Saturday, January 05, 2008

HMH #24

Chapter Twenty-four - Let’s get this party started


Arsehole Party arched his back. He looked skyward as he shielded his eyes. He held his porkpie hat in place to keep it from leaping off his head. A simple enough motion, but to me, it was an elaborate presentation. I’m here, look at me, it screamed. I’m the savior, the answer to all your problems; the genie fresh from the bottom of a bottle of Jim Beam.

I looked at Doc. “God help us. What have we done?” I felt bad about not telling the Mayor the truth, but I would’ve looked like a complete idiot after his comments, saying, “Oh by the way . . . ” And Skunk? I didn’t want to go there to imagine the possibilities, but I knew between the medication and her inherent love for sleep, she’d have to be physically wakened.

The door bell began to ring insistently. It beckoned with an urgency as if royalty were on our doorstep.

“Je-sus! He’s going to wake up the entire household.”

“Skunk included! Quick get the door before that buffoon wrecks everything.”

Doc and I dashed to the door before it was too late. This whole venture required stealth and secrecy. Alistair had to get in, lay down his tracks and get out before anyone was wiser, especially Skunk. We had stressed the point to Arsehole Party over and over. How could he be so stupid?

Doc reached the door first and flung it open. I bumped into him from behind.

“Ello mates, long time no jabber.”

Doc mumbled through grit teeth. “Not long enough.” I needled him with my elbow.

“Looks like you fine fellows couldn’t wait for me to get here, running to the door like I was the Royal shagger of the House of Lords.”

“Alastair, didn’t we tell you not to ring . . . ?”

“Sorry chaps,” he laughed. “Forgot myself. Me noggin’s not what it used to be. Too many late nights owlin’ at the moon you understand.” Arsehole Party trudged forward, inviting himself in, and surveyed the surroundings. Time had not been kind to him and the lines of age danced on his face. They spanned out from his eyes in a road map of self abuse and hard living. Beneath dark clip-ons, hid his trademark Lennon spectacles. He had a loud striped shirt of greens, blues, ripe yellows and reds, over ripped jeans. Is he here to drum or audition for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat?

He leaned forward and sniffed a vase of fake roses on a table near the door. “You got the rest of my quid?”

“Right here,” I said, showing him the two C notes. I had ripped them in half the previous evening. I’d given him one side as a down payment and kept the others, hoping to entice him to show up. We didn’t want him drinking the money away again before he got here. Doc and I were getting too old to check trash receptacles.

I looked at him warily. “You get the other half and the scotch tape after you perform, understand? The quicker you get it done, the quicker you get a couple of Ben Franklins in your pocket.”

“Righteo mate. I’m a hundred percent on board with you captain.” He even saluted to accentuate the point. “But perhaps in the meantime you could make this poor cabin-boy a spot of tea, preferably by introducing Earl Grey to Glen Fiddich and Bailey’s Irish if you got any?”

“You want the entire British Isle in a pot?”

“Now we understand each other.” Alistair winked as he touched the side of his nose. He let out a boisterous laugh and smacked Doc between the shoulder blades. Doc looked as if he were about to return the contact to a place of greater sensitivity.

I pleaded. “Alistair keep it down please. Others are still sleeping.”

Suds came down from the control room holding the rail as he took one step at a time with his little feet. “What’s all the commotion over? Sounds like a pack of hungry dogs down here.”

“No just one dog. —Suds, this is our guest percussionist. Alistair Pare’.”

“The third,” he added.

“Alistair Pare’ III” I grumbled. To think there are two other buffoons that came before this one.

Alistair viewed our pint-sized engineer by sliding his glasses to the end of his nose. “Crikey! Lord Almighty buy me dinner and call me a Sheila. That’s the last time I freebase after I drink a forty of Rum. I’m seeing leprechauns.”

“Suds is the engineer here Alistair. Show him some respect. —Suds why don’t you take Mr. Pare’ into the booth and get him set up while we make him some tea.”

Suds looked a little apprehensive —not sure if he should step too close to this new lion in the cage— but nodded for Alistair to follow.

