It's a bit depressing when no one is reading it...
I lumber on over to the V.I.P. room area, it’s nothing more than cubicles a corporation would be embarrassed to put even the most menial of flunkies in, the clop thud of my black boots suddenly hushed by crushed, worn grey carpet and the rhythm of the Violent Femmes crackling through the speakers.
I hate having to bust them but it’s part of my job. Some of the girls are bitching that girls are turning trick back here, which is bad for business for some of them but worse yet they won’t clean up after themselves. Generally they are fairly good and policing each other, but the standards have fallen ditch low, so you never really know who is doing what to who. When I first started coming to these places if you touched the girls you’d lose an arm, now it’s fairly common practice. You have to blame it on the lap dances. Back before the plummet of moral standards there was a minimum safe distance, now they’re all grinding to the oldies. Usually on the oldies, so to speak. It must be hard to go back to $5 table dances after they put a few $20's in your pocket, or where ever you store your cash. Once that minimum distance is breeched it’s hard to go back. Next thing you know it’s like... well, if he’s wearing a condom technically he ain’t even touching her.
I take a glance into the first booth as the band ponders the musical question “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” and it doesn’t appear that the client has quite come up with the solution either. He’s getting the standard fake tit nipple lick and combo ass rub. Throw in an order of fries and it would be practically the blue plate special around here, though it would be more aptly named the blue ball special. Tia, whose real name is Tina, is shooting me the evil ‘mind your own business’ glance off the mirrors.
I just shrug her off.
Danny force fed us the Femmes for weeks. We were still struggling with the fact that none of us could sing.
Kurt was the first to give it a shot, it was all violence and speed shouting really, Motorhead and Violent femmes mixed and flattened slightly. He was trying too hard, eyes bulging and head sweating, we’d get about a third of the way through and he’d forget the words and pull up dead stop. We kept hoping that he could get a grip on it but the words would jumble and crossword in his head. We even tried it without the music, just say the words, then sing it.
Plug in the amp and unplug his brain. Thirty bars in... dead stop.
Danny wasn’t much help either. He’d try and sing and the pitch and volume would be okay and then his teeth would start to slip and it sounded like he was singing with a bag of marbles in his mouth. Occasionally when we experimented with Danny singing he would turn and look at me and watching his gums flat and his totally messed up teeth loosen and swim around in his yap, well, frankly, it was just sort of gross.
We started looking at Howard who said as though he had broken out with a bizarre case of the mumbles that he’d give it a try.
Not particularly encouraging.
They knew better it seemed then to even bother asking me. I thought I had all I could handle trying to keep my feet and hands moving at different rates and with some modicum of independence. I think they knew it too.
So we got about two thirds of the way through Howard mumbling “Head Like a hole” when the garage door opens and a blast of light shines through God were hunting cock roaches. The heavy metal clamour fades to a stop.
It was my older brother Kevin, shorter than me for about the last year and still carrying the chip on his shoulder like Jesus dragged around the cross. It has only been since Mom passed away that he has really stopped being such a prick about everything. He was the one who dragged me into my first strip bar, the shove that sent my little red wagon down the slippery slope.
As we blink at each other the final vibrations starting to be soaked up by the plywood planks Keith makes an announcement, in the most eloquent means at his disposal.
“Hey, Ed. You and your geek friends have to fuck off. I gotter fix my new wheels.”
I thought about questioning it, perhaps involving Dad. You know, the bottom card in every ‘little’ brothers deck. Kind of the third and ten of the baby brother play book, left sweep to Dad on two... break. I don’t think Dad loved Kevin more than me, though I thought so at the time. They just had an easier relationship, a mutuality of pistons and gears wrapped in axle grease, that I could never muster much interest in.
When Dad fixed stuff Kevin helped out. I just held the tools.
I go to pack things up when Kurt chimes in, “Hey, why don’t we jam at your place Danny?”
It didn’t seem unreasonable, though a blue cloud descended over Danny, bluer than the cigarette rings.
“Hey, it be less shit for you to lug is all,” Kurt said.
Danny shrugged and answered, “Sure, what the fuck...”
“Do you need to call your folks?” Howard asked.
“Naw,” he said as a sort of spit between a gap of wires and bent teeth.
You could see it in Howard’s eyes, as though some error message was flashing. Does not compute/ Doesn’t have to call parents/ Does not compute. Howard’s parent would make him call from between classes if they could. He couldn’t listen to the tape of Nine Inch Nails that Danny had given him, inside his house. It would be like throwing himself off the roof. So he waited to get new head phones. Even though his parent’s had been married in the age of Aquarius I don’t there musical tastes strayed very far beyond 1972.
