The late-afternoon daylight once again streamed through the window of my hotel room. I sat upon the bed in my boxer shorts, my hair wet from a recent shower, and read a flyer for tonight’s show at Seattle. First up was a performance art duo called ‘Pliable Concrete.’ The accompanying photograph featured a young man and woman carrying elephant tusks and cans of spray paint. Next, was a band of apparently hygienically handicapped young men with greasy hair named ‘Watermelon.’ And the headliners of the evening were a band named ‘We-Are-Endeavoring-To-Make-The-Name-Of-This-Band- The-Longest-Name-Of-Any-Band-That-Has-Yet-Given-Voice-To-A- Tune-On-The-Face-Of-This-Earth-So-Help-Me-God-Amen.’
It was looking to be a fine evening at the club.
I laid the flyer down on the bed and thought again about just why I was bothering to go to the club. I had put in enough time to give the proper appearance to my assignment. I could hop on one of those commuter planes at any minute, sail out of Terre Haute, and never have to think about the place again for the rest of my miserable life.
“Why don’t you?” I asked myself aloud. There was no response from the empty room, but I thought that I had a fairly good idea as to what that response would be if it should come. The simple fact of the matter was that I kind of wanted to stay here. In fact, for some strange reason, I could picture myself sticking around here for quite a while. I was beginning to make some friends, which is something that hasn’t happened in years. And, for some reason that I couldn’t quite comprehend, I liked Terre Haute, Indiana.
I looked up at my reflection in the mirror above the dresser. “Are you on drugs?” I asked my reflection. My reflection did not answer, but it was fairly obvious by the clarity of the reflected eyes that drugs had nothing to do with my current condition. Nothing to do with it whatsoever. Instead, after a life of detachment, I was
discovering that there was just something about these people and this place.
John and I kind of went back and forth that evening between the truck and the club. Our last trip out was during the last band’s performance. They weren’t doing it for me, and John’s truck was turning out to be a rather special place.
I don’t know how much time had gone by, but as we sat there shooting the breeze, the truck door was yanked open without so much as a knock. We both jumped. And there was Samantha again, this time with her friend Gina in tow. Samantha introduced Gina as the smartest person she had ever met, then she grabbed one of John’s beers and handed it to the quiet girl. I think Gina just took the beer because it had been thrust at her. I don’t think she had any interest in it. She also coughed quite a bit as she came near me, which lead me to extinguish my cigarette although it was only half-smoked.
For a moment things seemed a bit awkward as the four of us sat drinking beer—or at least three of us were drinking beer—in silence. Finally, John broke the ice. Naturally. John was the type of guy who had been specifically designed in the cosmic plan of things to break ice.
“No photos!” he called out. “What?” “No photos! If my wife sees photos of me out drinking in my
truck with a couple of girls, I will no longer have a wife!” “Don’t worry,” said Samantha with a laugh, “Nothing’s gonna
happen that your wife would need to worry about.” “Oh I don’t know,” he replied, “for I have found that the ladies
are, without exception, uncontrollably drawn to my manly physique.”
At which point we all started to laugh like crazy. That little van —truck—shook with our laughter. For myself, I had a mental picture of hordes of women, women of all ages, clinging to John madly. The image was so absurd when applied to a guy like him that I nearly split my side open with laughter.
After that we talked a bit about the Terre Haute music scene. Rather, Samantha talked about the Terre Haute music scene. You really had to admire the ambitious plan she had for the place. And once again, as her father had predicted, I heard her say that it was going to be the next Seattle.
At some point it was Gina who told me that Terre Haute was French for “high ground.” For a while I watched her. I noticed that she didn’t seem overly comfortable here. She didn’t say a whole lot, so I got the definite feeling that she was one of those people who feels a bit out of place in a social situation. I would imagine that had I known her as well as Samantha knew her, then she would probably talk to me quite freely. In the company of folks she didn’t know, however, she preferred to fade into the woodwork and let the more outgoing go for it.
Samantha, on the other hand, had absolutely no problems with either talking to relative strangers or to getting drunk with them. I suppose that when you’re sure of yourself then you’re sure of your opinions, and perhaps you blindly believe that everyone around you should have the benefit of your wisdom.
But I think I may be getting a little too psychological here. Maybe it’s because I was drunk.
At some point the conversation turned to the Wabash. John had some vague recollection that there was some once-upon-a-time famous song about the Wabash. Samantha also thought so. She seemed to think that in school they had read about some famous guy who turned out to be a communist writing a song about the Wabash. It was Gina who provided the answers—apparently Samantha had things so screwed up that Gina couldn’t help but to jump into the conversation and straighten things out. First, the song about the Wabash was the state song On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away — which John interrupted to comment was a damned long title for a song and Samantha commented that she didn’t know that there was a state song — and it was written by Paul Dresser, who was the brother of novelist Theodore Dreiser. The Terre Haute communist she was thinking of was not a communist, he was Eugene V. Debs,
who was a labor leader and a socialist before socialism and communism were taken to mean the same thing.
Even though I was quite drunk, I remember this conversation clearly because Gina seemed to think it was quite important.
Smart people are like that, I guess.
The Wabash, from what I gathered from the song title, was a river. Apparently it wasn’t too far from our present location so John got it into his head that we should walk there.
“Can you walk right now?” I asked him.
“Yes, I can walk. I can walk a straight line. I can also put my finger on my nose. Watch.” So to demonstrate that he could pass the standard intoxication test, he extended his arm with a pointed finger, then bent his arm at the elbow and touched his finger… to his ear.
“Damn!” he laughed. Then he started toward the door. “That’s it. We’re going.” At which point he opened the door and started shooing all of us outside.