“Shouldn’t you be out on the lawn with the rest of your kind?”

“Alistair please!”

“Right mate. Respect, gotcha. Sorry, wee man. Nice display of dollies you have out on the yard.”

“They’re garden gnomes.”

“I don’t care if they’re guarding the grave of the Queen Mum, they look as unnatural as Churchill is Friday night fishnets.” He laughed aloud again as the two disappeared from sight.

“It’ll be a miracle if we get through this Doc.”

“I thought you said no booze at the studio this weekend?”

“You want him here when Skunk wakes up?”

Doc grazed at me in mid eye-roll. “I’ll get him his tea Sparky, but he’d better finish playing before the poison kicks in.”

*

Within fifteen minutes we were ready. Alistair sipped happily on his spiked tea and Suds returned to the booth shaking his head, to join Barlow, I, and a yawning Wally. Suds clicked on the video monitors revealing a grinning Arsehole Party from two different angles. His head phones were jammed on his head and divided his porkpie hat in two, like a slowly sinking dingy.

Wally locked his fingers together on top of his head and reclined. His belly threatened to bust out of his buttoned flannel shirt, and the burr of his beard looking almost reddish in the morning sun. “Isn’t that the guy you swore you’d never perform with again?”

“Yes Wally.”

“The guy who you insist to this day, destroyed the band?”

“Yes Wally.”

“The guy who—”

“— Seems the appropriate thing would be, not to call attention to past fuck-ups Wally.”

“All I was saying is—”

“— Look! Desperate times call for desperate measures, and unfortunately the temp agency was all out of repugnant drumming assholes. He’s all we have. He’s going to lay down a groove overtop of Grub’s track and do some drum rolls. Then we’ll get him the hell out of here.”

“That man is an obnoxious imbecile,” Suds scoffed. He adjusted a few levels and squirmed in his seat like he had a severe case of ass-rash.

“Tell us something we don’t know.”

Suds continued to shake his head from side to side. “I told him I was going to run a few passes of the song by him so he could familiarize himself where the holes were, and you know what he told me? He told me, ‘Poppycock’. I says to him, ‘pardon,’ and he says, ‘poppycock,’ again. Sept this time he’s wigglin both his fingers at me like he’s going to start tickling me or somethin’. So I says, ‘but I was told, you didn’t know the material.’ That’s when he says he, ‘doesn’t know the song,’ he was, ‘guessing at the size of my penis.’ That man is an ass!”

“I’m sorry Suds. Believe me, none of us need him here one second longer than he has to be.”

“No argument from me on that, and I only just met him.” Suds pressed a talk button and interrupted Alistair in mid slurp. “We just want you to listen. Get a feel for it, and then we’ll try some fills over the top.”

“Right-e-o mate.”

Suds rolled the track and Arsehole Party listened, as he poured another cup from the pot. It was the first time I was hearing what had been sculpted in our absence the night before. Skunk had laid down a tasteful melody line and Grub had done his best to navigate a solid beat. At the conclusion of the song before the fade, Suds stopped the machines and reset the computer. He pulled all instruments from the mix except for one guitar line, a simple bass line, click track, and Grub’s kick drum.

“How was that?” Suds asked him. “Any questions?”

“Yes. Just one mate.”

“Go ahead.”

“What have you done with me Lucky Charms?!” He let out a hideous cackle. Suds was visibly not impressed.

I turned to Doc. “He’s still drunk as fuck. This is bad.”

“And we’re feeding the flame. Well, you said yourself last night we had no choice and as much as I hate to agree, it’s this or nothing. I’m not letting that bastard Alexander shit kick us from here to forty shades of Friday. A couple more hours of this pain is nothing compared to an eternity of it.”

Arsehole Party interrupted the conversation as his voice cut through the speakers. “Where’s me pot o’ gold?!” It was followed by another round of obscene laughter.

“Are you done?!” Suds spat. “Times a waistin’.”

“Right-e-o mate. — Say, could someone fetch me another pot of tea before we roll? I appear to be dry.”

Doc was astounded. “He drank that whole pot already?”

