An Off Night – By Ray Van Horn, Jr.

“Sorry, bud, Crissy’s not doing interviews tonight.”

If our hearts are pure or at least they strive for purity, the universe steers us towards the path of righteousness to help us along the journey. As my new ager friend Sally who runs a dying paperback shop over on the north end might say, it’s about the journey.

True enough, Sally, but unfortunately, the universe also aligns us on the paths of dolts, throat-cutters and laze-abouts who block our right to move towards our ultimate destination. Some say these jackoffs of the world add color to our lives. In the case of one Sandie Lobo, a jackoff name if there ever was one, he offered as much color to the world as Birmingham, Alabama, mid-20th century.

Lobo was a pudgy tour manager no taller than a stack of ten unabridged hardcover copies of War and Peace. He looked like Joe Besser, as in the craven third Stooge between Shemp and Curly Joe everyone wanted to smack the more he whimpered “Cut it ouuuuuuuuut…” Sandie assumedly came by his name via the beach-colored fuzz outlining his otherwise scalped pate. His glasses broadcast eyelash dandruff on the lenses and his retro Diamond Head shirt looked ready to split at the arms, exactly as headbangers of the eighties would’ve deliberately hacked off the sleeves with a pair of scissors because they thought it looked tough. Sandie had “little punk bitch” written all over him—small man syndrome, from those who might carry a politer disposition.

“I have Lachlan, the new keyboardist, sitting in for Crissy Busada,” he said in a bored tone. “Hope that’s not a problem.”

Regurgitations of diesel burped overtop Hawk Mountain’s lustrous tour bus. A sharp-looking road pistol as I’d ever seen, complete with sleek red stripes around the circumference, adding to its ostentatious façade. Pretty damned flashy for a Poughkeepsie power metal band only on their second touring cycle ever. To this day, I’ve never failed to be amazed by bands fortunate enough to pick up a bus tour, especially in these times of hardship for the music industry. As a struggling musician myself in 1989, I’d envied the eminence of Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Kiss, who gallivanted around in style back when buses were status symbols. Better wheels, better sleeping quarters, better climate control…better pussy.

The line at the Slung Rig stretched around from the front street entrance to a few paces near the bus where I stood looking down at Sandie’s patronizing grin.

I was about to tell this smug goblin I’d interviewed a Crissie, as in Hynde of The Pretenders, a band with far more relevance than Hawk Mountain, the latter whose resident Crissy couldn’t be bothered to field our scheduled interview.

Sandie didn’t give me a shot at protesting, much less saying anything at all. He jerked his head towards the bus doors and waved me in. As I climbed aboard the snoring steel wheels, I saw a couple of junior longhairs in the back of the line glance over at me. One waved dismissively, but his shrub-headed friend threw me a horns-up salute. I flicked one back. As many times as I’d been on a tour bus shagging down interviews though never shagging anything else behind-the-music, it was still a freaking thrill more than a decade in the life.

Everyone in Hawk Mountain had abandoned the bus except for Lachlan Wynn and a disheveled roadie reeking of pot. The roadie was slumped overtop the miniscule eating table and he’d left a virgin spliff sitting in plain sight.

“Hey, wasteoid!” Sandie snarled, whacking the roadie on top of his thatched mane. “If this guy was undercover, we’d all be arrested, you cock-knock! Your stoner ass is so fired after this tour.”

The roadie grunted and raised his head just enough to spot the joint, which he covered with his palm. Then he went back to sleep. I tried not to laugh at his stoner ass.

“Little prick,” Sandie growled as he led me through the narrow passageway past the half kitchen, the bunks on both sides of the bus and finally into the lounge area in the rear of the coach. It was a familiar sight: three-fourths of a squared sofa, hard foam supporting aquamarine upholstery. Matching curtains were pulled overtop the tinted windows. Rented by countless bands before Hawk Mountain, I could feel ghosts of all the sex parties and phantasmagoric paraphernalia this bantam bunker had seen over time, all kept top-secret from even the most trusted of journalists.

The back of Hawk Mountain’s bus was quiet, save for the idling engine and the frolicking sound of video game noise.

Lachlan Wynn was idling through a skiing game, half-drowsy in his non-business.

“Lachlan? This here’s… Well, whatever your name is, pal.”

I knew by instinct my editor at Thunder magazine, Marc Trapp, probably had as much interest in Lachlan Wynn, keyboardist of Hawk Mountain for all of eleven days, as he would in running an interview with Tony Bennett. Still, I carried on as a pro should.