Samantha ducked backward to insure that, should there be anyone outside, they wouldn’t see her with a beer in her hand. She finished off the beer, then stepped out. Gina followed suit, although Gina just set her beer down rather than drinking the rest of it, assuming that she had consumed any of it at all. John rifled around in the back of the truck until he found a backpack. A pink one. With little cartoon teddy bears on it. Gina and I both laughed at the sight of this big, burly man slinging a little girl’s backpack over his shoulder.
“Okay, we’re ready,” she said. “Lay on McDuff,” said John. To which I started. “What did you say?” I asked. “I said, ‘lay on McDuff.’ Why? Ain’t you ever heard somebody
quote Shakespeare before?” “And damned be him who first cries ‘hold enough,’” I replied. “Damned straight!” We walked a few blocks, even taking a “shortcut” through the
courthouse grounds, the stately golden dome towering over us.
We proceeded through this shortcut, emerging from beneath the shadow of the courthouse. After we had walked a block more, I whined, “I’m not seeing any rivers here.”
“We’re almost there,” said Samantha, “just keep your pants on.”
So we walked on for a few more minutes until we entered a large open area which I was to learn was a park. In the dark it was a little hard to make out just where we were, but I could tell that there was empty space directly in front of us. In the distance, I could see a line of trees silhouetted against the sky. Yet for some reason, there didn’t seem to be anything between here and there. It was odd. As we walked on, it eventually became clear why there was nothing in view. It was because there was indeed a river there.
“See!” shouted John. His voice shattered the still night air. This was instantly answered by a chorus of shushes from all three of us.
“Oh, sorry,” he whispered. “But see, there is a river here. Now ain’t there?”
“Okay, I admit it,” I said, “There is indeed a river here.” “Damned straight,” he said. Then he smiled and sighed. That pretty much summed up everyone’s feelings I think: a smile
and a sigh. We stood there on the bank of the Wabash River and just were. I tilted my head upward. Stars. I could see a sky full of stars. That was something that one could never do in New York, so when I go someplace where I can actually see stars at night it does tend to affect me.
I lit up a cigarette and took a deep, satisfying drag as I stared at the stars. Nobody said a word; and that was perfect. I was here. I was with people who I was beginning to think of as friends. I stared up at the stars and a strange feeling crept over me. It was a feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while. My life had been so utterly worthless for so seemingly long that I had trouble recognizing the feeling when I felt it. Yet there it was.
I wanted to live.
I smiled and took another deep drag on my cigarette. I sat down on the grass on the banks of the Wabash and puzzled over my feeling.
Eventually, John said something. He said to me, “How about a brewski?” and he reached inside the pack.
Samantha grinned and said, “You asshole,” as she punched John in the arm, “I wondered why you were carrying that stupid pink backpack.”
“Hey, don’t make fun of my daughter’s taste in backpacks.” Samantha took one of the beers and said, “I’m pretty sure that this is illegal.”
“Yeah,” said John, “but it’s worth it. If we get caught, we spend a few hours in jail ‘til somebody bails us out. ‘Til then, this is worth the risk.”
He was right. It was worth the risk. Although I declined the beer —I think I had already had more than my usual limit this evening—I was still enjoying a buzz as we sat there by the gently rolling water.
Gina sat down beside me. She breathed in deeply of the night air. “This is nice,” she said, “I’ve never been here at night. It’s nice.”
“Hey G,” said Samantha, “remember when we used to ride our bikes down here?”
“Yeah.” “That was great. Racing around here. We should do that again.” “My bike’s still out in the garage.” John cut in, “Deming Park’s better for bike riding.” The
comment drew objections from both of the females. There then followed a debate on the virtues of these two different parks. For my part, this debate was just a gentle background noise as I stared up at the starry sky above. I was too busy pondering my own strange feelings to be taken in by a bicycling debate. Besides, I couldn’t really make an informed decision on that topic anyway.
Somewhere along the line in the bicycling controversy someone made some comment about nuclear war. As I said, I wasn’t really following the thread of what was being said, so I have no idea how the conversation got there.
“Well, in case of nuclear war,” said John, “you proceed immediately to the TV station.”
“Why’s that?” asked Samantha. “They’ve got a fallout shelter there.” “What?” “A fallout shelter,” John continued, “down in the basement. It’s
the weirdest thing. My wife works there and she told me about it. Then one night she was working real late and when I came by to pick her up she asked me if I wanted to see it. Of course I did! So we snuck downstairs and it was like something out of a movie or something. The basement is huge, but it’s old. The floors aren’t even paved or anything. And all around they’ve got these drums of supplies all stacked up there. And I’m looking around this creepy cavelike place with these stores of supplies and I’m thinking, ‘Man, if this is where we have to live after a nuclear war, I believe I’d rather just be burned to a crisp and have it over with.’ That place gave me nightmares.”
“Are you telling the truth?” asked Samantha.
“As God is my witness. It’s like something out of a scary movie. Like that’s the place where the maniac stores all of the dismembered bodies. Only it’s bigger and stocked full of supplies. Creepy.”
“So that’s where we’re supposed to go in a nuclear war?” asked Samantha. “How are we supposed to know that? I don’t remember them telling us that in school. Maybe it’s just the rich people who know about it. Maybe it’s one of those kind of deals.”
“Hey, the rich people can have the place as far as I’m concerned,” John continued, “Like I said, I’d rather burn to a crisp.”
“Can we talk about something else?” Gina asked.
“Yes ma’am, we can,” said John, “We can talk about throwing our skinny friend here into the Wabash. Sort of an initiation-type deal.”
“An initiation-type deal?” I asked. “Yep.” “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stay uninitiated.” “What? It ain’t like it’s the middle of winter or anything. The
water’s not gonna kill you. Can you swim?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I swim very well actually, but that isn’t the point.”
“The point? The point?” John laughed. “I’ll decide what the point is to this particular drunken conversation.” He then stood up and trotted over to the water’s edge. He pulled off his shoes and socks and waded into the Wabash.
“The water’s just right,” he said. He then bent down to splash water at us. After a few splashes, which failed to reach us there on the bank, he lost his balance and fell backward into the water. Naturally, we all laughed, John included.
