Living in Spotlight's Shadow. Part 24

It seems my tolerance for bullshit has reached an all-time low.

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Ultimate Guitar
1

The pack, as D calls it, is an invention of simplicity and genius; a simple backpack rigged to carry a dual canister of industrial glue hooked up to an air hose that cuts labor time in half while increasing the number of posters plastered anywhere and everywhere. Simply put, just point and shoot. It's a heavy son of a bitch and the glue can get you high pretty damn quick, especially if you coat your clothes with it, which is why I'm always careful to carry a spare change of pants and shirt to the store.

D is gone when I come out of the little washroom. I throw my good clothes, if you can call a weather-beaten Burzum shirt and Walmart jeans good, into my bag, rig the pack on my back, grab the box of posters, lock and alarm the store and make my way up the block to my first target; the poster wall near Main Street.

After an hour or so and four locations, the fingers of the plastic gloves I'm wearing are sticking together, giving my hands a deformed club look. Glue residue is mingling with sweat on my body, creating an awful, sticky mess. Last one, I tell myself; last one and you can go home and shower.

I'm crossing from a bus stop towards a temporary construction wall hiding an in-progress high rise taking shape on the outskirts of the city, overlooking the former Empire Field and PlayLand amusement park. Nobody's playing today, though. The rides and rollercoasters stand lonely and forgotten as darkening clouds billow around them.

I come to the wall and drop the box with the remaining LocalFest posters on the ground with a thunk while reaching around my back for the handle of the spray gun. Muscles in my neck, back and shoulder let out cries of protest as I maneuver the long-necked sprayer towards the wall and crouching to pull out a poster, turn over to the blank side, aim and fire. The poster flaps away from the pressure of the glue and tries to curl up into itself, but with a quick reach around and pinch, I'm able to stick the poster to the wall before it can do so. The next fifteen minutes go by fast as I spray and stick, covering ads for an MMA-focused gym opening soon, latest releases of garbage-pop albums and a show at Funky's in three weeks featuring a headliner I've never heard of before, Wormwood. The logo looks like something a hyperactive toddler scribbled with his wrong hand. A momentary pang of regret strikes me at the memory of my universal ban, but it passes as I keep working.

I'm down to the last four posters when a loud profanity breaks the almost hypnotic silence of my concentration.

I look behind me, to the source of the cry, and see a rotund figure sitting in the cab of a paint-chipped minivan that looks to be held together with little more than duct tape and willpower. He looks ready to have a stroke. Or kill me; unmistakable fury blazing in his coal colored eyes. "What the fuck!" the man cries - man indeed, he looks more like he just started shaving - and pounds the steering wheel. He's out of the truck in a flash and storming towards me, fists balling.

Goddammit, not again, I think, as my own grip tightens around the barrel of the spray gun. Seriously, not again, I don't have time for this.

"What?" It's all I can say.

The man from the minivan waves a hand theatrically at the blackened mosaic of LocalFest posters and once again demands to know what the fuck.

"I'm just doing my job, pal," I say.

"Yeah? Is that what you call it? I call it fucking up our ads!"

"Huh?"

Mister Minivan points to a Wormwood ad half-covered up by one for LocalFest. "I just put those up an hour ago and now look! They're fucking trashed, thanks to you."

I shrug. "Sorry, pal. I didn't know."

"I'm not your pal, asshole!" shouts Mister Minivan. "You got any idea what those cost to print? Think we can just re-use them? Well, we can't."

"Sorry," I say again. "Like I said, I didn't know. And you know what else? Maybe I don't give a shit about your crappy band. These walls don't belong to just you. And what the hell kind of name is Wormwood anyway? Way to be creative."

The gap between us vanishes in a flash. Mister Minivan - or maybe that's Mister Wormwood? - stomps right up to me and begins pounding his finger in my chest. He looked a lot shorter hunched over the wheel of that minivan. This close, I can see he's a good head and shoulders above me. "You wanna get fucked up, you little homo?" he thunders. Poke. Poke. "Who are you, huh? What do you know anyways?" A third poke, and I drop the spray gun and give him a double-openhanded shove. It seems my tolerance for bullshit has reached an all-time low.