“Hello, No Name,” Lachlan said to me in a gruff Australian accent. An Aussie relocated to an American power metal unit. The continental divide grew smaller by the year.

“Hi, Lachlan,” I said, putting my hand out. “Kenny Rao.”

“What? As in from ‘Rock in Rao,’ that old review column from way back in Mobsters of Metal?

“Yeah!” I glimmered despite Lachlan’s lack of a return shake. I took a seat on the couch, organizing my gear and trying to mentally convert a new interview attack plan since my guest had changed. It wasn’t the first time I’d been put on the spot like this and given the nature of the business, I doubted it would be the last. You lose any naiveté you came equipped with once you’ve earned your stripes in the music racket.

However, I was naïve in thinking Lachlan’s recognition of my name had anything to with goodwill.

“You wrote a really nasty review of a band I once played in,” Lachlan scowled.

Lachlan might as well have whipped out a bullroarer and walloped me with it—as if I hadn’t been caught off-guard by the last minute change-up.

“Sorry, bro,” I said gamely, trying to stay focused. I needn’t have bothered. After all, there’s always a south to be leery of no matter how northwards your prospects may appear. Every vet still has that day or two when the interview is destined straight for hell. “Which band?”

Transmission Force,” he said with a full gnarl in his pipes.

“Oh yeah, God, that was years ago, man.”

“You slagged our only album without mercy. I believe your witty dismissal went along the lines of ‘This album is so bad I wouldn’t use the inlay to wipe my colon clean.’”

He was right. I remembered the write-up now that I was being called out on it. Transmission Force’s Sequential Dreamscapes was an unforgiveable experiment between prog metal, glam and AC/DC swagger rock with electronic elements provided by…now Lachlan’s name hit me. Oh, Christ. I’d used the phrase “trannies” in that review.

“You called me a flunky. You said my samples were ‘worse than every Tom and Dick hip hopper using the same James Brown “Payback” soundbyte.’ I took that personally.”

“Dude, what can I say?” My attempt to project sturdiness was more an exercise in flaccid atonement. “I was younger then and sometimes irresponsible with my writing. I stand on what I wrote but I’ll offer you an apology for my lack of tact back then. When you’re coming up as a journalist, the quickest way to get noticed unfortunately is not to shower praise, but to throw darts. I sold out then, but I know better now. Seriously, man, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah? Well, you can stick your apology right up your high and mighty sphincter! All you writers think you know music but not a stinking one of you ever played music in your worthless lives.”

“I played rhythm guitar in a thrash band that never was back in the late eighties,” I said defensively. Again, I needn’t have bothered.

“Boy, what a fun fucking day this turned out to be,” Lachlan ground on, ignoring me. “When this tour’s done, I’m getting with everyone in Transmission Force for drinks and we’ll toast how I got to stick it to Rock in Rao! We burned your review onstage in Helsinki. Someone got a picture of it for a Finnish magazine. I wish I had a copy so I could smack you in the face with it.”

“I’d say this is a no-go,” I fumed, packing my gear up. “Maybe I should’ve written ‘bitter trannies.’”

“You know what, smartass?” Wynn pressed on. “I’m going to post a blog entry on Hawk Mountain’s website about this little meeting once we get some internet connection. Payback’s a bitch, isn’t it? Give that one to James Brown if you can reach him in the afterlife. Shit the bed, man, I forgot to put my game on pause. I just lost a record time because of you, douchebag! Now get the fuck out of my face!”

The universe also puts us on paths of penitence for its own galactic chuckles. Consider that sometime when you’re rolling through your sanskit mantras, Sally.

I was surprised to still be on Hawk Mountain’s guest list, but I figured I might as well get some photos to procure a little bit of assignment money since the interview had turned out to be a non-event.

Hawk Mountain had brought a mismatched Michigan-based band on the road with them, a slapdash punk trio, The Kickaround Pups. The Pups consisted of a shirtless drummer (bringing with him a mini kit featuring only a bass drum, snare, a single tom, high hat and one crash cymbal), a vocalist who shimmied around the stage like Anthony Keidis in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ toked-up years and one guy playing a combo guitar and bass. The energy level they’d propelled far outclassed Hawk Mountain, based on what I’d heard of the headliners’ tedious album, Preludes and Chapters their label had provided me earlier in the week by download. Too bad I wasn’t reviewing the wretched thing.

