Fade To Black
My usual playlist of cuss words reverberates through the over- sized two-car garage. I had set aside this day to take care of some overdue basic maintenance on my first love. Well... one of my first loves. Truth be told, music is really and truly my first love, but the dark beauty who had simultaneously excited my dreams and haunted my nightmares (and my wallet) was a close second back in the day. I had committed myself to installing a rebuilt alternator in my ’68 Camaro, and she is fighting me, as usual.
As I try to tighten the alternator on the mounting bracket, my socket wrench slips, causing the alternator to drop down, right on my left hand’s index finger. “Ouch! Fuck!” The wrench hits the garage floor, sending even louder reverberations right into my eardrums. This car and I had seen and done so many things together. She oc- casionally let me down or left me stranded (less lately), and it was usually a power thing – hence the alternator replacement. This is the umpteenth time I’ve replaced it, but she is my road warrior. My heavy metal missile.
Today it is just her and me. She and I. Surrounded by metal. Not just car metal, but heavy metal. You know – the music. The music that makes life bearable when it otherwise wouldn’t be. The music that on most occasions makes it ok to get out of bed and get moving. Or ok to deal with all of the things that life throws your way. This is my music. My wife has much broader musical tastes and sometimes mocks mine. “You are so stuck in the ’80s.” Or “My god, why are you still listening to those people screech?” But it is still my music. Always has been. And while my musical tastes have also broadened over the years, I am never so at peace as when I am elbow deep in grease and blasting Dio’s “I Speed at Night.” Heavy metal became part of my DNA many years ago and is fused into my being.
I compose myself and pick up the socket wrench and drop it on the workbench. I then stick my left index finger in my mouth, grease and all, to soothe my hurt. I pull my finger back out, shaking my entire hand, trying to quell the sting. Once the pain subsides, I decide it’s time for a break. I head inside the house and wash the grease off my hands in the half bath near the garage entrance.
The house is quiet. But that’s normal now that the kids have moved out and it is just me, the missus, and three senior dogs that spend more time sleeping than moving. When I hit the kitchen floor the dogs stir a bit, thinking they might get fed again. They meander over to their food dishes and give me that we-haven’t-eat- en-in-days look. It’s hard for a fifteen-year-old German shepherd to pull off the puppy dog eyes, but she still manages. Unfortunately for them, the ‘yellow moron’ – a boxer mix that makes up for his
lack of brains in undying, unconditional love – has left a slight bit of kibble wrapped in wet food on the side of his bowl. The shep- herd, the smart one of the bunch, looks down at the yellow dog’s bowl and sees the evidence. Now she knows there will be no second breakfast, so she shuffles herself into the living room and onto her hundred-dollar, special-order, geriatric dog bed, lying down with a big humf. I look at her and smile. “Foiled again, huh, old girl?” She looks back at me and does the shepherd eyebrow thing – the thing that makes you believe that they’re really paying attention to what you said and thinking it over. For a moment I can almost believe that she’s thinking, “Next time, I’ll clean up that yellow asshole’s bowl myself. No evidence.” I laugh a bit at this and then proceed to put water on for tea.
A few moments later, the teakettle makes a loud, rattling, whis- tling sound as though it’s gonna jump right off the stove. I take off the kettle and proceed to concoct my caffeine fix. I’m not a coffee guy, never have been. When I was little, my grandfather would drink coffee all day long, and I used to love the smell. I would wait while it brewed, taking in a big inhale of the coffee aroma as it wafted around the kitchen. One day my grandfather let me try some. Big mistake. I went right to the sink and spit that shit out. “Doesn’t taste very good, does it?” he’d asked, laughing. “No. No, it doesn’t,” I replied. I’d had coffee ice cream and loved it, but it was mostly sugar and milk with a little coffee flavoring. My grandfather liked his coffee black. Nothing in it. No sugar. No milk. So from that day onward, I hated coffee. Yet I still loved coffee ice cream.
I take my tea (Earl Grey with lots of sugar and a dash of half- and-half) and head back to the garage. I stand there, staring her down. “You gonna come quietly, old girl, or are you gonna keep fighting me?” I, of course, know the answer. She’s gonna fight. She would always fight. From the day I got her, she was a nightmare. A beautiful, sexy nightmare. All kinds of issues from electrical gremlins (that persist to this very day!), to water leakage, to starter problems. You name it, and she did it. But I love her anyway.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by Fords. My stepdad was a mechanic and was a Ford guy through and through. Back then, way back in the ’60s and ’70s, you were either a Ford guy or a Chevy guy. Couldn’t be both. I had grown up driving Fords. Surrounded by Fords.
