Boo Hoo Hoo
Although Paradox lost his right contact lens in New Haven last night, he hasn't told anyone in the band about it. He is the road manager and owner of the van, a piece of junk he normally uses for his carpentry business-"Paradox Home Improvements." Every time he switches lane from left to right he would cut somebody off. The last time, a Honda Civic started honking frantically, and Frank, riding shotgun, has reached his beefy right arm out the window to flip off the driver: an older black woman.
"Roll up the fuckin' window!" Karen yelled. It is cold and drizzly, November weather. Karen is trying hard to fall asleep. Her head is tilted back, her cheek pressed against the windowpane. She has comically sad eyes on a cheerful face. When her eyes are closed her face is happy. Karen plays a mean guitar. Slouched next to her on the middle seat is Tyler, the lead singer. The drummer, Orlando, lies awake in the back. Frank plays bass.
Paradox is hung over all over again. The blood vessels behind his eyeballs are being plucked by a determined hand. He is familiar with this ordeal, however, and is grimly enjoying it. As he drives, Paradox would squint, bare his crooked teeth and spit out phrases addressed to no one: "I'm sorry!" or "Unreal!" or "You're a fool!" He has driven the band so many times that they are used to this behavior.
The sweet smell of bourbon seeping from the pores of Paradox' pasty skin is blending with all the other smells inside the van: a hard slice of cheese pizza lying face down under the front seat; Frank's new leather jacket; Karen's perfume, sloshed into her armpits in place of the roll-on deodorant she has forgotten to bring... They have been on the road for seven days, beginning in Philadelphia and stopping in Allentown, Scranton, Newark, Hartford and New Haven.
Between them, they know enough people to always have a place to crash after each gig. Last night, they slept in Tyler's sister's living room. A single mother with a three-month-old baby, her apartment smelled like a cat's litter box. Right after coffee, they took off. Now they are headed to Northampton, their last gig, then home. Almost broke, they skipped lunch this afternoon to save money.
The tour is not going too well. In Allentown, they were paired with a speed metal band, Valhalla, and played in front of 10 people. They have sold no T- shirts and only a few CDs. The highlights, so far, were Newark, where both Frank and Tyler got laid, and Hartford, where they were interviewed on a college radio station.
By the time they get to Northampton, everyone is exhausted. Tyler says: "Let's hope they'll give us some grub at this place." (In New Haven, they were fed buffalo wings and given two pitchers of Iron City, while the headliners, Crucifux, were given entrees and salads. "We'll get that next year," Tyler said.)
"What's the name of the club?" Karen asks.
"Auto Da Fe," Paradox answers.
"Who we playing with?"
"Doctor At Tree."
Except for Paradox, 40 and balding, the rest are in their late 30's. Veterans of many other bands, all unknown, they are already too old for this business. A breakthrough appears imminent, however: Their newly released CD has been reviewed in The Village Voice and SPIN. Even without tangible results, they would probably keep on playing anyway. At least until they're 60. If you're a musician, that's what you do. What else is there?
If you sit back and think about it, of course it sucks to be in a band no one gives a shit about (and the majority of the people who do come to your shows are idiots anyway), but if you're a musician, that's what you do, even if you're too old for this business, and they only pay you $100 a night, which, minus gas and divided by five, amounts to nothing.
But, all in all, they would rather be famous. Tyler always says: "When you're famous, people will cooperate with you. Fame is like a sexual musk. It entices the slaves to come out of the woodwork." He would quote Gertrude Stein: "What an artist needs most is praise."
Once he philosophized while tripping: "People think of fame as temporal immortality when in fact what it is is spatial immortality. You don't get to live forever but you do get to live everywhere at the same time."
Preening himself for eventual fame, Tyler has become hyper conscious of his appearance. He is nearly handsome, rugged, but with long, blonde curls, which he likes to shake from side to side on stage. Once he tried shaving his head, thinking it would turn him into a skinhead or a convict. But a look in the mirror showed a buddha, if not a Chinese cook. He quickly grew his hair back. To get rid of his love handles, he has started to do sit-ups in the morning. There is a large tattoo of a ringing telephone on his right biceps, which he showcases by wearing a tank top whenever possible.
Paradox drives the van into the Auto Da Fe's nearly empty parking spot. "I'm sorry!" he shouts. The first thing they see inside is a mural of an orgy on the back wall. Swirling naked bodies in black, white and yellow, with a slogan painted over it in red, white and blue: "MAKE LOVE NOT WAR BECAUSE WAR IS UGLY AND LOVE IS LOVELY."
The club has two large rooms: one with a long bar and one with a tiny stage. With the bad weather tonight, they would be lucky to have 50 in the audience. The after work crowd, who would be drunk and home by the time the music starts, sit at the bar and watch them lug in their gears. Some redheaded guy in a suit shouts "Hi!" to Karen. Two or three people laugh. The manager of Auto Da Fe, a very short guy with dyed black hair, with a mouth set at an odd angle, in shades and a leather vest, comes out to greet them: "Doctor At Tree?"
"Sluice Gate," Tyler says.
Paradox approaches the little guy. He props his right hand in front of his own nose, slicing his face in half vertically. In a voice suddenly severe, he says: "I'm Paradox, the road manager."
"Nice to meet you, Pierre Docks. I'm Pablo."
"That's Tyler, Karen, Frank and Orlando."
"Welcome. Welcome. Make yourself comfortable. The sound guy will be with you in a moment. We should have a nice crowd tonight. Drink as much as you want. Draft beer's on the house."
"How about food?" Paradox asks.
"We don't serve food here," the manager says.
"How about bags of potato chips?" Paradox persists.
