towel from the rack and dried off. He rapped the wet rag around the door handle, pulling it open. We headed for the bar. A bartender with slicked back hair, parted down the middle and dressed like the old west, wiped down an area in front of us and stood waiting. We ordered a couple of beers. Turning our backs to the wood and supporting ourselves with our elbows, we studied the stage. We watched the crowd filter in and begin to grow. It was like watching time lapse photography of mold, or a pot of milk bubble up and boil over. Tiny had returned from his pinball exile and mulled about the side of the stage looking at the equipment.
“Didn’t take him long to go through the money I gave him.”
“Were you expecting any different?” I responded, as I shoved the bowl of peanuts away from us and retrieved the beers.
A guy of considerable girth emerged from a doorway in the corner to the right of where Tiny stood and wove his way through a labyrinth of loaded tables. He reached the barkeep at the far end from our position and placed his order.
“Doc, look. That has to be Morgolis. Holy Shit, the Mayor wasn’t kidding. Look at the size of him.”
“And I thought Wally had packed on the padding.”
Matt Morgolis looked as if he’d swallowed a half-inflated inner tube. His stomach protruded and hung over his belt buckle, staring at the floor. He had been a bit of a sex icon in his youth and had flaunted the fact to its full potential. However, despite his obvious overindulgent ways, we could see he was still clinging to his faded image. All his blonde hair was still there and stuck out of a headband like a sheath of wheat. It flowed down his neck the length behind his ears and onto his jacket. Although the club was dimly lit at present, he insisted on wearing dark shades. His cheeks were puffy and laced with red capillaries. They sat above a pancake stack of double chins melting into his shoulders. It was a far cry from the days when he’d have his chauffeur drive the limo by the lines of people with the windows down, so he’d be recognized by the worshiping faithful.
His short strut to the bar had caused him to perspire into a thin glaze. It glistened on his upper lip and forehead. I wondered how he was going to make it through the night on stage with any energy. He waited for his drink while he drummed impatiently on the bar. Like most people with celebrity he seemed smaller in person. The on stage persona had hammered the public from posters and music videos for many years, creating the vision of an Adonis, not the aged rock version of Meatloaf now standing before us.
Doc and I approached. “Matt! Hey how are you? Remember us?”
He lifted his sunglasses to his head and squinted through the dusk to study our faces. His cologne was thick and spicy, fighting a heavyweight bout with the smell of festering alcohol, and winning.
“Remind me.” He said, touching his index finger to his temple.
“Syracuse. 87' We opened for you at Uncle Sam’s.”
“Naw doesn’t ring a bell.” He turned back to the bar.
“They had the small cul-de-sac of a dressing room. You got cornered by a host of groupies. They were all pawing at you. We beat them back, and got you out.”
“OK, yeah. Right I remember you now. How are you? What was the name?”
“The Oral Blondes.”
“Oh That’s right.”
He had absolutely no clue.
“John Malveen and Doc Barlow.” We reached out, and one after another, shook his greasy paw. I wondered if our man Morgolis sang his own rendition of Happy Birthday after he finished his bathroom business?
“We’re recording down the road in Ernie’s Bay. Faith Sound Studios, ever hear of it?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Anyway we decided to make a side trip and stop in here.”
“Having any luck on the tables?”
“We didn’t come to gamble,” I said looking at Doc. “We came to see you.”
Doc, without going into too many details, relayed to him about the accident and the
subsequent injury sustained by our drummer. “He’s incapable of playing the way we’d like and we don’t have a lot of time. We were wondering if we could speak to your drummer about laying down a few over-dubs tomorrow. Some high-hat work, rolls, that kind of thing. Nothing too elaborate, or obtrusive.”
“You have my blessing guys, but you’d really have to ask him.” Matt’s scotch arrived and he shoved a meaty digit into it to swirl the ice. “Just do me one favor,” he said, as he sucked his finger clean. “...and wait until the end of the night. He has a hard enough time focusing as it is.” Matt picked up his drink. “Excuse me. I have to go get ready. Enjoy the show.”
Matt took his scotch companion with him and left us by the bar. He returned through an alcove to the unseen dressing room without any bother from the nearby inventory of females. They were probably expecting the slimmed-downed version of Matt Morgolis, not the onset of obesity now enslaving him. He paraded by them in a pseudo sexy swagger, to not so much as a yawn of recognition.
“Matt still pulls them in huh, Doc? And on the strength of one hit song in 88'. He’s been milking it for years. See, Wires was right. All it takes is one song. Look at this crowd.”
“Yeah, but would you do any of these Chubs?”