“That does it,” he said, “You all think this is so funny, you’re all coming in for an initiation.” He then leapt out of the water and charged us. We all tried to scatter. The first one he caught was Samantha. He easily picked her up and carried her to the water. She was alternately giggling and calling him an asshole until he dropped her on her back into two feet of water.
“You asshole!” she shrieked through her giggles. She tried to hit him, but he was already out of the water and headed for me. I thought I could get away from him, but he proved to be the quickest fat man I have ever seen. He latched onto me and, just as he had done to Samantha, he picked me up, carried me to the water and dropped me in.
The water was cold, but it felt good. Refreshing. As I came up for air I looked back at the bank where Gina had put herself a safe distance from John. I guess he recognized this, plus the fact that she was still sober, and gave up any attempt to chase her. Instead, he fell back in the water, creating a huge splash.
So we splashed around in the water a bit. There in the river at night. It was fun. Samantha tried to dunk me, but I was too slippery for her. I managed to slip around behind her, grab her around the waist and dunk her.
As she came back up from below the water, I still gripped her by the waist. And as she stood, laughing and running her hand through her wet hair, I suddenly felt… well… I suddenly felt attracted to her. Where the hell had that come from? Luckily that thought was only
an instant before my rational mind realized what a very bad idea that was, and I released her.
She immediately spun around, grabbed me by the shoulders and forced me under the water.
After that, we all just stood there in the water, smiling at one another.
“You know,” said Samantha finally, “they say that alcohol and the river don’t mix.”
“Of course they do,” said John. “Nope. It’s exactly the kind of story you see on the news.” “Exactly!” exclaimed John, “Why do you think you see it on the
news? Because everybody knows that it’s fun to drink and get in the river. Okay, so about half the people drown, but that doesn’t mean that it ain’t fun.”
Eventually, we got out of the river and walked back to the parking lot of Seattle. I’m sure that to anyone who saw us, we were a comical sight. At least three of us were: soaked from head to toe, walking down the street in the middle of the night. Only John had dry shoes. Mine and Samantha’s left incriminating wet tracks wherever we went.
Though I parked myself on my usual stool at Seattle, I wasn’t really into the bands this evening. Too much on my mind. Luckily John invited me out to his van and after a little time out in the parking lot and after a while all of those “things on my mind” didn’t seem to matter.
As John and I sat in the van—excuse me, truck—there was suddenly a knock at the door. We were both silent. I’m not sure why. Maybe we thought that by remaining silent we wouldn’t be caught. But after a moment the knock came again.
“Um…” began John, “who is it?”
“You know damned well who it is,” came Samantha’s muffled voice from outside the van.
“My sister-in-law?” John asked. “No.” “My sister-in-law?” I asked, even though I have no sister-in-law. “Open the door!” the voice insisted. “Wait! Wait!” said John, “is it my mother’s half-sister’s lesbian
lover’s ex-fiancee’s sister-in-law?” The door was yanked open from the outside, revealing
Samantha trying to look stern. I said, “I can explain this.” “Shut up,” she said as she climbed into the van and closed the
door behind her. “You see,” I continued, “John here is a collector of beer cans.
Right John?” “That’s right. Got a big ol’ collection at home. Hell, some of them
cans are worth a lot of money.” “Shut up,” she said again, “and give me one of those things.” To
say that this request surprised John would be an understatement, but he happily reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a beer for Samantha. There were plenty more left. There was no danger of a shortage any time soon.
“A beer can collection,” said Samantha, “yeah, I’ll bet you do.” And she opened up her beer. “Do you guys know what happens to me if having beers in my parking lot turns into a thing? This club is for minors. And I get crucified. I’ve got enough problems at the moment. So, please don’t let that happen.”
“Got it,” we both replied in unison.
“Good,” she said, then took a big swig of her beer, “Good.” Then she set the beer down and stepped out of the van.
“What the hell was that?” I asked John.
“I don’t know,” said John in his Hoosier accent. And the way that ‘I don’t know’ was pronounced in that accent became a favorite of mine. It was pronounced as if it were one word without consonants. It sounded like “I-oh-oh.” Later, I would become proficient at pronouncing it, or rather I should say not pronouncing it, but for now I just smiled at the way it was spoken by John. I lit up a cigarette and John and I sat drinking in silence.
At three a.m., I found myself once again gazing out of the window of room 613. I was poised at my keyboard, the blue-gray glow of the screen casting a surreal light through the darkened room. I felt like I wanted to write something about Phil D., but the words wouldn’t come.
The view of Terre Haute seemed to beckon to me. There was something out there in the night of this Indiana city that just pulled my attention away from what it was that I was supposed to be doing.
Something pulling me.
So I allowed myself to be pulled. I looked out the window and abandoned pretending that I was about to write something, abandoned my futile task. As I gazed out the window, all was still below me. I suppose that this was the way that things were at three o’clock in the morning in most normal places throughout the world. All quiet. All sedate. All peaceful. It was a state that I was generally unaccustomed to seeing in a city. I had been living in New York for so long that I had forgotten that there were cities which did sleep. I was in one such city right now.
Then the phone rang. A 3 am call. Always interesting to ponder who that might be.
It was Samantha.
“So, Phil D. is okay. Turns out this is like his 5th heart attack. Apparently, they’re getting used to seeing him at the hospital. The nurses talked about giving him a discount card or something.”
“Well that’s good to hear.”
“Yes it is. And I’m gonna let you go because after tonight I am dog tired.”
I hung up the phone and my gaze was once again drawn to the cityscape out my window.