"Fuck you! And fuck your band!" I yell. "You're the one who's going to get fucked up if you don't get lost! There's a ton of space around town to advertise your shitty music, go find somewhere else." As if this brief encounter hadn't already attracted unwanted attention from passersby, my outburst draws more curious eyes from the other side of the street. A woman with a sling strapped over her already large torso claps hands over her baby's ears and scowls at me with a "You horrible man!" expression I don't bother returning. Another takes out his phone and taps quickly on the screen before raising it to his air. Great, more company on the way, I think. The kind that carry handcuffs and semi-automatics and drive around with seizure-inducing lights strapped to the tops of their cars.

Mister Wormwood Minivan stumbles backwards with a momentary look of surprise at the strength of my shove. It wears off, of course, and he's back within breathing room of me, cutting a punch through the air that connects with the soft spot below my jaw. Teeth rattle. Pain lights up both sides of my face, and my mouth starts filling up with the rotten, metallic taste of blood.

I fall against the fresh glued poster, the pack on my back shifting and making simultaneous thunk and sloshing sounds. The glue broke, I think, and then another fist strikes my temple and things turn bright and blurry. I fall to the ground, taking one of the posters with me as my hand claws against the wall for support. There's not much time to register the impact of landing awkwardly on my side, the gravel tearing away into supple flesh, because Mister Wormwood's hands close around the collar of my shirt and pull. I hear fabric tearing, feel the shirt loosening and starting to slouch down the shoulder that absorbed most of the damage caused by the fall, and then I'm on my feet again - not by will.

As the world begins to straighten itself out, I become aware of something large and dark crossing the boundary of my peripheral. In a feeble attempt to prevent being hit three times in a row, I raise my hands and shove, covering something hard and rounded with the crumpled poster. All of a sudden, the hands that were grabbing my shirt loosen, and then let go altogether.

That's when something else wraps around my chest and pulls hard. I hear voices shouting in what sounds like tongues, and am dragged farther up the street by what eventually turn out to be two would-be Good Samaritans. I try to speak, spitting out a small puddle of foamy blood that dribbles down my ripped shirt, and then God turns the world's dimmer switch to zero. Things start to go black and fast, but I am able to catch a glimpse of Mister Wormwood Minivan tearing away strips of glued paper from his face while two other passersby restrain him. I open my mouth to start laughing, and then I go away.

***

His name was Kirkland Linch, Kirk to his friends. He was charged with one count each of assault, not his first one, and disturbing the peace and was not expected to be released anytime soon. I'm told all this later, much later, after regaining consciousness and being placed in a VPD holding cell with only a couple of shredded lips and what feels like a pair of goose eggs growing underneath my forehead and left cheek, following a look over by the responding paramedics. A few hours of stimulating company with a savagely drunken teenager begging everybody to stop the pain later, and I'm also told I'm allowed to leave, pending my own date with a judge to answer my own charge of disturbing the peace. When I start to ask, the on-duty officer simply instructs me to follow him unless I want to spend the night instead.

The hell I do.

I'm escorted out of the cell and out to the main foyer, where, after signing a form I have no interest in reading, I'm shown to an unhappy looking Derek Drummond is standing, arms crossed, ancient tattoos displayed, pretending not to notice me coming through the doors. My insides turn heavy. You're not the person I called, I think, without looking at him either, instead sneaking a peek instead at the wall clock, 7:44PM. Things inside me start sinking. It had been just shy of one o'clock when I'd left the store.

D turns to me following the officer's parting shot of "Stay out of trouble now." I'm not sure how much of what I see in his eyes are disappointment and how much is concern, but I don't like either of them.

"Are the posters all up?" is the first thing he says.

"Wa-What?"

"Are your ears still ringing? I said, are all the posters up?"

"Yeah... All except like, I dunno, four or five." I gesture to my once-more freshly messed up face. "You know..."