Kevin rolled the Chevelle into the garage, where it stayed until after my first year at Albany. The great white elephant, Kevin hoped to ride around in it that summer. I don’t think it moved under it’s own power from the garage, although I do recall it leaving marks on the ceiling from when it blew it’s pistons.
The problem really was that Kevin knows about fifty percent of what he says and about twenty five percent of what he thinks he knows. All in all as blow hard jack asses go, he ain’t all bad.
He even helped us pack up Dad’s van for the drive out to the Nordstrom’s. A big white chevy Econo-line built for neither speed or comfort, usually filled with sundry tools and parts that Dad would alternately curse for having lost or blame us for taking, never quite explaining why I might want whatever obscure tool he had lost.
It was a fairly long trip from somber autumn streets with fading white lines and black tar patches onto winding country lanes chocked with summers bronze offerings to the god of winter. Danny provided all the requested rights and lefts until we found ourselves on a long straight lane lined by white wooden fence and a flickering glance at the green fields beyond.
“Hey Danny,” Howard asked, “If you live way out here how come you go to Collegiate instead of MacGregor?”
White washed fence gave way to tall iron wrought poles, spear points with a cross work of metal between them. Fleur de Lis scraping a silver grey sky. The last left came beneath a gate of iron grill work. We left behind the crushed gravel road that kicked up the dust and stones that clicked at the side of the van drove onto a driveway that was a smooth ribbon of unblemished midnight beneath the dancing shade of oaks that wait in parade ground attention, right dressing to the large field stone home at the end. We follow the drive to the right, to a long flat metal covered shop about twice the size of my home. Danny hopped out and disappeared for a moment then the garage door rose portcullis, the clamour of metal chains revealing an old car without hood headlights or grill. Kevin squinted at it, trying to imagine the remainder of the pieces of the puzzle.
“I think that’s an old 56 Packard,” Keith said with a little uncertainty about his automotive pathology.
Danny grabbed the toms and led us around the corner into an old storage room that had been converted to a lounge of sorts. Although 10w30 still hung in the air, like the smell of cheap perfume stale beer and cigarettes does at a bar, It was cosy in it’s way. Brown fake wood chipboard paneling like the kind you’d find in any basement and indoor/outdoor green worn thin near the baseboard gave it a dark aspect but it had more than one outlet and was definitely a step up from Dad’s garage.
Kevin hustled down with the high hat and then hustled right backup to get a closer look at the rusted skeleton from fifties Detroit. I guess he wanted to continue his pathology with a little examination.
“Hey Danny,” Kevin said, with a little more respect than before, “is that a 56 Packard up on the hoist?”
Danny just shrugged. “Could be, It’s more of my Dad’s thing. Cars are just about getting from point A to point B, but my Dad gets pretty wrapped up in them.”
Heretic. Kevin tries to burn Danny at the stake with the glare from his squint.
“Maybe some time he’ll let you see the steamer.”
“It’s a steam driven car, an old Stanley Steamer. It’s kinda neat,” although Danny blanches at the word neat, he continues. “It takes about twenty minutes to start and tops out at about twenty miles an hour, but still, no pollution and no noise. Like I said maybe he’ll let you see it.”
“Hey Kev, isn’t Dad expecting the van back?”
Alright I couldn’t resist sticking it to him. I could tell that he was dying to take look around the shop, his jaw hanging open just slightly at the old wreck on the hoist and the parts and tools on the wall. Kevin is a dyed in the wool, genetic motor head, all he can think about is carburetors and crankshafts. A lot of guys see wheels as a means to chicks but for Kevin wheels were an end unto themselves.
“Maybe you should get home with it.” His response was a screw you little brother look that every little brother has grown quite accustomed to, but in the end I’d take the small victory. Even if I wasn’t little anymore.
It didn’t take long for Danny’s mother to appear, poke her head in unheard over the riffs and racket. As I age I find I look at women differently, at the time it was June Cleaver curiosity about her boy and his little friends. Working in this place I can imagine in my third eye the way they’ll look in twenty years. Extrapolate the damage from tanning beds and smoke filled rooms, lack of rest and too much partying and they don’t look half as good as Mrs. Nordstrom. Danny’s mom, plump, round and greying must’ve looked pretty good twenty years ago.
She didn’t stay long, Danny turned his back and let his hair hang in his eyes, feigning not seeing her, throwing an extra loud Coda and twenty bars into the song.
She just smiled and asked us if we’d like anything to drink, “perhaps a snack ?”
To a bunch of teenage boys weighing in at over two hundred pounds a snack is easily a forgone conclusion. Just bring the food on, we collectively thought with a polite “Yes, please,” response by me and an evil glare from Danny. She returned in about ten minutes with a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies.