The really disturbing part of a sleeping city is that the peacefulness really gives a person a chance to think. To think about all of the things that one really did not want to think about. I always refer to the daytime as “static time” because there is so much human activity going on during the daytime that it keeps a person’s brain occupied, as if filled with static. A big part of me thinks that maybe that’s really what helps most people hold it together. The static keeps them going. I think that most people really don’t want to stop and think about the life that is streaking past them. Stopping and thinking about it can be a downright disturbing thing to do. I know. I do it far too often. But when a person’s mind is occupied, the time can just pass by with little notice. And that is, for most people, a blessing indeed. So most of them live their lives there in the static time, keeping the worst of the thoughts at bay and making it possible to keep going until the end.
So I looked out at the Terre Haute night. And as I gazed out across the city a chill passed through my body, a chill which signaled that an end was near.
Samantha had told me about this man Phil D. — the guy who had played the cello at Elvis’ last concert — and he was the headliner for tonight. Okay, cool. But when I saw him approach the stage I thought it must be some kind of a joke. The man looked to be near death. Turns out that he was in his 60s, but when I had first seen him in the club a few nights prior, I would have placed his age in the 80s. He was actually younger than my dad, but looked a hell of a lot older.
I don’t suppose that I have to tell you that someone like that is not someone you usually see mounting the stage at a club. As he hobbled toward the stage, I looked down at Samantha’s written program and read that in addition to the Elvis thing, Phil D. had played for many years in the Indianapolis Philharmonic and that he was a music professor at the university.
What? There was obviously some sort of joke going on here. But then it happened: he started to play. You see, while getting
up to the stage he looked as if he was about to collapse, but once he started playing that cello it was as if someone else had taken over that frail body. And damn, I have never seen anything quite like it, and I’ve seen a lot.
So Samantha had been right about this. Phil D. was an artist worth watching. I couldn’t imagine anyone in the music industry actually even attempting to sell something like this. But again, damn.
Phil’s backing band rocked (and he probably had grandchildren their age) and jammed out some tunes that would have been pretty darned good on their own, but atop the guitar and drums were these amazing, swooping cello parts. Just amazing parts. The kind of cello parts that give you chills.
And atop that, to my amazement, some fantastic tortured vocals. Hell, if he had just been a singer, he would have been a singer to catch my attention. But add that to everything else… I was in awe.
And after all these years in the music business, “awe” is not something I tend to feel anymore.
It was obvious that I was not the only one feeling it. I looked around the room and realized that he was the reason that this place was packed. He had a large contingent of fans in a wide age range, though most of them were college-aged and I assumed were probably his students. And they were fixated. The members of the other bands gave him their absolute full attention. The punk kids seemed fascinated. Everyone’s attention was on this frail little man who was such a powerhouse performer. Everyone’s eyes were glued to that stage. It was beautiful.
And then the jerkwad showed up.
Apparently, the annoying councilman and his small band of protesters had decided to be a bit more aggressive. Right in the middle of Phil D.’s set, they came marching through the club.
And get this: They were carrying torches! Friggin’ torches! I kid you not. Through the middle of a commercial building… Torches! I assume that the effect was meant to be like the angry townsfolk of old, some sort of symbolic gesture there which I’m sure the councilman thought was somehow significant and appropriate, but, Jesus Christ! TORCHES!
As they marched, they waved their torches and chanted “Not! In! Our! Town! Not! In! Our! Town!” Whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.
At this disruption, the band stopped playing — obviously, torches inside small confined spaces can certainly have that effect — and the councilman quickly jumped at the opportunity and started in on his speech, which, incidentally, he delivered to the cameraman who had followed them into the club and not to the people actually in the club.
“This place is a corrupting place. It is full of violence, and drugs, and who knows what else. I have lived in this city my entire life, I am proud to say. And I can tell you that this place is not something that the people of Terre Haute want here. Not! In! Our! Town!”
The room had a fairly high ceiling, but I, along with several other people in the club, couldn’t help notice how close the councilman’s torch was getting to the ceiling tiles as he waved the torch around.
And just as the councilman was about to continue his rant, a voice — a big, powerful voice — a voice like the Voice Of God came thundering out of the club’s speakers.
It was Phil D. And Phil D. was pissed! “MALCOLM!” shouted Phil D. through the P.A. system. The councilman, obviously startled by the Voice Of God turned
and saw, apparently for the first time, the artist whose performance he had interrupted.
“Dad?” he squeaked. “What in THE HELL are you doing?” Phil D. demanded. “Dad?” “Yes. And I asked you a question Malcolm. What the hell are you
doing?” “Dad… what are you… don’t you know what goes on here? What
are you doing here?” “Music goes on here. Music is what happens. And Music is what
I’m doing here… What are you doing here? Are we perhaps witnessing some ridiculous stunt designed to get you re-elected to the council? Is that what you’ve turned into? Is that what my son has turned into? A cheap, sensationalist, political HACK?“
The councilman was obviously rattled. With a weak point toward Samantha he squeaked out, “She invited us.”
“What?” shouted Samantha. “I invited you to come in and watch some bands, not to come in and act like….” and here, apparently, Samantha realized that there was a camera pointed at her, “Not to come and disrupt a concert that people have paid to see.”
Phil D. sprang to his feet — and through his furious anger you could see a quick wince at the pain that springing had caused him — and he shouted, “GET! OUT! Right now, OUT!”
Now, one could suspect that the councilman had probably not been spoken to by his father in that tone for 30 years or so, but it was obvious from his reaction that he most certainly had heard the tone before. He turned, and slinked out of the club, his bewildered fellow protesters following along behind him.
There was a pin-drop silence in the club as this happened. And when the councilman had made his way out the door, the crowd, in basically one synchronized motion turned their collective heads from the doorway back to Phil D.
There was an awkward moment. Then Phil D. clutched his chest and collapsed to the floor.
After a few beers John and I made our way back into Seattle. John went off to find his bandmates, as they were up next, and I sat watching a band called Egregious. Now, if you don’t know, “egregious” is a fancy word which is defined as describing something that is bad in a very remarkable way.