"Uh huh. Right, let's go." D turns on his heel and starts towards the front doors without looking back at me. I make sure to put a bit of distance between us before following. Instead of the familiar Subaru, he walks towards a sad looking Mazda two-door pickup with an even sadder looking canopy roof covering the back. I begin to wonder just what kind of errand D was up to, and then I'm ordered to get inside. I do, without a fuss. D climbs in behind the wheel, turns the key and starts guiding the Mazda out of the parking spot and up the street. As we drive, I notice him taking several close looks at me out of the corner of his eye. "They were kind enough to return the pack to me once your little fracas got sorted out, tank's gonna need a new valve." A pause, then, "Luckily I got a spare or two." He doesn't say anything else, just keeps driving back into town. The silence becomes too much and I dare to speak up.

"Well?"

"Well what?"

"Come on, man, might as well finish tearing me a new one."

"Oh, was that was I was doing?"

"That, or firing me me. Or both."

He grunts softly, and then says from out of nowhere, "Did I ever tell you about the first time I got busted?"

"Huh?"

"1980. Van Halen were playing at the Coliseum. I'd just crossed into the land of legal age. Me and Joey Grinder - he was the bassist in Diamondcutter. My band, you know?"

"Before you became just Cutter?"

"Yeah, that's it. He and I had seats right up in the nosebleeds, total piss-poor view, you know? So Grinder says, after polishing off a mickey of Jim Beam he snuck in - and that was on top of a generous portion of a case of Bud beforehand - he says 'Fuck this shit, let's sneak into the floor.' You gotta remember, we're barely old enough to buy the damn bottle in the first place, so a lot of our bingo balls are still bouncing about in the cage to begin with, and a fifth of Beam didn't help matters. This is before the thrash scene broke out, after all. So I says fuck yeah let's do it. We walk down to the GA area and wait till the lights go down. Soon as it fades to black, Grinder yells 'Oh shit, we're late, come on!' and we run."

He pauses for effect and looks at me. "Kid, we didn't even make it to the guard. That witches brew boiling and toiling in our guts needed just the littlest push, and..."

"Thar she blows?"

"Bingo," says D. "Breakfast, lunch and dinner make an encore appearance, surfing all over the Coliseum floor in a lake of booze, just as VPD are walking by. And the cherry on top? The empty bottle of Beam falls out of his jacket and shatters, right in front of them. The next thing I know, I wake up on a bench, and twin jackhammers start to go to work inside my head. I can barely open my eyes and when I do, all I see is Joey Grinder facedown in the shitter, begging the man upstairs to put him out of his misery."

That image makes my own stomach knot. I wave a hand at D in disgust without thinking I'm doing myself no favors. Then I glance back and find him only smirking.

"Ain't too pretty a picture, huh? I tell you, right then, I felt like one of the world's biggest jackasses. And it only got worse once we were paraded in front of the judge to explain ourselves. But it was our lucky day. Hundred buck fine a piece and a warning later, and we were free men. Free, stupid men. Took quite a while to get over that one. Just like it'll take you a while to get over yours."

My face begins burning and throbbing even harder.

"The moral of the story is there ain't no moral, Jay. We all do dumb shit in our younger, hell's-a-poppin' days. What happens after the fact determines how dumb or smart a guy is." He raises a finger from the steering wheel. "That being said, if something like this happens again, especially during company hours, don't hold your breath for me to vouch for you to the cops. Coming back to a girlfriend's frantic phone call on the store's answering machine ain't helpful." He looks at me, his eyes asking if we have an understanding.

"Sorry," I say, and then, "Thanks, D. Really, thanks." He nods and turns his attention back to the road. A minute passes. Two. Three. "I guess you'll be docking my bail the next few paydays?" I ask.

D's smirk reappears. "Recognizance, kid. It's a first-timer's best friend. You really should learn to read things before you sign 'em."

I consider this and decide it makes sense. But something else doesn't. As we're pulling into the small lot behind the store, I ask D where his Subaru is and why we're in this piece-of-crap Mazda, though I don't say that part out loud. D points across the lot. There, sitting in its usual corner spot, is the Subaru, complete with the panoply of bumper stickers advocating countless bands, support for the Canadian military and inviting drivers to call a certain number regarding his driving.