I’d caught five songs of The Kickaround Pups’ set, which whirred in and out like a blur due to their two-minute songwriting ethos. I’ve always appreciated a band which makes snap-pop statements in their music, considering most metal and emo punk bands these days felt obligated to wank ten to thirteen songs ranging anywhere between five to eight minutes apiece. Double Nickels On the Dime by The Minutemen and D.R.I.’s Dealing With It should be treated like creed.

Stationed around the perimeter of the floor were toughened undergrad girls with heaving, natural chests (a miracle amidst this liturgy of silicone worship) and stout, irresistible hips. Olive-tinted, Athena-like regality glistened their youth. Walkie talkies and penlights were strapped to their belts and shoulder harnesses. Lara Croft operated inside a new tomb these days. Their strict expressions said they were on the clock and weary of propositions. Their primary function was to ferret out troublemakers and radio them in to the bouncers. At times, they took tickets and ID’d when a show was sold out. I only knew one of them as Hayley, based upon the outraged objections I heard from many shot-down pickup artists over time.

While the bands changed sets, the club knocked out Modest Mouse’s “The Good Times Are Killing Me” over the loudspeakers, and then about-faced into Warlock’s timeless metal anthem “All We Are.” Most everyone in the club, save for the staff, began bobbing their heads and chanting along with fireball vocalist Doro Pesch (considered worldwide as The Queen of Metal) to the song’s spellbinding united-in-loudness chorus.

Overtop the side bar, a large projection screen ran a slide show of notable bands that had performed at the Slung Rig: Better Than Ezra, The New Pornographers, My Morning Jacket, Tesla, L.A. Guns and Gwar, plus Delmarva icons Kix, Clutch and the All Mighty Senators. No mention, naturally, of my band, Lakes of Lava, even though we’d cut our teeth on the same goddamn stage decades ago. At least you can tell by our name why we’d lasted less than a year on the local circuit.

Next to the side bar stretched the merchandise tables. A handful of kids had scurried over to The Kickaround Pups’ merch girl, who quickly fished out t-shirts from a battered cardboard box. The headliners were also doing brisk business, even with Hawk Mountain yet to take the stage. A lanky kid worked their table alongside Sandie. The kid moved like an ion while Sandie plunged a rude forefinger at a homemade sign written in magic marker, “CASH ONLY” to random fans pulling out plastic from their wallets.

After Warlock finished, the club fell silent save for the clatter of talking, laughing and rattling beer bottles. I spotted three dumpy Plain Janes who kept pulling up their shapeless jeans and adjusting their burdensome tits beneath their freshly-purchased, undersized Hawk Mountain t-shirts. One of them was holding a mini spiral like the one I had in my camera bag along with my tape recorder, neither of which had seen action this night.

“My blog gets nearly a hundred hits a month,” the girl with the spiral crowed to her ungainly comrades. “But I just got an email interview booked with Hawthorne Heights, isn’t that cool? I’m on my way up!”

I slid past a beefy bouncer guarding the barrier provided for security and photographers. I knew this guard as Wes—real name Wetzel. At his size, no one but his mother dared address him as anything but Wes. I used to wave my photo passes at Wes, but having covered at least a hundred shows in my time at the Slung Rig, he knew me and waved me forward into the photo pit without demanding my credentials. He grunted after I’d said hello.

Sidling up to a photographer I saw at many local gigs, Bart Hamden (a genuine Baltimore name as any), we dallied through our usual set change banter, i.e. Hey man, how the hell ya doin’, how’s the freelancing life treating you, what other bands have you covered lately, blah-de-blah, stroke my ego hard, baby. Four other photogs not including Bart were leaning backwards against the stage, fiddling with their zoom lenses, taking warm-up shots of the crowd, studying the lighting scheme and setting up angles before game time. Masters of the rock universe, they compared their gear the same way gangsters compared handguns or jocks their dicks.

Again the music kicked on while Hawk Mountain’s crew set up. The sleepy roadie I’d seen with his hash on display was now operating in fifth gear, connecting amp wires, tuning instruments and twisting mikes into their stands with admirable swiftness.

Almost out of nowhere, Slayer boomed through the crowd with their halcyon thrasher, “Angel of Death.”

“Fucking Slayer!!!!” someone yelled from the crowd.

“Slayyyyyyerrrrrrr!” someone else responded.

All around the club, Slayer’s name went up from their devout. Metalheads all around started banging their heads fervently as if Slayer had emerged onstage to grace them with a surprise club performance.

