Chapter Twenty-One- The deflated dreams of Wanda
I puffed and wheezed as Doc and I raced with renewed vigor to the dressing room hoping to find our elusive percussionist. We charged in to see his legs sticking out of a closet in the far corner of the room. He was naked except for his boots and was holding on to a prop from the fifth song of the night — a blow up doll we called Wanda. She always coaxed a huge response from our audiences and now she had somehow coaxed Arsehole Party into the dressing room closet and out of his pants. She was in his arms in post coital acquiescence. Alastair’s spectacles sat askew on his nose and his porkpie hat looked more like a yarmulke crushed into a pillow between his head and the wall.
“Forget the kiss. I think murder is more appropriate Sparky.”
“I think I’m gonna be sig to my stomach.” I said between nose drips.
Alistair looked up at us and giggled. It was a hideous chortle. It had a gurgling sound to it, and the smell of cheap liquor mixed with sweaty plastic was an unmistakable musk.
“Je-sus Alistair! We’re on stage in fifteen minutes man!”
There was a knock on the door. It was Chas. His voice drifted through with calm authority. “Twelve minutes guys.”
“Je-sus! Twelve minutes. Fuck me!”
“I wouldn’t say thad in frunt of our present combany, Doc.”
Alistair’s laugh suddenly changed to blubbering and his head sagged.
“Alistair we go on in twelve minutes you have to get it together man.”
“Don’t tell my wife mate,” he sobbed. “You know . . . about the tart.” He nodded toward Wanda.
I looked at Wanda and her expressionless open armed invitation with gapping mouth. “Alistair you’re not married,” Doc assured.
He wouldn’t hear of it and continued to sob. “Crikey, if she finds out I’ve been unfaithful, I’ll never be able to sit about the house with my balls hanging out.”
Doc shot his hands up in frustration. “Well, there’s always the closet in the dressing room at Slowhand’s.”
“It’s all righd Alistair.” I tossed Wanda across the room. She floated effortlessly and landed next to a coat rack by the door. “Look the other woban’s gone. Doc helb me get him ub ok. . . Doc? Come on! Now!”
Doc was wrapping a couple of Skunk’s extra stage towels around his hands. “I’m not touching his sweaty bulbous body, Sparky. Who knows what kind of cooties he has. I’ve already been accosted by a homeless guy tonight and I’m not risking further injury.”
“Hurry ub. I need your helb. He’s a heaby bugger.”
Alistair’s head sagged forward. “Crickey mate. My tally-whacker’s out saluting the Queen.”
“Unfortunately we already noticed that.” Doc grunted.
We struggled to get him out of the closet and on a nearby chair. Alistair slumped in the seat and began to swing his hips from side to side. “Tic-toc. Tic-toc. Look at me mate, I’m a human clock.”
“Doc, ged his panzs.”
“What I want to know, is how did he get out of them and still have his boots on?”
“Just ged his panzs! Alistair you’ll have to gib me your leg.”
Doc held up the pants. “Hello boys! I see they’re tear-a-ways. Explains a lot, don’t it?” He crumpled them into a ball and tossed them to me. I unrolled them, snapped together a few clasps, and held out an open pant leg for our drummer.
“Alistair, gib me your leg.”
“Tic-toc. Tic-toc . . . ”
“Alistair! For Christ sake! Your leg. Now!”
He brought his leg up and it thumped to the floor missing the pant leg altogether. There was another knock at the door and Chas’ voice floated through in a muffle. “Ten minutes guys.”
“OK! OK! We’ll be there!”
“Oh, and Blake Cole just walked in.”
“Fantasdic.” I mumbled. “Just in tibe to see us in disarray with our drunk drubber.”
“What’s a drunk drubber?” Alistair inquired.
The door opened.
“Chas I told you we’ll be there!”
But it was the Mayor. “I brought you some ice cream for your throat.”
Doc protested. “You can’t give him that. Sparky you can’t eat that with a cold. Dairy products will cause more phlegm. — He can’t eat it. Take it back.”