I learned to drive on a beat-up F-150 farm truck. That truck had power, but that was about it. It was little more than an engine with seats. It was a three-speed on the column, which was weird, but I didn’t know any better. At the time it seemed normal. The grossest part to me was all the rust. The car was barely held together by orange and brown patches of rusted-out metal. I had heard that the truck started out white, but there was little evidence of that by the time I was learning to drive. It was so bad that the floorboards on both sides of the cab were rusted straight through. You could see the grass and dirt fly by as you careened through the fields. I remember wondering if I could pull a total Fred Flintstone and stick my feet into the dirt to stop the truck if I needed to or, on the flip side, whether I was going to slip off the bench seat and fall through the floor and run myself over.
That truck wasn’t the only Ford around ‘the farm.’ I use the term ‘farm’ loosely since, while we had a lot of acreage, we were only sporadic farmers. There were several Galaxies, mostly ’64s plus
one ’65, and a few Fairlanes. Our back field was a Ford graveyard. My stepdad had a need to ‘collect’ these cars. To hoard them. But the collected hoard mostly consisted of rusted-out buckets of junk, with only one of them (two, if we were lucky) running at any given time. Most of the time, my stepdad was stealing parts off of one to get another running in what I saw as an ultimate, unwinnable game of whack-a-mole.
When it came time for me to actually buy a car – using the money I had saved from years of baling hay in the summer, picking corn in the spring, or chopping wood in the winter – my stepdad was shocked when I didn’t take one of the Fords but instead went out and spent my good, hard-earned money on a “piece of shit Chevy” as he would say, often. My stepdad and I didn’t see eye to eye on much. He was only ten years older than me, so our relationship was more like siblings than father and son. We would always fight, sometimes physically, and created a lot of tension in the house. I loved my stepdad – still do, to this day. He is a good guy, but we didn’t quite understand each other.
The one area of passion that we did share was cars. Even though I had gone to the dark side, my stepdad appreciated the fact that I wanted a muscle car and not one of those foreign “pieces of shit” (those would come later too). That would have been worse. He also appreciated the fact that I wanted to do most of my own work or at least try to. That being said, the criticism was constant. And the “black beauty” didn’t help at all. Every time she broke down or left me stranded (and she did that a lot), my stepdad would snicker and say things like, “Yeah, you wouldn’t catch me dead driving that thing,” or “I’ve never had a car that left me hangin’ like that car does to you,” which of course was a total lie. He had been stranded by his precious Fords many, many times. Every time, he’d beat the shit out of the car (his temper was legendary), leaving it in even worse shape when he was done.
I had acquired the Camaro in the summer of ’84, before my junior year. She was for sale, sitting on the side of the road in front of a large farm right up the road from where I lived. The car had been sitting out there a couple of years and, while I wasn’t enam- ored at first, it kinda grew on me, much like the weeds that grew up around it. I would pass it while riding the school bus, which my mother drove. Every day I’d see it. Sitting there. All alone. The price started at two thousand or best offer but kept dropping steadily. And no wonder. It was a mess. It was black, at least on paper. The car was mostly primer grey. It had rally racing stripes so faded as to be barely visible, and the hideaway headlights made the front of the car look menacing (in a good way).
I had gotten my license earlier that year and was typically driving whatever car was running around the farm. I was tired of playing Russian roulette with the cars and needed something of my own. I was going to have to get a job soon, a real job that would require real transportation, and this might as well be it. I lived so far out that public transit was nonexistent. A car was the only way to get around. I had managed to save up eight hundred and fifty and, when I passed the Camaro one day and the price had changed to one thousand or best offer, I knew I could make that deal. That af- ternoon, I rode up on my bike (no Fords were running at the time) to buy the car. The old farmer took the eight-fifty with such speed that it probably should have set off alarm bells, but it didn’t matter.
I had a car. My car. And I knew I could fix it up. My stepdad had an awesome set of tools.
I did manage to fix it up over time. At first, just enough to get it on the road and then bits and pieces over the years. I did a com- plete overhaul about ten years ago to get her back to the shape god intended. The car is pristine now and probably looks even better than when it came off the showroom floor in the spring of 1968, right around the time that I was entering this world myself.