Turns out, this band was aptly named. They were obviously going for something different — the pedal steel guitar run through distortion and layers of effects was certainly interesting… but it was also pretty bad.
Next up was Insomniac Trash. My new friend John slapped me on the back as he passed me on the way to the stage. I’ve already mentioned both his strength and my weakness, so when he slapped me, I was damned near thrown to the ground.
Well, I hate to say this about my new good friend John’s band, but Insomniac Trash was your typical, generic blues bar band. Now, like most blues bar bands, they were all very good musicians and their playing was incredibly tight. It was just something that I’d heard a hundred million times before. I mean, honestly, once you’ve heard one 10-minute electric blues guitar solo you’ve heard them all, haven’t you? Yet your blues bar bands keep on playing them over and over, and I would imagine that they will continue to do so until the end of time.
Personally, I prefer to hear a bunch of talentless yahoos who sound absolutely terrible but are at least attempting to do something unique, rather than hear just one more generic blues lick. Case in point: Although I thought that Egregious was bad, I preferred listening to their train wreck rather than being bored by the talented but generic Insomniac Trash.
When, after two seemingly endless encores, Insomniac Trash finally left the stage, my new friend John slapped me on the back again and invited me to come have another look at his truck.
My first look at his truck had not yet worn off, so I respectfully declined his offer. It would look bad, I think, if Samantha found me passed out in her parking lot.
As I sat on my non-bar stool wondering what, pray tell, this evening at the club Seattle in Terre Haute, Indiana might have in store for me, someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” said a female voice from behind me. As I turned around I was nearly poked in the eye by one spike of a massive orange hairdo.
“Whoa!” I cried and as I jerked back I damned near fell off of my stool. Only my catlike reflexes saved me. Oh, all right, it was Steve reaching out and grabbing my shoulder that saved me.
“Oh geez, I’m sorry,” said the girl who was attached to the orange hair.
“It’s okay,” I said, “catlike reflexes you know.” “What?” “Nothing. What’s up?” The girl seemed somewhat nervous for some reason or another.
It was strange to see such a sheepish expression on the face of someone who sported spiky orange hair, a nose-ring and a tattoo of a lizard winding its way down her arm. But the nervousness definitely was there. She cleared her throat and then said in a voice that was quite quiet for a nightclub, “You’re the writer, right?”
“Writer Right. That’s me,” I said and held out my hand, “David.”
As she raised her hand to shake mine I could see that she was actually trembling slightly. “Lisa,” she said, “Um, I was wondering… actually my friends and I were wondering… how did you manage to get ahead like that?”
At first I was puzzled by her question. It took me a moment before realizing that she was talking about my working for a major magazine. I almost laughed aloud at the thought that this girl was under the impression that I had somehow “gotten ahead.” Perhaps I should have told her that I was probably the least ahead person in this room. Instead I opted for my usual sort of reply. “Well, I’ll tell
you,” I said, “I had to sleep with an awful lot of people. Some of them I didn’t mind but the publisher is this hairy old guy and that just wasn’t enjoyable.”
I don’t know. Maybe it’s my delivery. Many times I say things and people don’t seem to know if I’m being serious or funny. Or creepy. I don’t know. To me I seem to possess perfect comedic timing. But I suppose that I must not possess perfect comedic timing because it seemed to take this girl a moment to realize that I was joking. Once she did realize then she, of course, did laugh. Too much. Then she said, “No. Really.”
“‘Really?’ Well ‘really’ I’m not exactly sure. I got my first fake I.D. when I was 16 and my friends and I used to hit every bar in L.A. that we could get into.”
“L.A., wow,” she said enviously.
“Yeah, ‘L.A. wow.’ I just got hooked on the whole nightclub lifestyle. We’d see a dozen different bands a week and we became experts on the whole music scene. So it just made sense for me to start writing about it. One gig lead to another which lead to another until I reached the pinnacle of my profession, said pinnacle at which you now see me.”
“Wow,” she said.
“Wow,” I echoed. I lit up a new cigarette and waited for her to say something. If you wait long enough, they always do.
“You know,” she began, “I’ve always wanted to do what you do.”
“No, not that. I’ve always wanted to write for a music magazine.”
“Can you write?” I asked.
“Yeah. At least I think I can. I get As in English. I know what a gerund is.”
“What’s a gerund?” I asked.
She laughed. Odd thing that. Because when asking this question I actually was serious. I remember that a gerund has something to do with grammar but exactly what I couldn’t tell you. Don’t hold it
against me. Remember I said right from the start that my career had been just one successful scam.
“So, are you still in school?” I asked. “I’m a freshman,” she said. “Okay.” “At ISU,” she added.
“ISU. Of course,” I said, “and what’s your major there?” “I’m undeclared so far,” she said. “Any suggestions?” “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve always been fond of plastics fabrication
“Nothing,” I said. “You know, I couldn’t really recommend any course for you to study. I wouldn’t want to do that. What if I suggested something, you did it and then it turned out to be completely wrong for you? A few years from now you might come hunting me down with a shotgun.”
“But what did you major in?”
“I didn’t major in anything. Like I said, I started in this when I was a teenager. Assignments and bars just kind of bled together until I ended up where I am now. I never had the time to go to college. I was too busy working.”
“How can that be?”
“Be? I’m a music journalist. If I were a real journalist then yes, I’m sure that lack of education would probably make it hard for me to get anywhere, but I write about the music industry. So the entrance requirements are a bit more lax.
“Oh,” she said.
“I’ll tell you what though. I’m collecting stories about Terre Haute,” I said as I picked up a pen from atop the bar. “Why don’t you tell me a story, then you can see how a professional writes it up.”
“No. No, I don’t know any stories,” she said.
“You don’t really have to ‘know stories.’ Just tell me a bit about yourself. Tell me something interesting that has happened to you.”
She blushed a deep crimson blush and said, “No. I couldn’t” “Sure you could.”