“...and with a little bit more of the Scottish Major. You know heavy on the Glen less Earl.” He held the pot upside down and shook it like an empty canteen until a couple of tea bags defecated from the opening. They fell on the snare drum with a wet thwack.

Doc reached forward and pressed the button. “There is no more tea. Just do the track. Je-sus!”

Suds mumbled in disgust. “Your friend’s a real piece of work.”

“He’s here to lay down a few tracks. That’s all. He’s nobody’s friend.” I assured.

“So that’s the famous Arsehole Party. Now I see why you were so desperate to have me come.” Grub spoke as he ascended the stairs and plopped him self into a swivelled chair where he began to slouch. His arm still swung from its sling. “And who drank all my tea?” Instinctively we all pointed at the video monitor where Arsehole Party sat behind Grub’s fortress of wood and metal squeezing the hell out of a tea bag to get the last drops into his open mouth.

“Let’s try one on the track. Alistair.”

Alistair tossed the bag into a corner and picked up his sticks. “Right as rain me Ol’ Buck-o.”

Suds rolled the track as our drunken guest percussionist grooved along and started to fill the voids. “Bam! Bam! Bam!” He yelled over his snare strikes.

“What’s he doing?” Suds stopped the track and pressed the talk button. “Alistair you’re making noise with your mouth. The microphones are picking it up.”

“Sorry mate. It’s my thing. A ritual like playing Mums and Dads with the French Nanny when your Wife’s off playing Bingo.”

“Well stop doing it!”

“I’ll give it another go.”

“Sorry Suds, I guess we should have warned you about...his mannerisms,” I said. I was starting to have severe second thoughts about this whole situation.

Suds glared at us and reset the track. It rolled again, but once more Arsehole Party mouthed the beats with an audible. “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

The song ground to a whirred stop and rewound in a murmur of ghostly flutters.

“You’re doing it again.”

“Right-e-o mate. It’s just...the song’s hard to follow.”

“Its just three frickin’ instruments, Alistair. Guitar, bass and drums. Je-sus focus!” Doc babbled.

“Look you’re a professional are you not? Put the track in, and earn your two bills,capische?”

“Right my Captain.”

“This is going to be harder than I thought.” I lamented.

“Who’s making sure Skunk doesn’t come up here.” Wally said. It was an innocent enough question. After all, Skunk’s contempt for this man was well documented even if you hadn’t witnessed it first hand.

Doc and I sent glances of panic at one another. We had been so focused with trying to get this over with as quickly and mercifully as we could, we’d forgotten about Skunk as the sun climbed higher and the clock ticked away into a new day. This had been a huge gamble, we knew it, but we didn’t need to put the odds in favor of the house anymore than they already were. Dead sleeper or not, eventually our guitarist would wake up on her own accord. We needed someone to stand guard.

But...as the musical Gods would have it, they sent another icy blast our way. A groggy Skunk started to trudge up the stairs yawning. Abruptly we made Suds shut off the monitors as Skunk appeared at the top of the stairway fluffing up her short spike of hair. She chewed away the remnants of the sandman with subtle smacks of her lips. She was dressed in a silky red housecoat with her red high-tops peeking out beneath it. She sought the emptiness of a table near the back and set a full mug of steaming coffee on it. “Good morning. Early start? What’s going my gentlemen?”

Doc stood at attention. “Actually I was just coming to find you. I wanted to work on a few ideas while they finish up the percussion in here.”

Skunk glanced at Grub, confused. “Sure Doc, just let me have a coffee and get my bearings and then—”

“— But this can’t wait. I might forget the melody.”

“Yeah Doc’s old. He forgets stuff easily,” Grub advised.

“Not too old to kick your ass little bug man.”

Skunk picked up his mug again. “Ok, Doc. If it’s that important.”

Suds pressed the talk button. “We’re going to run another pass. Here it comes.” The song sprang to life as the tape tugged the musical tones to recognition. Doc gently pushed Skunk toward the stairs, following her out. The drummer began to hammer in some tasteful percussion. It looked like he was going to get through the track, then suddenly, “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Suds shut the track down again. Skunk stopped dead and turned slowly back to Suds and I at the console. A voice came through the speakers. “I’m sorry mate but I can’t concentrate. The guitarist is stepping on everyone else’s dick on the track.”