I walk over to the work bench in my garage – a decent Craftsman rig but silver, not red – and put down my cup of tea. I bellow, “Hey, Siri, play my metal playlist.” The first guitar riff from Accept’s “Balls to the Wall” rips out of my garage speakers. I look over, throw up my metal horns, and exclaim, “Fuck, yeah!” I pop my head back under the hood and get to work.
A few hours later, I’ve finally won the battle of the alternator and am in the process of putting the car up on jacks in the rear so I can replace the back brake drums. As I start wrestling with the passenger-side rear drum, my iPhone starts to ring. It’s in silent mode, like always, so it’s vibrating on the top shelf of the tool chest in the back of the garage. It’s making an awful racket – enough to be heard over the loud music. I stop what I’m doing, head over to the tool chest, and look at the phone dancing among the parts. My hands are covered in grease, so picking it up seems like a bad idea. The name that comes up is “Mike.” The phone stops after three vi- brations and then starts again. It rings a few times, then goes silent. I am trying to place the name. “Mike?” I think. “Hmm. Which Mike?” I knew a few Mikes.
I go back to working on the car. The house phone starts to ring... and rings for a long time. It’s very loud. I look up from the rear of the Camaro and strain to listen. I order Siri to stop the music, and “Lack of Communication” by Ratt comes to an abrupt end. I can now hear the house phone ringing clearly. I haven’t heard that phone ring in months and have almost forgotten what it sounds like. I’m sure it’s a telemarketer. They are the only ones who have called that phone in the last five years.
I walk over and wipe my hands on some shop towels and look down at my iPhone again. Three missed calls from someone named Mike. I wipe my hands a bit more rigorously (I know better than to go in the house, touching surfaces, full-on grease monkey – the wife would kill me) and head inside. The house phone, which had stopped, now starts ringing again, and this time I answer it. “Hello?”
I don’t hear anything right away. Then I hear someone say, “Hey, Sean.”
The voice is quiet, but I know in an instant which Mike it is – high school bud Mikey.
“What’s up, brother?” I exclaim. “Long time no talk.” Mikey’s voice hasn’t changed at all. Not at all.
Mikey lets out a sigh. “Uh, yeah. I know it has been a while.”
Mikey is talking in a very somber tone, which is not like him – he’s usually a ball of energy. I can sense that something is wrong. Very wrong.
Mikey continues, “Hey, so, I’ve got some news. It’s Bob, man. He’s uh... he passed away. Last night.”
I don’t know what to say, but I hear my voice responding. “Oh my god. Oh my god. What happened?”
Mikey sighs deeply but seems to regain his composure a bit. “He... he was... well, he was struggling. Not sure if you knew. It’s always harder around the holidays for him, I think. I don’t know. I thought he was doing better, but you know Bob. Hard to tell what’s going on” – he stops and sighs heavily again – “what was going on inside that head of his.”
I wonder why Mikey, rather than Bob’s wife, is calling me with this news. But then it hits me. Bob and Mikey had stayed in our hometown and had stayed close – closer than the rest of us could. Hell, their houses are only about a half a mile from each other. Plus I imagine his wife is having a hard time – I can’t imagine having to call all of Bob’s friends and break this news.
His voice trails off a bit, and I manage to say, “Oh my god, I had no idea.” Not that I would. I hadn’t spoken to Bob in a few years. Not really. Of all my friends, Bob was the least social media–in- clined of the bunch, so it was harder to keep in touch with him. People don’t call each other anymore. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the aptitude – after all, he was an electrical engineer with a dual degree in computer science – but he did have a thing about privacy. Bob chimed in only sporadically on group texts and never had a Facebook account. He wasn’t exactly a conspiracy theorist but close to it. “The man is always listening,” he would say whenever we would get together. The group would laugh. Bob would laugh too. It was a joke, right? At least we always thought it was. The group text chat that had been going since the beginning of time had been pretty dormant for the last little while. I knew Bob had become a little more distant lately, but I just chalked it up to us growing older and being busy. But – suicide? “What the fuck, Bob?” I think and almost say out loud. Bob was the friendliest, most down-to-earth guy. Always had a smile on his face. “What the fuck?”
My mind is spinning, but I manage to jump back into the phone conversation. “Why didn’t he call? Did he call Jak? Anybody?” I’m starting to get emotional and tear up a bit. I had known this guy since the sixth grade.