“I can’t take it back, Doc. Are you mad?”
“Doc by throad feels like fordy feed of grabel ass. I hab to do somethink.”
“Well not ice cream, Sparky. Get another lozenge.”
“Fine! I’ll eat it myself,” the Mayor admonished. Feeling unappreciated, he sat down with a thump.
Arsehole Party raised his leg slightly but it again fell with a thud. He began to snivel again. “I’m dying mate. I know it.”
“You’re juzz drunk. You’re nod dying!”
“Then why is the doctor here?”
“Thad’s Doc Barlow you fool. He’s dressed for stage.”
Alistair thought for a second. “Doc Balow? I just can’t handle that guy.” He put his hand to the side of his face and whispered. “But don’t tell him that mate.”
“Doc hold his leg.”
“I’ll hold his fat fuckin’ neck if he doesn’t shut his yap.” Doc tightened his towels and then struggled to lift the tree-like appendage. Even under the towels surrounding his fist I could see Doc wasn’t kidding, his hand really did look swollen.
Arsehole Party was giggling again, “That tickles mate.”
“Let me hit him Sparky. Just once.”
I started to shove a rolled up pant leg over his boot and up his leg. “Good Alistair. Now the udder one.” Repeatedly he raised his foot and missed the mark clomping his boot down.
“What a sad spectacle.” The Mayor said. He poked Wanda between mouthfuls of ice cream with his wooden spoon. “Wanda looks a little saggy. She’s probably sprung a leak with lard ass all over her. Looks like he finally found a woman who didn’t turn him down huh?”
Alistair looked at the Mayor with envious eyes as he plowed his plastic utensil into the ice cream. Licking his lips he said, “Hey mate, if I got a spoon could I have a taste of that?”
“No!” The Mayor said. He seemed disgusted by Arsehole Party’s request and cradled his small dish of ice cream to the side, out of sight.
“Mayor, go down stairs and try to ged em to delay the show. Send Skids ub here.”
The Mayor, still protecting his dessert, snapped to his feet and abruptly left. Doc and I continued to struggle with an uncooperative Arsehole Party and his other pant leg. No sooner had the door closed behind the Mayor, it opened again and a girl pushed her way in.
“Oh my . . . what’s wrong with him.”
“He’s drunk Alice.”
“I’m Phyllis. Alice is down stairs waiting for you. She sent me up to see what’s going on. People are getting restless.”
“I knew thad.. Phyllis I need you to do somethink for me.”
Alistair started to drool as he spied Phyllis. “Sweet visions of Venus.”
Doc cautioned him. “There’s no more time for that now. Settle down or I swear to God I’ll hit ya with my good hand.”
“Phyllis I need you to fine Skunk and don’t let her cub ub here. Tell her we’ll be there soon, but under no circubstanzes is she to cub ub here. Understand?”
Doc responded dryly. “Does anyone understand what you just said?”
“Thag you berry much.”
She scurried out of the room.
“Fug dis cold!” I grunted.
Wanda’s battle scars had deflated her further. Her head, with gapping mouth, now drooped to her perky plastic breasts like a worrisome spine injury. She began to deflate under the chair which no longer propped her up faithfully to witness our meager attempts to dress our drummer.
“There’s no way we can use Wanda on stage tonight Sparky. The Mayor’s right she sprung a leak. She’s been through a traumatic enough experience anyway with Mr. Porkpie hat here.”
Skids pushed his way into the room. “The Mayor said you . . . ” He started to laugh. “is sweet.”
“It’s not funny Skids I need you to helb Doc get him downstairs. I have to get somethink for my throat.” I began to clear my voice again with distressing regularity and it disintegrated quickly into a coughing fit.
“You can’t leave me here alone, Sparky. I’m not putting pants on him. You ever change babies diapers? They always piss all over you right before you get it on them. I’m not taking the chance here.”
“Skids is here to helb Doc.”
“What? I’m not touching him.”