“No. No, I couldn’t” she stammered, “I’ve gotta go. Thanks for talking to me.”
Then she sheepishly turned away and walked back to her group. I shrugged, dropped the pen back on the table and settled into my buzz.
As I sat there, just me and my buzz, Steve the non-bartender and another man came up to me. The man with Steve had the BA/BG Syndrome—he had both big arms and a big gut. His upper body strength was immediately obvious, yet so was his protruding belly. I’ve never understood these guys. I mean, why spend all that time building up your arms if you’ve still got the gut thing going? Why not sacrifice some of your arm workout time in trade for treadmill time? At any rate, the man with Steve had that look. He was not very tall and the lack of height made his stoutness seem even more pronounced. Steve introduced this BA/BG man as John. Steve then went on to tell me that John was the guitarist for his favorite band, Insomniac Trash. This surprised me a bit because John looked as though he was probably closer to my age than the college age of most of the other musicians I had seen here.
John smiled as we shook hands, his big meaty one practically swallowing my stick-figure hand. He said, “Steve here tells me that you and me got something in common.”
“Is that right?” I asked. “Yep.” “Come on out to my truck and I’ll show you.” Now, “come on out to my truck” is not a phrase that one hears
very often in New York. So I chuckled to myself at what, no doubt, no one else in the room would have found funny. “Out to your truck?” I asked.
“Yeah. Come on.”
So, I got up and followed John out to the parking lot. As I followed, I could see that John’s close-cropped brown hair was starting to go there at the back of his crown. Luckily, that pain hasn’t yet come to me, but I dread the day that it does. My heart always goes out to any man who has been its victim. Other than impotence,
I can’t think of a worse thing that could happen to a man. And at least impotence is a private thing. Hair loss is right out there in the open for all the world to see.
We arrived at a shiny blue van. John reached up and opened the unlocked door. The van had that “well-kept-vehicle” look. I’m sure that it was not a new van, but it sure did look like a new van.
“Wait,” I said, “this is a van.” “And?” “In my mind there’s a difference between a van and a truck.” “That’s funny,” he said, “my wife says that to me all the time.
‘It’s a vaaaan,’ she says.” John then climbed into the van, which actually bounced a bit
from the weight of his entry. I could see that John was headed toward a small refrigerator in the back.
He stopped before the refrigerator, then said to me, “Um, you’re gonna have to step in.”
So I stepped into the van, which did not move an inch when I did so, and closed the door behind me.” When I turned back toward John he held a bottle of beer in each hand. I looked at the little drops of condensation sparkling on the outside of the bottle and, I have to say, I loved the man.
John said, “see, I told ya we had something in common.”
“First time we played here I drove my car. I didn’t know this place was dry. Hell, I’m used to playing weddings and parties and shit where the booze just flows. That first gig here about drove me crazy. So from then on I always make sure that I bring the truck and that the fridge is full of beer.”
“Resourceful,” I said as I took a nice cold swig of beer.
“Damn straight,” he replied, “But hey, don’t tell that girl who runs this place, okay? I don’t think she’d take it too good.”
“You have my solemn word John. I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me,” I said as I pulled the little flask from my pocket. “Ha!” exclaimed John as he slapped his knee, “I knew we was
the same. I just knew it.”
So there we were, me and my newfound friend John, sipping beer in the back of a van like two teenagers hoping not to get caught.
Turns out that Steve had been right about the jerkwad councilman. Mr. Ketchum dropped me off behind the club, as he always did, and as I walked around to the front of the club I noticed that the aforementioned jerkwad had obviously arranged for a protest against the club. I assume that he saw it as a way to get some political attention.
The amusing thing here is that either people really didn’t care, or the councilman wasn’t much for organization, because his protest group was small and rather sad-looking. The group consisted of a few rather lethargic looking older folks holding signs. The signs even looked sad, like they were leftovers from some other protest. Maybe they couldn’t be bothered with actually making good signs.
Not that the pathetic nature of the protest would matter — the fact that there was a protest at all could be made into something which actually sounded like news. Even though it wasn’t.
As I walked toward the front door, I saw Samantha being interviewed by a TV crew. She was holding herself in exactly the manner that I had recommended to her. Actually, it was eerie how practiced she seemed at this.
“Well,” she said to the interviewer, “as I’ve said before, it was a minor incident, and it was caused by people who only came here to cause trouble. We don’t condone it.”
“And the protesters?” asked the reporter.
“Well, this is America and they have the right to protest as long as they don’t hurt anybody or try to physically keep people out of the club. That’s their right. I personally don’t think that there’s anything to protest though. And if they want to come in and listen to a few bands, then they’re more than welcome to do so.”
And at that, she nodded to the reporter and walked toward the front door of the club. You’d think that she had spoken to the press a million times.
“I was looking through a bunch of back issues of the magazine this morning,” said Samantha as she unlocked the front door of Seattle and escorted me inside, “and I haven’t seen your name in the last several issues. I had to go back almost a year before I saw your name.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” I replied, “I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus.” “But you’re back in the saddle now?” “Well, I’m sort of climbing back in I guess. So, what about what
just happened?” “What about what just happened?” “Well, you’ve got a bunch of protesters outside your business
and a news crew is here filming them. You think they’ll be trouble?” Samantha chuckled, “Trouble? Did you see them? They’ll all be
in bed by 9. I can’t see them being a problem.” I surveyed the empty room. I was feeling pretty good, though a
bit “fuzzy.” Before coming here today, I had taken the precaution of slamming back several drinks in the hotel bar before Mr. Ketchum’s scheduled pickup time.
I joined in to help as Samantha began taking the chairs from atop the tables.
“So, how do they pick who gets what story?” she asked as she flipped a chair down onto its feet, “how did it end up being you?”