Behind me, Spliff Boy was tuning a Washburn Force 4 and plucking out a few bars of Saxon’s “Denim and Leather.” Next to the double-timed cacophony of Slayer, Spliff Boy had no prayer, albeit he was in his zone, pointing his finger upwards a couple times for the benefit of the soundboard operator. After a few tweaks, Spliff Boy flashed a thumbs-up and walked the Washburn over to a floor rack. Adjacent to him were Randall XL amp cabinets and Marshall Aguilar subwoofers, all set to the “on” position and ready to deliver.

Another crewman hopped aboard the drum kit, a sparkling Pearl set with double bass heads each swallowing their own kick drum mikes. The coal-black toms could bury any drummer alive unless it happened to be Yao Ming. Zildjian splashes and crashes hovered like golden UFOs from their cymbal mounts. The roadie laid down a series of steady snare strikes which caused most people in the venue to blink smartly with each hit. Without warning, he laid down a brutal double-hammer with his feet, creating a tremendous quake which actually made the club floor seem like it was lifting us all up and then down again.

Spliff Boy returned and quickly snapped on all three of the front line microphones, yelling “Check! Check! Check!” while vaulting from space to space. “Cheeeeeeeeck! Check! Check!” he rambled. While he had an actual audience, he added, “Center mike, check! Check! Smoke lots of weed! Check!”

This excited the crowd even further, which began a cheer of “Weed! Weed! Weed! Weed!” as the overhead music shifted to Anthrax’s “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” or nice fucking life, translated in reverse. Again the crowd went wild for this philistine mosh classic, but within the first verse, Sandie had snuck onto the stage and flashed a pen light on and off, on and off. Band language for kill the house lights.

The crowd responded with glee as the lights dimmed.

Joey Belladonna was cut off in mid-lyric as a taped loop of trees splitting in the midst of an echoing typhoon rumbled like a cliché. The obscured musicians slipped into position. A squelched intro note woke up the stage lights and it was on.

I pointed and clicked, twisting my body around the floor amps, then between them, scoping wider flushes from the stage floor up. The faster the band picked up its tempo, I changed shutter speeds and fired away with a comfortable flow. The stage wasn’t the biggest, but the two guitarists made do and still managed to twirl their long, thin hair like follicle pinwheels.

Crissy Busada down picked her bass with wide arcs while woofing into her mic, her gooey eyes ablaze. It was evident she’d taken a toot or two herself before coming out onstage, which explained why she’d ditched our interview. Crissy wore a chewed-up half shirt which still left no threat of spilling its non-contents. On the front was the message “FUCK AUTHORITY.” Some people were conviction and some merely wore conviction.

I focused my lens on Crissy and grabbed some prime shots I figured ought to redeem me with Marc Trapp after texting him a message about the boffed interview. I didn’t take the time to ooh and ahh over my pics like I did when I first started in the business. You lose valuable photography time by checking your work as you’re flashing away on a digital camera. Besides, you only got three songs most times before you were ushered out of the photo pit.

I avoided shooting Lachlan Wynn, the clit.

Kids mashed into the gated barrier. Already the crowd surfers were hanging ten. All of the club’s beefiest bouncers were clustered at the fence, catching them in mid-roll and keeping them off our backs. The bouncers formed a wall of muscle and shining noggins—eggheads on juice.

Hawk Mountain’s first song lasted only a minute even though the stoppage on the final crunch chord was so abrupt you wondered if they’d even finished properly. I remembered from the download album this was the opening number, “Modus Operandi,” all in its pithy entirety.

“How ya doin’ Baltimore?” Crissy Busada sloshed into the microphone and she threw rightie horns up into the air. The crowd responded with a loud retort that rose up then fell down to near-silence. Crowd appreciation just wasn’t the same these days.

I caught Lachlan waving over one of Hawk Mountain’s guitarists. On the other side of the stage, the lead guitarist hit a few scratchy notes while twisting his neck pegs, or I would’ve heard what Lachlan had said. I only saw him point in my direction. Then he gave me the finger. So did the rhythm guitarist before he nudged up to his band mates and passed along whatever Lachlan had told him. It wasn’t hard to figure out.

Hawk Mountain ripped into their second song, which Crissy announced was “My Soul Soars for You.” Lachlan gave me another middle finger before setting his hands in motion on his keyboards and flailing his head forward in time to the rhythm. I’m sorry, but there is just nothing cool about heavy metal keyboardists leaping and ‘banging behind a synthesizer.