Mikey continues, “He didn’t really want to tell anyone. You know how he is. Very private. He didn’t tell Jak, but we ran into him and his wife at Panera. Bob and I were grabbing a quick lunch, and I think they could tell something was off. It was one of Bob’s rough days and they asked if anything was wrong, you know, in that way.”
My mind is still racing, all of these images of Bob swirling around. “Why didn’t anyone call me?” I think. Not that I could have done anything from three thousand miles away, and I certainly wasn’t a psychiatrist after all, but Bob was one of my best, and old- est, friends. I would’ve gotten on a plane in a heartbeat. I would’ve done anything if I had known that my friend was in pain. Hell, I would’ve camped out at his house for as long as it took. I would’ve crawled through fire for that guy.
I right myself a bit. “Ok... shit... I mean, we can catch a flight. We could be there tomorrow. Where is he? Does his family need anything?” My mind goes immediately to his wife and son.
“I don’t think so. Everyone is pitching in, so they’re good. As good as they can be.” Mikey stops for a moment and takes a long, exaggerated breath. “It’ll be good to see you guys. I’ll text you the details for the viewing and the funeral and everything.”
“Ok. I’ll text you once we make travel arrangements. How’s his wife doing? Hell, his son?”
“I talked to Ann. She says the kid’s ok, but she doesn’t sound good. It’s been hard on him though, all of it. They were so close.” He’s quiet for a minute. “I think she wants you to say a few words at the funeral. Are you ok with that?”
“Of course. Whatever they need.” I’m shaking.
“Well, I’ve gotta go. Text when you guys get in.” Mikey hangs up the phone.
I stand there with the phone to my ear for a few seconds, stare at the receiver, and then slowly hang it up. I am still in shock. I sit down on my wife’s new easy chair, unaware (or not thinking) of all the car grease that is being wiped against the new upholstery. My mind is swirling with memories. Lots of memories and a few regrets. Things I haven’t thought about in years. Bob, my god. A good guitar player but a better human being. “The world needs more of those people, not
fewer,” I think. “Fuck!”
My wife enters the kitchen with an armful of groceries, her phone snug between her shoulder and her ear, talking to one of her friends. “I told her that she should try that out before she plunks down money on it. I will never...” She stops as she sees me sitting in the chair and gives me a puzzled look. “Hey, I’m home and have to put these frozen things away before they melt. Let me call you back in a few. Ok. Got it. You too. Bye.” She eyes me up and down and can tell I’m a bit dazed. “Car got the better of ya again? You know, you could always just take it to a real mechanic.” I look up at her with a weary smile. “Ha. It’s not that. Mikey just called.”
“You remember Mikey. From high school. The skinny kid.” “You were all skinny back then.”
“Heh. That’s true. The little guy who couldn’t sit still.”
“Ahh, that Mikey.” Recognition dawns on her face. “What
did he want?”
“He called to say... hmm... He called to tell me, I mean us,
that Bob is... well, he’s...” I take a long, deep breath. “He’s gone.” “Gone where?”
I give her a slight smile. “He’s gone from this earth, as in he’s passed away.” A tear starts to stream down my cheek.
“Oh my god! What happened? How?”
“Apparently he’s been struggling. Had been for a while. I had no idea. I just don’t get it. He’s got a great family. Had a great job, a house. Everything. I just don’t fucking get it.”
“Depression is a hell of a thing. Doesn’t matter what you have, when it gets a hold of you...” She pauses for a bit. “He never said anything?”
“You know Bob. He’s never been a sharer of feelings. Plus, we haven’t talked a lot since we moved. It’s hard being three thousand miles away. Everyone has their lives and we’re all so busy. We don’t think about these things. On top of all that, he doesn’t do Facebook.”
She finally puts down the bag of groceries. “What are you gonna do?”
“Gotta go look into flights. See if we can get back there tonight. Although that’s gonna be tough. Worst case, tomorrow.”
I get up slowly and move through the living room. I sigh a deep sigh and look up at a couple of photos midway up on the built-in shelf. The first photo is of a group of long-haired kids. Metal kids. I pull the photo down and stare at it for a long while. I put the photo back and head into my office. I get on the ol’ computer and start looking at flights.
I emerge from my office an hour later with a photo album. I attempt to sit down on the couch, but my wife stops me in my tracks. “You better go clean up first. Dinner is just about ready.”