“Skids, stop laughing. We need your helb.”
“You and I couldn’t get his pants on, Sparky. What makes you think Skids and I are going to have anymore success?”
“Well whad do you suggez Doc? He can’t go on stage in nothink but his boods.” I wheezed. “And take off those damn towels, no wonder you can’t ged his panz on.” I ground my throat harder. It sounded like I was dragging a steel shovel across cement.
Skids continued to laugh. He was becoming hysterical and had to push his trade mark swoop of hair out of his face. “What happened to Wanda?”
Doc pointed to Arsehole Party as he continued. “How do we know he can even play in this condition?”
“Because he’s been shid-faced at mozed of our rehearsals, thaz why.”
“Just don’t tell my wife mate. I’ll be in the dog-box for a month.”
“She’s going to smell the plastic on you,” Doc teased. He tossed Skunk’s towels by the door.
Alistair got teary eyed as Skids began to howl again. “You mean to tell me Wanda and Alistair . . .?”
“Skids we hab to sobber his ass ub. Think of somethink.”
“I wonder what the kids will look like?”
Skids reached into his pocket and retracted some change. He fished through the coins and plucked out a penny. He approached Alistair and began to force the coin into his drooling mouth.
“For God sake man, whaddar you drying to do? He’ll choke.”
“Relax, I saw this in a medical magazine. The copper will help him sobber up. It acts as an inhibitor. — Come on, Alistair. Open up old boy. Here comes the airplane into the hanger.”
“This is ludicrous.” I growled.
“Sparky’s right you fool it’s supposed to be a quarter.” Doc began to search his pockets.
Arsehole Party began to gag as the penny found its mark imbedded somewhere between is cheek and teeth. He began to make sounds like a cat coughing up a hairball. “CAUGHHHK!”
Skids tried to force another penny between his lips. “It’s for your own good.”
“Skids you idiot. Let me in there,” Doc spouted, with his quarter raised. He looked like someone anxious to make his three song selections on the jukebox.
“Stob it! Both of you. This is stoobid.”
They stopped and turned to me in mid insert. Arsehole Party gaged again. “CAUGHHHK!”
“You both hab no idea whad you’re docking aboud. We hab to get him dressed. That’s the prioridy here. Nod, can we fit change for a fifdy in his fuggin’ mouth.” There was another knock at the door. “Grand Cendral Station! Whad is the world insane? JEBUS H. CHRIST! WHAD IS ID?” The words ripped from my vocal cords like rusty razors.
Skunk entered. “Guys, I’ve been waiting for you down stairs. We’re on in . . . ” She spied Arsehole Party, slumped and sobbing in his boots with one pant leg trailing from the knee like a rampart flag in need of wind. “— Mother fucker!” Skunk charged forward and threw a punch at Alistair hitting him in the head and knocking him off the chair to the floor. He landed with a thump. The pant-flag raised. “CAUGHHHK!” There was a faint plink of a coin hitting the floor and rolling away into one of the corners where it wobbled until Lincoln gazed upward— motionless— unblinking.
Doc and I grabbed our guitarist. “Now is not the tibe.” I hissed. “We hab to ged him ready to go on.”
“He can’t play like that!”
“Yes he can. Skunk! Lizzen to me while I still hab a voice, God dab it! We hab no choice. We can't cancel now. We’ve waded a year to do this. We don't go on, it’s all ober.”
“Sparky’s right . . . I think . . . the show must go on.”
In a delayed reaction, the punch finally registered and Alistair let out a weak, “Ow.” He was still laying prone on the floor like a cow that had just been tipped. “Was that my wife mate?”
Rage seized Skunk again and she tried to kick Arsehole Party from her restrained position.
“Skunk! Stob id! Dis is nod helbing madders.” My voice was like verbal gravel. How was I going to sing? “Doc please think of somethink.”
Again Alistair’s slurred voice ascended from the floor boards. “I think I’m bleeding. I can taste copper.”