The manager turns to the bartender and says: "Give these guys some chips." As they are doing their sound check, some drunk wanders over from the bar, huffing, and says to Frank: "What's the name of this band?" The drunk appears to be about 50. He has an enormous, red face, with a mouth that always hangs open.
It always annoys Frank when someone has to ask for the name of the band.
If they were already in the club, then they should know. "Sluice Gate," he answers.
"That's about the dumbest name for a band I've ever heard," the drunk opines, then walks away.
"Who asked for your fuckin' opinion!" Frank yells after him.
After sound check, Orlando, Tyler and Karen go back to the van to smoke a joint. Paradox and Frank stays behind at the bar. There is Sam Adams on tap and each has a mug in front of him.
"You know, I'm sort of from this area," Frank grins.
Paradox squints for along time, then shouts: "Smooth bore!"
Inside the van, Karen, mellowed by pot, lies on her side on the back seat with her eyes closed. Although not altogether beautiful, she has a face that would never be scored by experiences, that would never grow old. It would stay young, one suspects, even inside a coffin. "Look," Tyler says, "they misspelled the name of our band on this flyer."
"Let's see," Orlando reaches for the flyer. Sluice Gait, it says.
"I kind of like this version," Orlando concludes. "It says here that The Nguyens are playing here tomorrow."
"Put some music on," Karen says.
Tyler shoves a cassette into the tape deck.
"Who's this?" Karen asks.
"Blind Lemon Jefferson."
"Sounds good. I've never heard of him!"
Tyler takes a long drag, then says: "You know this guy died walking into a snowstorm after a recording session."
"Was he on drugs?"
"I get it: Blind Melon!"
"That's where they got their name."
"You know everything!"
The van has become a bubble of mellowness. After a moment, Karen says, with her eyes still closed: "You know why semen tastes kinda sweet?"
"I wouldn't know," Tyler says. "Why does semen taste kinda sweet, Orlando?"
Orlando is gay and was once the drummer for Pansy Division.
"Because of beer," Karen answers.
The door to the bar opens and the drunk comes out. He walks over to a payphone but does not make a call. He stands at the payphone for a while, in the shadow, with his back to the street. When he has finished and returning to the bar he sees the van. He recognizes Tyler, smiles and mouths the word "fuck you." Then he goes back inside.
"What was that all about?" Orlando says.
"Why? What happened?" Karen asks.
"Some guy just said `fuck you' to Tyler."
"This is a lovely town," Tyler says. They all laugh.
Girls from Smith and Amherst are showing their IDs to the bouncer at the door. The jukebox is blaring Nirvana. Frank downs two double shots of Southern Comfort in quick succession. A fat girl walks up to him. "Excuse me," she lisps, "are you the guitarist for Doctor At Tree?"
"Yes, I am," he says.
"I love your CD."
"Would you sign this flyer for me?"
She gives Frank a pen.
"What's your name?"
Frank turns to Paradox and whispers: "What's the name of the guitarist for Doctor At Tree?"
"How the fuck do I know?!"
"To Susan. Love. How the Fuck Do I Know," he scrawls in a loopy script.
After the fat girl goes away, Paradox comments: "Nice looking girl."
"You fuck her," Frank says.
Five minutes before they are to go on, Frank's mother shows up. She has groceries for the band. White bread, salami, cheese and apples. "Thanks, Mrs. Johnston," Tyler smiles. Frank pulls her aside: "What do you think you're doing, Mom?"
"I just came by to say hello."
"But I'm a rock musician, mother!"
"Do you need money?"
Frank doesn't answer. Mrs. Johnston stuffs $80 into her son's shirt pocket, then leaves.
They begin with "Sucker Punch," "Sweet and Sour Sue," and "Sweeny Erect."
Tyler writes most of their lyrics. SPIN has called him a poet. For "Sweeny Erect," he jumbles fragments from Eliot into an incoherent whole. On another song, "Hyacinth Girl," he takes a section of The Waste Land and sings the lines in reverse order. They play inspired. The crowd, mostly there for Doctor At Tree, drift in and out of the room.
Paradox is still sitting at the bar, downing shots of Turkey. There is a girl sitting next to him. To make conversation, she says: "Do you like Sylvia Plath?" She has long eyelashes and wears purple lipstick. Her breath smells like Stoli. "Unreal!" Paradox shouts. Then "You're a fool!" Then "I'm sorry!"
Just before midnight, the band finishes with a ska version of The Strapping Fieldhands' Boo Hoo Hoo: "Boo hoo hoo! I'm in love with you! Boo hoo hoo! Boo hoo hoo!" Tyler is wailing, his head swiveling likes a gift shop doll's. He turns and sees Karen smiling at him. They were lovers once. Many have tried, including Frank. "Boo hoo hoo! Boo hoo hoo!" The thin crowd applauds. They pack up quickly then leave.
Tyler, Karen and Orlando are sleeping quietly. Although the trees are very beautiful this time of year, you can't see them in the dark. They are heading south on Interstate 91.
"How many more hours to Boston," Frank asks.
"Less than two," Paradox answers.
"Is that all?"
Outside Holyoke, it finally happens. Reading from a sign overhead, Paradox shouts: "Dinosaur footprints!" The driver of the Lexus sees the van veer into his lane but cannot do anything about it. It sounds like an explosion. Just before the moment of impact, Tyler dreamt he was sitting in an airplane while dinner was being served. Karen was the stewardess. She asked him: "Beef or chicken for you, Sir?"
"Both!" he answered.
"Holy fuck!" someone screamed.
Mortified by his snafu, Tyler tried to mouth the word "chicken" but, again, he could only said "both!"
The van somersaulted six or seven times before bursting into flame. It had knocked out four cars going in the opposite direction. Karen's head was tilted back, her cheek pressed against the windowpane.