We broke for a bit, munching ginger snaps and guzzling lemonade, except for Danny. He seemed to want to push us a little harder after the cookies and while he and Kurt were working on some fumble fingered chord changes I volunteered to take the pitcher back to the kitchen.
I don’t think Danny was really listening.
Just in case you should ever invite me over to your house I should warn you that I’m an incorrigible snoop, unrepentant and unreformed. No knows this and but when I was fourteen I B & E’d some homes, mostly basement apartments or offices. It was before the great pituitary dash my body made the year later. It’s pretty hard to sneak through windows when you are over 6 feet tall. I never stole anything, never moved anything, in truth I only E’d, never had the desire to B. I didn’t want anything I just was curious, just wanted to look around. Even though some people were home once I never got caught.
It would be fair to say that I took a somewhat circuitous route that evening. I strolled down long light yellow hallways with oak trimmed baseboards beneath white plaster ceilings that I knew didn’t lead anywhere near the kitchen.
The house was a bit too warm, as though they hadn’t somehow calculated the last few rays of the fall sunshine through the windows. As I look back on it, I think that I have only seen one home that was as conspicuously wealthy as the Nordstrom’s and that is the home of Marvin and Rita, the couple who own the bar and two more just like it in other communities that would just as soon not have them.
The difference seemed to be, and I’m just guessing here, that the Nordstrom’s somehow just seemed more matter of factly about the relative opulence of their environment. Rita wanted you to see the cut of the curtains or the marble on the floor. She would have ‘Minnie Pearled’ the whole house, leaving price tags on things if it wouldn’t somehow seemed just too much like one of those trendy boutiques that are just two weeks from going broke. It would grate against even Rita’s remarkable sense for tacky, which she had a fairly large capacity for.
The Nordstom’s didn’t buy things for the label or the price, they just sort of wondered why would you buy anything else? They bought it because of the inherent quality. It wasn’t about having it seen, it wasn’t even about having it. It seemed that they had these beautiful things because of the unique nature of their quality.
I walked into some sort of parlour and became self conscious that I was still wearing my shoes. The carpet was so soft and blue I almost reached down to touch it, wondering if it would crest like a wave beneath my hand. There was a large, glass door fire place, field stone and brick topped by a mantle with wood so dark it seemed to be soaked in blood. Above it hung a family portrait, in a solid, ungilded ebony frame.
Danny looked to be about four years younger with a full set of teeth, wearing a peach shirt, sable tie and blazer the same colour as his fathers. His Mother sat in front, with a fair bit less grey in her long hair, bound by a lemon ribbon. On her shoulder was a young woman’s hand, thin and bony a light blue birth stone ring set above a prominent knuckle. The girl was about sixteen or so, it was hard to tell the stage of puberty from the frailness of her frame. Her reddish hair hung to her shoulders the tips of it brushing her collar bone. She forced a quorum of a smile onto pale, frosted lips, it looked as thought the debate of her mood was still undecided. Her eyes were blue like tears.
She was beautiful in a delicate haunting way, like an iris waiting to bend under the weight of the bloom.
Behind her wearing the same navy blazer was a broad, hard looking man. His hair was already greying and his eyes were the same tear blue, although on him they seemed to have more of an ice quality to them.
Thought he room seemed stuffy and uncomfortable, like someone holding their breath, there was no real warmth in it to speak of. The carpet was her accomplice, the same that I had mercilessly trampled beneath my cloddish hooves, softened her footsteps until she spoke.
“That doesn’t belong in here,” she pointed at the pitcher, but I had the sense that it could have meant me as well.
“Sorry Mrs. Nordstrom. I just got turned around,” I lied. Pushing my luck a little further I asked, “Danny’s sister, is she at college?”
“No, she got sick and died about two years ago. Two years last April.”
“Sorry. Uh... would you like me to take these to the kitchen for you?”
“No, I’ll take it from here. .. Ed? Right?”
“Yes Ma’am, Ed. Well...” I stutter, handing her the platter, “thanks for the cookies and everything.”
“The garage is down the hall back that way,” she said turning away towards the kitchen.
They were packing it in by the time I got back to the garage.
“So, what’s the scoop Danny? Are we practicing out here now or do we move everything back to my place?”
“I had Kurt and Howard leave everything pretty much set up. Where’d you go?”
“I went into the house to take back the platter.”
Three bars of rest then an F sharp.
“I saw the picture of you and your sister over the mantle. Sorry man, I didn’t know.” I suddenly felt a lot closer to Kevin.
“Ya, she committed suicide,” he shrugged, looking down at the fret board and plucking D seventh. “I asked Kurt and Howard if they wanted to go to this place I know where some bands play. Y’know, just to check things out. If you wanna come that’d be cool.”
A distorted C sharp, F and a quick drop to D minor was Danny’s only response.
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