I began chatting nervously to Skunk- gibberish really- any noise I could make to cover Alistair’s yammering.

“Let’s try it again. Right through now.” Suds said.

“Wait a minute . . . I know that voice . . . That Bam . . . Am I dreaming? I must be.”

For a minute I thought Skunk was actually going to turn around and go back to bed. Somehow she was just a victim of some repulsive nightmare and would wake to find herself under the covers with the light streaming through the curtains to the happy chirping of birds. But a haunting realization was bubbling to the surface and the awareness, this was no dream, was sinking in fast. Her facial expression started to change with time-lapsed expediency. “What’s he doing here, Sparky!?”

“It’s not how it looks.”

“What’s he doing here!”

“I can explain.”

“Never mind, I’ll find out for myself!”

“Skunk wait!”

“I’m going to finish what I should have done fifteen years ago.”

Skunk charged down the stairs and seemed to be in the room before any of us could react. Suds turned the video monitors back on in time to see Skunk toss the very same vase of flowers Arsehole Party had admired on his arrival, at his head. It missed him and smashed into the wall behind. She dived over top of the kit at an unsuspecting Alistair. Muck-lucks and red high-tops kicked violently in a tangled, unsynchronized, mess of limbs.

Quickly, Wally, Doc and I bolted down after him. We burst in on the fracas. Skunk had Alistair in a strangle hold. She had wrestled him to the floor and wrapped the headphone cord around his neck. Arsehole Party’s tea cup had dropped and shattered with an explosion of porcelain. Skunk shook him with hostile force beneath the tent of her red housecoat as she straddled him.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!”

“Get this banshee off me! Get 'er off!!!” The muck-lucks screamed, as they continued to kick wildly.

“Skunk you’re choking him!”

Skunk puffed as she tightened the cord. “That’s good, because that’s what I intend to do!”

“Agghuk!” Alistair squealed.

We grabbed at Skunk, lifting her with legs kicking and pulled her back. Cymbals, drums and microphones tumbled with crashing force in the melee. Eventually we managed to pin her to the wall while she panted in her restraint. Alistair sat like a rag-doll in the corner rubbing his wounded throat and groaned.

Skunk looked at me wounded, her eyes full of poison. “I draw the line Sparky. Get this asshole out of here! I don’t care if it cost us the recording! I will kill this fat fuck if he remains anywhere within ten miles of me!”

“Who you callin’ fat mate? You got an ass on you that could choke a hungry Chinaman.”

Skunk tried to break free for another onslaught.

“Alistair grab your shit and get out!” I yelled.

“What about my money Mate?”

“Get the fuck out of here or you won’t be alive to spend it!”

“Man hater. You’re crazy!” He said, pointing at Skunk and massaging his bruised pharynx. “You’re all crazy. Fuck me for tryin to elp. Bloody ell!”

“Wally, you’re the least likely to kill this motherfucker. Take him back to the Casino and if you happen to see Johnny or Phil tell them this ass just assaulted the blue-hairs.”

Skunk struggled. “Let me go!”

“Only if you promise not to chase after him. — Alistair get out before we let her go.”

Grub had entered the room to survey his obliterated kit once again- his arm hanging limp in his sling, he dropped to his knees. “Meyaa! Meyaa!” He wheezed.

Arsehole party corrected his spectacles. With one hand still nurturing his throat, he swept his crumpled hat from the floor in a swooping motion. He brushed off his porkpie apparel and coughed in a display of dramatic self-pity. Wally grabbed his arm and guided him to the door.

“Hey mate. I’ve heard better guitar noises coming from the ass of dying wallaby.”

“Let me go!” Skunk shouted. Doc and I had half a mind to let her go, but hung on.

“Wally get him out of here!”

Wally shoved Alistair forward and out of view or further insult. Doc and I released our grip when we were sure Wally had escorted him far enough from ground zero and the cursing was no longer within earshot. We could hear the rumble of the Hino’s diesel as Wally fired up the engine and Arsehole Party was thankfully gone.