"O-kay. Still doesn't really answer my question though."

"No," D admits, "but this should help. How much cash you got on you right now?"

"What? Uh, I don't know, maybe seventy bucks. I'd have to check to make sure."

D seems to think about this for a few seconds and then nods. "That'll work. Hand it over."

"What?"

"Hand it over, I says. Don't worry, this ain't a robbery."

"Then what do you..?" I start to call it, but D only holds out a hand and motions to hand it over. And because I'm so shocked - fucking amazed, really, I do without thinking. He counts off three crumpled twenties and a pair of crisper fives, nods, folds the wad up and stuffs it into his pocket, reaches out and turns off the ignition, extracting the key and holding it towards me in pinched forefinger and thumb.

"What's that?"

"Keys, genius. Or, stated more correctly, keys to this old beast, for you," D says. "You ain't gonna make anything always renting from those storage crooks."

I can only sit there and stare at the pair of small keys dangling from a pocket-sized carabiner. This isn't happening, I think. Things like this just don't happen. But here we are, all the same.

"Come on, kid, we don't have all night!" says D.

"I, uh, D, fuck man, I mean..." I swallow, clear my throat and try again. "Why are you doing this? Giving me this truck?"

D's lips curl, pucker and blow out a raspberry, followed by a trio of hacking laughs. "I'm not that generous, kid. Let's call this an... extended loan. Gas and insurance after the new year is your responsibility, but I don't really need this old whore sitting on my driveway just going to hell, bit by bit." I can imagine what Lindsay would think of that colorful description. "Oh! And of course, if you total it, I'll kill you. Now, take the keys and say thank you, and then get inside the store and finish marking down the stuff you didn't get to this afternoon. For obvious reasons, I'm going home and having a good, hard drink or two and finishing watching the rest of Metal Evolution I got PVR'd."

I don't need to be asked twice this time.

***

I spend the next few hours alone in the store, marking down this month's "Must Go!" merch and wishing the pain in my face away, swiping a couple of Motrin's from the desk in the office when it starts hurting aggressively. One of the first things I do is call Lindsay, who spends a good amount of time lecturing me about why it's stupid for me to get arrested when we're this close to our first gig and what I can expect to have happen to me if anything like this ever happens again. I don't contradict or argue with her once. After a while, she softens and asks if I'll stop by Ravenclaw House when I'm finished at the store. My feeble attempt to explain that that could be well after midnight is met with deserved silence that seems to subtly hint that we men really are dumb. I get the hint.

Later, I make calls to Kevin, Stephen, and a couple other musician acquaintances, asking if anyone has ever heard of the band Wormwood. Nobody has, although Stephen mentions he's seen a couple of their posters in other parts of Vancouver. Our conversation concludes with the agreement that we really should get together soon and catch up, knowing full well that "we" is a euphemism for "You make the effort, Jay." That last hour is spent in sullen, guilty silence.

It's almost twelve-thirty in the morning when I pull D's loaner truck into the driveway of Ravenclaw House. I'm not surprised to see all the lights still on, nor to discover the door unlocked. I find Lindsay sitting in the kitchen, sipping a glass of red wine, wearing what I'm sure is another one of my "borrowed" shirts and not much else. Her eyes look over the new damage to my face and then she flicks the lump on my forehead, sending fresh shockwaves of pain through my entire head. Then she hugs me tight, close. As I bend down to wrap my own arms around her, she whispers in my ear, asking if I'm in the mood for a midnight snack, taking my head and pulling me towards the doorway without waiting for my answer.

I decide I'm starving. That midnight snack ends up turning into a weekend-long all-you-can-eat buffet.

3 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Arby911
    Nice! Great pacing and tight! Glad to see another installment!
    G.N.
    As stated ad nauseam, it's appreciated. I may not be in charge of approval speed, but I can guarantee I'll continue posting until it's done.
    Arby911
    Good to hear! If you pulled the plug in the middle, there might be some "rabbit in a pot" shit going down from some of your fans... (Not me of course, I'm perfectly stable and would never even consider such shenanigans...:O )