“Fuck you back, Liberace!” I yelled, lifting my lens back up. The minute I’d aimed towards the drummer, though, the rhythm guitarist lurched forward and put his middle finger into my shot before strumming like his wrists were possessed by muscle spasms. Undeterred, I swung back over to Crissy, who was altering her vocal modes between clean singing and demonic growling. After one verse, she threw her pick out to the crowd then leaned forward and she also tossed me the finger, which my camera caught. Immediately she grabbed a new pick from her mike stand just in time for the chorus.

Getting in on the action, the lead guitarist crashed his hip into Crissy’s and nearly knocked over her mike stand as he spun a tapestry of scales leading into the song’s riff-dependent bridge. Then he too scrunched down and threw the finger into my camera lens between jerking out his heated chords.

The other photogs kept staring in my direction, wondering if all the attention I’d been getting from Hawk Mountain was due to some weird form of respect. Two of them scrunched in next to me. Sad to say, nothing sold pictures these days in heavy metal like vulgar gesticulation. In the glory days of Mark “Weiss-Guy” Weiss, it was all about capturing the regality of guitar gods in back-breaking arches, pretend orgasm yowls and lurching frets as cock’s extension.

After Hawk Mountain finished the song, Crissy unhooked herself from her bass and knelt down in front of me, whipping out her middle finger to me.

“Real lady-like!” I yelled in her face. “Thanks for the interview, cokehead!”

“Eat my ass, ‘Old School!’” she roared and sucked in some air. I knew exactly what she was about to do as her nostrils vibrated. I pulled my head to the side as Crissy fired an oyster which would’ve blinded one of my eyes if I hadn’t moved. Instead, it connected with one of the bouncers, who whirled around in response.

The other photographers pointed at me, the fuckers! Except for Bart Hamden, who had scooted far towards stage left, leaving me to my fate.

As the bouncer wiped the snot from the back of his bald head, he lunged for me. I quickly dumped my camera into my bag and elbowed one of the weasel photogs I didn’t know by name in the jaw.

“Lying sack of shit!” I screamed into his face, shoving past him. The bouncer also shoved the photog out of the way, who went half-sprawled upon the edge of the stage. In the bouncer’s haste to nail the wrongly accused, a crowd surfer came tumbling at top speed towards the front, even with no music to accelerate him.

“Rob, let it go, dude!” another bouncer shouted. His handle was “Etch,” real name Edwin. Another barbell pumper you didn’t trade semantics with over how to address him. “Surfer at point break!”

Despite the halt in music, the crowd surfer had been sent with such force the berth Rob had left open presented an awkward catch by the bouncer troop. It was so instantaneous the kid nearly squibbed out of their grasp. He would’ve hit the stage face first—a banner day for a plastic surgeon—if Rob hadn’t clutched onto most of him. The sloppy catch ended up swinging the surfer like a human helicopter. His feet missed everyone in the crowd and another bouncer within their arc, but they connected with my chin.

For a second I’d thought Rob had managed to get me as bottle rockets peeled off inside my ears and the lights went off then back on like children do with light switches to annoy the piss out of their parents.

“Get out of the way, old man!”

The crowd surfer squirmed through the photographer line, trying to raze me of the way. As I tasted blood from being kicked in the mouth, I was more pissed by the teenager’s insolence. I’d turned forty-one only a month ago, but I belonged to this motherfucking scene far more than he did. Hell, my generation had paid the snippy shit’s dues for him decades ago. Amongst other indignities, we’d suffered cassette tapes so his compeers of bullshit iPod-loving posers didn’t have to. Bunch of pube-shaving pussies, these kids today.

Hitting full-tilt, I reached out and yanked on the young smartoff’s stringy hair, stopping him in place.

“The fuck off me!” he shrieked, trying to sound dangerous. I think the sight of my ignited eyes and my red-stained mouth turned him into a sniveling rodent.

Apologize, you disrespectful turd!” I trumpeted, pulling harder on his hair.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he cried, and I saw his eyes flood. Suddenly, I was horrified by myself. Is this what it was all about, beating down kids more than half my age? In my day we picked one another up off the floor in a slam pit and we never fought amongst ourselves. Those who tried to duke were ganged upon and thrown to the bouncers of our time, scrappy bulldogs who tossed the offenders out with the same ease they lobbed medicine balls.

“Holy shit!” someone screamed from behind the barrier. “He’s gonna kill him!”

Rob had finally reached me since Hawk Mountain paused their set long enough to relish the rowdy developments. A chunky forearm strangled me from behind. Despite coming in just under 200 pounds myself, I was lifted into the air and thrown into the equally sizeable mits of Wes. I don’t know how I didn’t lose my camera bag.