“Why? You got a problem with me?” “No, no. I just wonder how come you got picked to come here.” I grinned. “Punishment,” I said. “Punishment?” “Well,” I laughed, “you’re not exactly their favorite person.” “I’m not?” she asked sarcastically. “Well, the thing is, neither am I,” I said, “so that’s why they sent
me to you. Rumor has it that they couldn’t figure out if the best way to stop you was with a restraining order or to give up and send somebody out here. ‘Hey we’ve got this screwup David, let’s send him!’”
We finished the chairs and I leaned back against the Misnomer Bar.
“So, you’re appeasing me?” she asked.
“Hey, I would’ve voted for the restraining order myself. But it wasn’t up to me.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
Samantha smiled. She then walked over to where I was, right next to me in fact. Just as I was wondering what in the world she was about to do, she leaned over the bar and grabbed something—I couldn’t see what—from behind the counter. As she did so, she was very close to me; apparently close enough to give away my little secret.
“Have you been drinking?” she asked. “Not here,” I replied. Samantha rolled her eyes and then once again leaned over and
replaced the unknown something behind the bar. We finished with the chairs and Samantha went to the sound
room, where she flipped a switch causing dozens of electronic components to whir into life. “You know,” said Samantha, “I’ve been thinking about your article. And I’ve been thinking that…well, what do you think about the idea of a book?”
“A book? You mean writing one?” “Yeah, I mean writing one.” “Instead of an article?” “No, not instead of an article. God, no. You write the article, but
you also write the book, see? I mean, if you think about it, this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. You’re here at the beginning of all of this—well, not quite the beginning, you’ve missed the very beginning, but close enough to the beginning since we’re not famous yet. This is an amazing opportunity. Once the Terre Haute scene explodes, then this book will be hot. And you’ll have the jump on everybody. You’re already here. I’ve got pictures of every single set of every single band that has ever played here. So that would help. You just interview everybody. You know, do that whole scene.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “You have pictures of every single band that’s ever played here?”
“Every single set even. I take a couple pictures of every set that’s played. It started on opening night. I just brought the camera and took pictures of everybody because it was opening night. Then I thought, ‘why not do that every night?’ So I have.”
I looked at her, examining her, admiring her. “Man, I wish that I could be as driven as you are.”
“You could be. Just stick around Terre Haute a while and I’ll help you,” she said. “Have you ever written a book?”
“No. I tried to write a novel once, but it never got finished. It’s been twelve years, so I don’t think chances are very good for it getting finished. Like I said, I don’t have that drive. How do you do it?”
“All you’ve gotta do is look around and see what miserable stuff happens to people when they don’t do what they feel,” she said, “It’s like my friend Monica—she’s miserable. And God, that just makes me so mad. I see her in the supermarket the other day, and she’s draggin’ her two kids around and she looks like she’d rather be anywhere else in the world. And she’s married to a real scum—I see him here at the club sometimes, trying to pick up college girls, and he knows that I see him, and he knows that I tell her, but he just doesn’t give a shit. So, here’s this good woman who’s wasting away because she was too afraid to pick up and go. Instead, she got married, had a few kids and ‘settled down.’ And now she’s too afraid to just dump that jerk and go at it on her own. It makes me so mad and it’s not even my life, you know? So, if I want motivation, all I have to do is think of her.”
“Or your mom?”
Samantha stopped dead in her tracks. The emotion drained from her face like water swirling down the drain of a bathtub. She slowly looked up toward me, and when finally she spoke, her voice faltered, seemed to lose some of its cherished self-confidence. “Dad told you?” she murmured, “Or did…did someone else?”
“Your dad told me.”
Samantha seemed to loosen a bit with relief. “Yeah,” she said softly, “Yeah, I do sometimes think about her. When I’m really in
need of motivation.” A bit of the confidence came back into her face and she began to walk again. “Thank God I seldom need motivation that badly. And neither should you, young man.”
“Well,” I said, “we can’t all be fearless now can we? Some of us have to be the ones who just go wherever we’re told to go, doing whatever we’re told to do. Sometimes,” I said, “you’ve got no choice.”
“Is that what you are? The guy who does what he’s told?” “Absolutely.” “So then why are you being punished, if you’re the guy who always does what he’s told?” “Well I used to be the guy who was the tremendous pain in the
ass. But I’ve been, shall we say, shown the error of my ways.” “So what did you do?” “Oh God, let’s please change the subject.” “What did you do?”
“I don’t remember.” “What was it?” “Oh look,” I said, pointing to two kids approaching the front door, “Customers.”
I was awakened the next morning at the ungodly hour of 10:45, yanked into consciousness by the sound of the telephone ringing. The voice on the other end of the phone turned out to be Mr. Ketchum, who naturally had no way of knowing that I had not made it to bed until close to 6:00 a.m. Mr. Ketchum offered to take me to lunch at his favorite restaurant and for a tour of Terre Haute.
I mumbled my acceptance, dragged myself into the shower and met Mr. Ketchum in the lobby at noon.
After a very tasty but, I’m quite sure, artery-clogging lunch at Mr. Ketchum’s favorite restaurant we walked about the campus of Indiana State University. “All of this has been built up pretty much in the last few years,” said Mr. Ketchum, pointing to the area which he said was called The Quad, which was where we now strolled, “all of this stuff wasn’t even here before. Well, I mean there’s always been buildings and the like here, but all of those additions you see there are fairly new. The place looked pretty much the same for as long as anyone could remember, then a few years ago they up and decided that they just had to build some stuff. Looks a lot different now.”
“They’ve got a pretty good library too. What do ya say I show it to you?” he said as we turned to exit the Quad. “I spend more time reading than I used to now that I sold my business and ‘retired.’” We walked on for a bit in silence. And as we walked, I once again couldn’t help feeling that something was creeping into my system.