Grub looked up from the tangled mess of equipment. “That’s it. I’m done.”

“So am I. I’m going home.” Skunk acquiesced trying to hold back the tears. She brushed herself off but was still trembling with rage.

“They’re right Sparky,” Doc joined in. “This weekend has been nothing but one disaster piled on top of another— pancaked crisis. I can’t take anymore of it either. We didn’t get any of Arsehole Party’s drumming recorded. Face it. It’s over. For some reason, this was never meant to happen. It was foolish for us to try.”

“What about not letting Alexander win, Doc?”

“Sparky, I’m too tired for pride.”

I looked at them all, a vacant stare, void of emotion. I was tired too. This had been the last straw of many last straws, and part of me wanted to admit defeat and go back to my nothing life in my basement apartment bunker. I wanted to get away from this madness, hide in the darkness, loaded with pain killers and a cold cloth across my eyes. However, something inside me stirred and began to grow with a fierceness. Like in the dream I did not take this turn of events quietly and if this was truly the end than I wanted the last word. I began to speak. Perhaps speak isn’t the appropriate word for what happened next. I rambled, I ranted, I emptied an arsenal of vocabulary I never knew I had, and it became louder with each sentence, each passing phrase. I always shied away from confrontation like it was a toothless delinquent on the opposite street corner begging for spare change. It’s not like I wasn’t sensitive to attacking comments, I was just a little slow with the sink-in process. Usually by the time I was finally irate I was screaming, “oh yeah, well fuck you,” into an empty room, but not this time. I found the anger well up inside of me. All I had been through, the rad, the outhouse, the crazy old bastard with the chicken, the accident, Arsehole Party and Griffin Alexander, those damn uncomfortable boots of Tiny’s, being accused, and poked, and prodded. I had seen enough. Johnny Malveen was about to have his moment and everyone was going to hear it, or else.

“I just wanted to do this for Wires, for myself too, but mostly for Wires. Why? Because it was his dying wish we all make something of our lives. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean I need to be famous. To have the attention of the entire female populace wilting before me, tossing their undies at me from the hidden crevice of a twitching clitoris. No. This was to be the opportunity of recognition, for years of hard work and fortitude. Chances are, even if we were successful this weekend we’d still finish second place to the band with the gimmicks and the chipped nail polish who don’t even write their own songs. But that’s ok. We would have the knowledge, at least we tried. This business has always been a shell game. I accepted it long ago. But, it is also about perseverance and overcoming the obstacles set in front of you. Now look at us. Look at me. I’ve lied. I’ve been devious and underhanded. I’ve put us all in emotional peril and for what? My fifteen minutes? For one more chance to guess which shell the peanut is under? I suppose I wanted to feel like there is still some substance in the void of a wasted forty plus years on this planet. Christ! I just wanted an above average life doing what I loved. To finally get rid of the milk crates and get some real furniture.”

Grub whispered to Doc from the side of his mouth. “Do you know where he’s going with this?”

“No idea.”

“— Go if you want. Quit if you feel you have to. I can’t change your mind and I’m not sure I want to anymore. I can’t do this by myself. I need you all here. I thought that was evident. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to fail when you have the support of others. I haven’t exactly had those safety nets in my relationships, my family, my friends. My association with each and every one of you, despite what you may believe, has been one of friendship and camaraderie. It has not been about cross-merchandising, or one of corporate brands and identities.”

Doc interrupted. “You know Sparky, one day a single corporation will own the entire world. I can see it now, Glop Incorporated. One big drive through.”

“Who the FUCK! cares, Doc? Why don’t you stay on topic for once in your God damn life and stop interrupting people with mumbo jumbo that has no significance to the subject . . . now where was I?”

Grub moaned weakly. “Friendship.”