“Throw the son of a bitch out!” Rob shouted to Wes.

Wes latched his bicep under my armpit and I could hardly keep my feet on the floor. Kids cheered, waved me bye-bye and stuck their cell phone cameras out to capture Wes rumbling me past them. I foresaw myself appearing on Jackass in the near future. From the stage, I heard Lachlan Wynn’s mocking notes of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, followed by more insufferable laughter from the kids.

In a blur, I saw Hayley throw me a mock queen’s wave and I found myself at the front door faster than I ever have anywhere in my life. Normally it takes a good five to ten minutes to squeeze out after show time in most venues. Wes had me out of the Slung Rig in less than ten seconds.

“I don’t know what you did,” he woofed at me, “and I know you’ve been coming here a long time, giving the club good press, but take this as a threat, not a warning. Don’t you ever show up here again! I see you in this place again, I won’t be anywhere near as gentle escorting you out!”

Wes pulled the glass doors shut with brute authority, partially for my benefit and also because he’d spotted a runt of a guy with a greasy John Holmes mustache trying to sneak into the club behind his back.

The lights from across the street flared in my still-sparkling eyes. My throat pounded from the pain Rob had inflicted with his choke-haul. My lips felt like they’d sipped on Novocain. The stench of trash and piss curled from the alleyway, mingling with the distant aroma of Moroccan food one block over to the right and Italian sausages out the cracked window of a neighboring rowhome to the left. Put together, this was likely the composite elemental breakdown of a fart.

“Here you go, dude,” I heard a voice say from behind me.

It was a tall guy with waxed whitey dreads swishing past his face like a dead octopus had been planted on his head. Rasta Street Teamer. Despite how slovenly I must’ve looked being thrown out of the Slung Rig, the kid handed me a flier for another show going down a week later in another part of town.

“My buddy’s band Flesh Fiesta is playing at The Ottobar in a week,” he said, though I was having trouble focusing on the flier from the flaring white dots across my pupils.

“One minute, man,” I croaked, barely able to get the words out. I pushed the flier back to Rasta Street Teamer and tried to keep from falling onto the pavement.

The muffled roar of Hawk Mountain inside the Slung Rig taunted me, daring me to come back and test my luck again with the bouncers.

Like The Cars once sang, you can’t hold on too long to much of anything, not in a world that flourishes on change. By the end of the year, the Slung Rig would resurrect the same pay-to-play band shafting methods they’d forced upon Lakes of Lava decades ago. Before Easter of the following year, the Slung Rig would never book anyone again in its metamorphosis towards a rave club renamed Decadence. Still, I would keep doing what I do best in this life. To stop writing about music and musicians would lead me graveside for my own funeral.

“You alright, dude?” Rasta Street Teamer asked me, still clutching onto that flier, which flapped from a sudden breeze that caressed us amidst the otherwise humid night air of the city.

“Y-yeah,” I stuttered, rubbing on my throat.

“K, mang,” he told me. “You might want to get looked at, but Flesh Fiesta, September 3rd, Ottobar.”

“I’m just having an off night,” I said, taking the flier once I could stand straight with squared shoulders and less of a film over my eyes. “See you next week.”

“Word,” Rasta Street Teamer said back, offering me a fist bump.

“Peace,” I muttered, knocking my knuckles against his.

Once I composed myself, I sent Marc Trapp a text message that I had some choice photos for him, plus one hell of a nutty story to go with it. As I hoisted my sore carcass into my truck and slid into the appropriate ambivalence of Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Marc texted me back and told me he’d taken the liberty of booking me a phoner with Richard Kruspe of Rammstein for the upcoming Saturday. Life goes on as it should.

I shot Marc my best photos by email and knocked down three straight shots of black spiced rum in the hopes of chasing away the pain in my throat. Bad move, it stung like I’d chugged an entire bottle of cayenne-jacked hot sauce.

Since I was home earlier than usual for a show night, I called up Sally. Sally had me by nine years, but she’d also had me in other ways over the many equinoxes we’d known each other. Whenever I’ve had to wring through the ruts, Sally’s always been there for me to make sure I pull through on the other side. We’re proud loners, comfortable inside our own skins and in one another’s. We understand each other better than most married couples.

“Let’s talk karma,” I said when she showed up on my doorstep twenty minutes later with a Barbara Brennon book and a box of rubbers.

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