The intro music began to play from beneath our feet. Doc sounded alarmed. “Holy Louie Be-je-sus! What the hell?”
“Fug! The intro tabe. We’re subbose to go on. Skids helb doc with dis ass. We’ll see you down der. Cub on Skunk.” I pulled on her arm. “Deal with him laider. We hab to ged on stage.” My lungs cried out for oxygen as my vocal engine sputtered and coughed. My nostrils inadvertently began to close tighter, constricting any passage of air.
Doc regained his composure. “Go!” He demanded. “Get down there! We’ll think of something . . . Skids, where’s the penny?”
Skunk and I stood on stage in the darkness. Sheer terror hijacked our emotions while we waited for the others. The crowd before us grew restless as the intro tape faded and I coughed in echo through the microphone.
Suddenly, emerging from the shadows we saw three figures approaching. Doc had an arm and escorted a toga clad Arsehole Party to the stage while Skids followed behind, holding the tail end of what had been a curtain over the window in the dressing room. It was now wrapped around our drummer and fastened with duct-tape to hold it in place. Skids smiled proudly like he was holding the train in a wedding procession behind a hideous bride on the arm of her father. Together they passed through the stunned amazement of onlookers, Skunk and I included.
“Holy Christ. What the fuck is this?” Skunk whispered. Surely she echoed the rustling mumble from the audience.
“Here comes da bride,” I responded. I sent another cough echoing through the P.A. system.
Arsehole Party’s makeshift garment snagged on one side of the stage’s lighting and imagery, knocking a good portion of it over with a crash. It sent up a poof of smoke like an ascending thunder cloud. The panic of a night disintegrating before our eyes jabbed my gut like a blade of hot steel. I was burning from the humiliation of it. There would be no escape from this hideous evening now. They got him to the stage and plopped him behind his drum kit like a rag doll. Skunk looked absolutely disgusted, I swallowed hard as beads of sweat dripped from my forehead and Doc shrugged and took his place behind the keyboards. Here goes nothing. Skids placed sticks in Alistair’s hands, jammed the headphones on his beet-red melon, and left the stage with a salute to the audience. Doc began the click track as our drunken percussionist counted us in to our first song of the night.
I’d really like to blame Arsehole Party for that night. His selfish indulgement had started the landslide and eradicated any prayer of deliverance, but on stage it was the rest of us who looked unnerved and shaken.
Surprisingly, Arsehole Party performed with convincing force. He blasted into the opening number. I could hear him from behind me. “Bam! Bam! Bam!” With the occasional, “Caughhhhk,” he trudged through like a consummate professional. He played better than I’d ever heard him. Too bad the rest of us were now off our game. Skunk appeared distracted, as she stood lifeless with a look of dour disgust across her face. Anger seeped from her every pore. The only movement she made was between songs as he wiped her face with a towel reeking strangely of sweat and plastic. Doc hacked through one mistake after another as he tried to play his keyboard with a right hand resembling a ham. He glanced around nervously like a fugitive moments away from being apprehended. And my voice blew out three songs into the set, rendering me to a monotone hoarse whisper ala Bob Dylan.
Nothing worked. Too much fog, lights shorted out, half the set was destroyed or in disarray due to our toga-clad nemesis. I was a glistening glaze of perspiration as if I had a distillery of it inside my body brewing to the surface.
The crowning humiliation however, was the moment Wanda made her appearance, right on cue, in the fifth song. She fell with a lifeless splat like a molted snake skin. Skids had not been privy to Doc and my conversation giving Wanda the night off. He had raced up to the dressing room between songs to retrieve our deflated prized prop.
The exodus began. Our tortured audience had seen enough. One after another they headed for the exits. Somehow the night came to a conclusion with a grand finale of Arsehole Party standing up and losing his man-made frock in the process. He then proceeded to projectile vomit onto the floor behind the kit, with the solid twack of a penny hitting the snare drum. I strained my voice to say, “ Thanks for cubing. Goodnide!” There would be no encore.