“...Ah yes . . . friendship. You know what? Fuck that! Fuck friendship. It’s obvious. I’m not going to get through to any of you extending the hand of friendship. We are beyond that. I don’t profess to know what you’re thinking, or feeling, and right now I don’t care! But I’ll tell you this. Wires gave us all a wonderful opportunity to do something with our lives. To break free of the mundane, every day, bullshit, workload, of a warehouse, factory, outhouse, nothing, dot com life. And I’m not talking about paving the way to relive the past, playing in front of bunch of hacks who don’t give a fuck about who we are or what we play. Screaming at us to perform Iron Maiden or Slayer, or slowly whither away to a laughing stalk like Matt Morgolis. This was a chance to rewrite, to reinvent, to create and make something of ourselves. I can’t understand why you are prepared to walk away from that? To sit around like expectant fathers waiting for the birth of another opportunity. At our age, it may never come again. Are the words of Blake Cole so far removed, you don’t remember what he said? This was meant to be a cool breeze, the life blood, the antioxidant of essence, not this...this headache of massive proportions it has become. You know . . . People always spout how they wouldn’t change a thing in their life. Fuck them! Of course they wouldn’t. They are the successful ones with a silver spoon hanging out their puckering sphincters. Well I’m here to tell you, I would. I would change a whole heap of shit and I would start with Carolyn Iverson!”

“Who is Caro—?”

“— Let him go, Doc.”

“Man! That chick was hot with great feet! I desired her all through highschool, but I was too shy to do anything. Once after a party at her place, she invited me up to see her room. I was sixteen. She even sat on her bed for God’s sake and rubbed the quilt next to her saying what a nice spread it was. Reaching out, inviting me to sit next to her, to take her, to ravage her, and make love to her. I know that now. But you know what I did? I stood there like an idiot going ‘Uh huh?’ You know why?”

“Why?”

“Shut up Grub!”

“But you asked.”

“Shut up Skunk!”

“Because I was scarred. I dug her so much, I was afraid of rejection, of failure, of feeling my self-esteem drop off the edges of the flat world I had created for myself! I stood, and did NOTHING! I wanted her so bad and I did NOTHING! Do you understand? You know what I’d do if I could change the past? I would FUCK Carolyn within an inch of her life- sex beyond all sex she had ever experienced. I would take control of that situation and sit down next to her on her cheap, ass, quilt. I would put my mouth on hers with such passion she’d nearly pass-out from the heat of it. I'd eat her from the ass-end forward. But the moment is gone and I can’t change it. I chose my path and I must now live by it.”

A lone cymbal, leaning against the wall finally lost its grasp and crashed to the floor.

“What I’m trying to say, if you’ll let me get a word in edgewise, is, this opportunity before us, Wires so graciously gave us, is in essence Carolyn Iverson. She’s waiting to be fucked! But you can’t see it can you?! You don’t have the grapefruits to take it. You’re all too blind on your own pain to take control and blow your load into the inviting sweet pink."

"Where's this going Doc?"

"I think he's trying to say Skunk's a lesbian."

"So it’s up to me to take control! And I will, but not in the way you think. Forget Carolyn and forget the music! Like I said, the moment is lost! You want to quit! THEN QUIT!! Walk out that door, turn your back on what could have been! But not before me!!! I’m not going to remain here like something rotting under the couch cushions. So FUCK it! FUCK the recording. FUCK Blake Cole for turning his back on us. FUCK Arsehole Party and his fuckin’ muck-lucks. FUCK that Griffin Alexander and FUCK THAT FUCKIN” CREEPY BIBLE TOWN. FUCK! Fuck you all! Just FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK! GOD DAMMIT FUCKIN WHORE, FUCK . . . SLUT . . . FUCK MOTHERFUCKER PISS. BECAUSE I QUIT!”

Everyone genuinely looked frightened as my craziness escalated and the words flew from my mouth, no longer in a discernable order. They all stood with gapping oral voids and pie-eyed expressions.

Satisfied, if nothing more than the shock of it, I had made my point, I turned to leave. Miss Agnes stood there in the doorway, still in her Sunday best. Her hands were pasted on her hips and her mouth held a scowl of biblical proportions. She stood in front of Tiny- hear no evil- who had his huge hands squished over his ears. I don’t know how much of my tirade she heard but whatever it was, it was enough. She didn’t look impressed as much as she looked absolutely furious.

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