I liked Mr. Ketchum — and his daughter, I suppose. I had spent my entire life pushing people away, and now I felt as though I was being pulled in. Mr. Ketchum was a naturally likable guy. I had discovered that he had been an insurance salesman. Looking at his build, I had assumed he did something physical for a living, but no, he somehow managed to be both desk-bound and strong. Strange. But, I’m sure that this likable personality helped in his line of work. And Samantha? Well, if for nothing else I liked her for getting on the
nerves of the magazine’s management which had come down upon me with such a force of righteousness. It gave me a slight thrill of delight to see this young woman who had put me to shame as the thorn in their side.
“She’s so much like her mom it’s scary,” said Mr. Ketchum. “And is that good or is that bad?” I asked. “Well, I guess it’s a little of both—like most things in this life. A
little of good. A little of bad. That adds up to life.” Mr. Ketchum paused, looking up at one of the towering sycamore trees. “Her mother wanted to be a singer.”
“A singer? Really?”
“Yep. She wanted to be a singer. She had the talent; she had the voice; she had the personality. But…” Mr. Ketchum trailed off, his eyes refracting sunlight in a way that said that his thoughts were somewhere else. Suddenly he snapped back to where he was, “She wanted to go to San Francisco. Of course, that’s where it was all happening at that time, San Francisco, that whole “Summer of Love” silliness,” he said, “We got married right out of high school and I went to work selling insurance for old man Henderson. I had worked for Henderson close to a decade when he asked me if when he did retire, would I be interested in buying the business from him? I was 27 and here was this great plan that had dropped right in front of me and I couldn’t see just chucking it all and heading out to San Francisco.”
“I suppose it would have been hard.”
“And besides, all of the pictures of those people I had seen—they looked like a real bunch of weirdos to me. All that hippie stuff.”
I began to laugh. Mark smiled and continued, “I see you laughing there David. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a fairly tolerant man—live and let live. I got nothing particularly against weirdoes. As long as they ain’t hurting anybody I say ‘if you wanna be a weirdo, by all means have a ball.’ But what I’m saying is that I didn’t want to become one. I didn’t want to go live with a bunch of them. I couldn’t see dropping my sensible business in the town where I had
grown up to go off and join some hippie weirdoes. I just couldn’t see it.”
“But your wife could see it.”
“Yep. She could see it all right. It was all she could see. It was her dream.” Mr. Ketchum paused as if his awareness had just gone off somewhere else, somewhen else. “It was her dream.”
Out of respect for what seemed to be a bit of a personal moment, I said nothing as we walked along. Eventually, we arrived at the library building. In the grass before it was a large, modern metal sculpture that was supposed to be God-only-knows what. We stopped and I pretended to look at the sculpture.
After a moment, Mr. Ketchum looked up at me. He fixed me with the kind of gaze that only the wise can master and calmly said, “There’s something fishy going on here, isn’t there?”
I flinched. “Fishy?”
“You. Something about you and this thing you’re doing. Something feels not right.”
After a moment to regain my composure, I looked back at Mr. Ketchum and said, “What makes you say that Mark?”
Two-thirty a.m. found me back in Mr. Ketchum’s car, being taxied back to my hotel. Apparently, Mr. Ketchum, excuse me, Mark, picked up Samantha every night after the close of the club. I had been able to get through the evening without alcohol, but now I felt pretty darned sleepy. I must have been zoning out a bit because I was startled when Samantha suddenly called out to me from the back seat.
“The record companies… It was those types who missed out on what was going on in Seattle—I mean the city Seattle. They thought the whole scene was a hopeless bunch of amateurs until it became something so big that they couldn’t ignore it anymore. Then suddenly it was the greatest thing since sliced tomatoes.”
“That’s true,” I admitted. I wasn’t sure where that conversation thread had come from and I wasn’t sure what she was expecting me to say. I suppose that I could have told her that I didn’t think that anyone in the music business could tell you what was good or what was bad. What they are looking for is “star quality,” — not actual quality, but the ability to have people clamor after you.
You see, I’ve studied this rock star thing. Some people study chemistry. Some people study philosophy. Some people study Italian. I’ve studied the rock star thing. I listen to the stars and I listen to those who make them stars. I suppose now would be as good a time as any to go into my “dog theory,” so here it goes: I have this theory about the business people in the record companies. They’re like dogs. A dog doesn’t know the difference between a good person or a bad person. Hitler had a dog. All the dog knows is which one of those people goes, ‘Here boy!’ That’s all it knows. And the people at the record companies are like that dog. They wouldn’t know a good band from a bad band to save their lives, but they take notice of whoever stands up and loudly calls out, “Here boy!”
“So,” I said, coming back to Samantha, “you think that like Seattle, Terre Haute is just waiting for the record companies to wake up?”
“Well, for someone to wake them up,” she answered, “Now that’s where I see myself as coming in. The bands, they shouldn’t be worried about promotion and all of that other crap. They should be concentrating on becoming the best bands that they can become. I see it as my job—my destiny—to be the one who stands up and shouts to get everybody’s attention.”
“Funny, I thought that’s what managers and publicists were for,” I said.
“We don’t have a lot of those in town yet. But somebody’s still gotta do that stuff.”
I laughed and said, “So armed with a telephone with automatic re-dial, Samantha sets out to conquer the world.” I sat for a moment and that one thought led me to another: “So that’s why I’m here?” I asked.
“Well… yeah,” she said smiling, “But that’s not so different from what the record companies do with you, is it? They don’t give you interviews with musicians and stuff because they think it would be a swell thing to do. They do it because they hope that the publicity will sell records. I’m doing it because I hope that the publicity will sell these bands and sell the whole Terre Haute music scene.”
I turned to Mr. Ketchum, who had been driving along Ohio Avenue without making the slightest contribution to the conversation. “And what do you think of that Mark?”
“What I think,” said Mr. Ketchum, “is that she’s just like her mom was at her age. Tenacious and driven as all hell.” Mr. Ketchum quickly glanced at his daughter, then quickly brought his gaze back to the road, “and I hope to God she doesn’t let anybody ever talk her out of that.”