“You’d get a positive response from Wally.”
“I’ll tell you Sparky, there would have to be some serious green on the table for me to offer up the Popiel pocket popsicle to any of these women, and remember, I’ve been married for ten years.”
Matt’s following was extensive but they had not aged well. They fell in folds out of tiny leather skirts and fishnets, wobbled unsure on high heels, and had hair that looked as if they had sprayed it, then walked into the nearest wall to get the bouffed forehead. The make-up was stenciled on to the point of no return. Fifty shades of ruby red, dark powdery blue eye shadow and war-paint stripes of coral rouge set the sexy meter to barely above Rodeo Clown. We could see Tiny standing amid the throng on the dance floor, waiting with them in anticipation of the band. He waded through them as one might through a field of waist-high grass. He stood dead center. A smallish woman poked him repeatedly in the back to move out of her line of vision. Eventually he settled next to a rail holding back the second level of the club with its tables filled to capacity.
“Sparky, you ever see that movie, Journey to the far side of the sun?”
“I think so. Why, does this scene remind you of it?”
“No, but when I was little I thought that movie was really cool, til I saw it again years later. It sucked. It didn’t hold up well over the test of time. That’s what I’m reminded of when I look out there. Do you think it would be much different for us if it we were still playing? Doing the casino circuit? Playing to an aged following? I guess I’ve been spoiled by CGI and technological doo-dads.”
The lights dimmed. A thin decrepit man with the physique of a pencil and a narrow faced look of a weasel took to the stage on the right side. It looked as if years of heroine abuse were finally taking its toll on him. He stood next to a metal bucket and a stack of white towels. His long nimble fingers tweezed the end of a tiny flashlight with great importance, as he signaled to the sound engineer the band was ready. The intro tape began to play and the stage descended into further darkness. The massive bulk of Matt Margolis lumbered up the steps, cutting through shape and shadow, and stood in the marrow of the black stage. The light began to grow around him. He was wrapped in a huge black suit with a tuxedo shirt already undone at the neck and a bow tie that clung to the edge of it for dear life like a climber from a rock-face precipice. He engulfed the microphone with a sweaty mitt to the screams of delight from the mostly women in the audience who had quickly adjusted to the shock of his appearance. They waited for the trademark of his velvet voice to roll over them.
The heroine weasel grabbed a fresh towel and sank it into the bucket of liquid. A guitarist emerged from the darkness and began to pick softly on an electric guitar. Matt was already starting to sweat profusely. He pursed his lips and sang sweetly into the microphone like he was about to make love to it. The screams increased as he began his serenade of romance and ecstacy. He sang about love, and loss, and pain, and surrender. The guitarist was joined by a pianist underneath an umbrella of light as the ivory keys danced around Matt’s crooning, inciting more screams of lust. Matt thrust his hips to the left as his inner tube sank to the right. He leaned on the stand as if he were crippled by love and required it for support. The heroine weasel pulled out the white fabric, languid and dripping. He gave it a quick squeeze and crouched down like a poised puma ready to strike. Matt hung on a note as it cascaded from the speakers. He thrust his hand up in the air and the wet towel sailed across the stage, smack, right into it. He squeezed it above his face. A gentle shower of water tricked from it into his mouth and ran down his chin. Matt wiped his face with it and tossed it into the wall of hair before him. They tore at it like a pride of lions feasting on a gissel. The heroine weasel seemed quite pleased with his aim tonight and grabbed another towel for drowning.
To our left the man from the washroom stared at us instead of the stage. He still looked quite pissed about our earlier encounter. With him were two other burley brutes also gazing at us intently. I felt a sudden sense of terror as I nudged Doc with my elbow. It appeared as if Doc’s words to the man in the men’s room were going to lead us to trouble yet.
The guitarist and piano escalated their sound and were joined in the crescendo by the throbbing pound of a bass and drum in unison with blinding flashes of white light. The heroin weasel let another towel fly. Smack! Right into Matt’s hand. The house lights exploded and the band kicked into an onslaught of musical thunder.
“Fuck me!” Doc screamed over the noise.
I too, was absolutely beside myself.
“Sparky, my eyes are fucked up. Please, Je-sus! Say I don’t see what I see. Please not after all we’ve been through. God help us!”
“This is the worst possible thing that could have happened.” I yelled back. “Fuck!”
The three men by the bar headed for us, but we had bigger problems. With the lights on stage at maximum blaze we could easily see Matt’s drummer pounding away. It was Alister Pare’ III. The man we’d all come to know and despise as Arsehole Party.
Doc and I were stunned.