I drop the photo album on the couch. “Whatcha makin’?” “BLT salad. Go get cleaned up.”
I head upstairs and get undressed. I get in the shower, lower my
head, and let the water run over and around me. I spend a long, long time under the hot water. Much longer than usual. I need it – after all, I am filthy from working on the car – but that isn’t why I can’t get out. I can’t stop thinking about Bob. About the music we played and the things we did. I haven’t thought about these things in years, at least not in more than a passing way, but now it is hitting me like a... a two-ton... heavy thing. I can’t escape it. Me, Bob, Jak, Mike, and Ron. The whole crew. We had really done some extraordinary things and didn’t realize it at the time, not really. Thinking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder, “How in the hell did we pull that shit off? What the fuck were we thinking?” I start laughing.
I slowly emerge from the shower. The entire bathroom is filled with steam, and I can’t see anything. I grab a towel and dry myself off, wrap the towel around my waist, and walk to the sink. I take my hand and wipe the condensation from the mirror. For a second I can see my face in it – my old, grizzled, fifty-year-old face with my full-on, grey ‘winter beard.’ I’ve grown this beard for the last ten years or so, when it got cold. It is fifty-five degrees today, cold by Northern California standards. I think how useful the beard will be when I head back to Maryland, where the temperature is sure to be much colder. I’m not looking forward to that. I never do. Even when I travel East for work, which is quite often. Usually I know that at least I’ll be back to seventy and sunny by the weekend. But this time, I’m not sure how long we’ll be gone. Maybe we could head back by Saturday, Sunday at the latest. I booked us on Southwest, who doesn’t treat you like a terrorist if you buy a one-way ticket.
I find myself staring at a fogged-up mirror again, and again I wipe my hand slowly across the glass to reveal my face. This time, it is my 1985 face. The wrinkles have faded ,and my unmanageably long, curly dark hair trails over my shoulders. This is how I looked when Bob and I, along with a group of ragtag misfits, were about to take on the world, or at least our little corner of it.
I can’t stop thinking about it.
I finally manage to get dressed and head back downstairs. I sit down at the table just as my wife brings out the salad. I’ve been upstairs for a lot longer than I expected.
She tries to make small talk, but she can tell that the news is weighing heavy on me. “The kids are coming over this weekend. Do you think we’ll be in Maryland long?”
“Not sure. Depends on how things go, I guess. Should be a quick turn, I think.”
“Did you book flights?”
“I did. First flight out of Oakland. Seven a.m. Direct into BWI, so we’ll be home – er, back in Fredneck – late afternoon.”
“Ok. I’ve got an appointment tomorrow I need to cancel. I’ll also need to schedule a pet sitter.”
We both start eating, for the most part in silence.
After we finish, we clean up and then retire to the living room. I pick up the photo album I left on the couch and start looking through it. My wife sits down next to me and rubs my head. I start to smile as I turn the pages and look at the photos. Most of them are band shots – some from live shows, some goofing around in a graveyard, some up against a brick wall (very ’80s metal poses). I stop at a faded picture of me as a very small child, probably two or three, holding a wooden bed knob in my hand, singing into it.
“Ha. My mom took this pic.”
“Always the performer,” she says as she smiles.
“Or noise maker. Either one?” I shoot her a slight smile back. I move on to a picture of a skinny white guy with a tiny ’fro,
holding a funny-looking blue guitar. He barely fills out his ‘skintight’ spandex. “Bob.” I tear up as I start laughing.
“What a fucking goof. A boy and his Kramer. I remember when he got that guitar. He thought it was the coolest thing.”
My wife looks over at the picture and starts to smile. “I remember that picture. And the hair! Wow! Who did that to him?”
I chuckle a bit. “Oh, yeah. The hair.” In the picture, Bob is sporting quite the Bob Ross perm. “We gave him so much shit for that. So much shit.”
“That guitar is pretty though.” She tilts her head to look closer. “Pretty obnoxious, really. He got it about the same time he got that ridiculous perm. He had camped out all night in front of this music store. I think it was called Venemans? Vermins? Something like that. Anyway, they had this sale every year where they would have their prices so low that every broke-ass musician would come from miles around and camp out, overnight, for a chance to get inside the next day and get a good deal on whatever equipment they needed. We bought so much junk at those sales.” I shake my head. “Bob thought that guitar – a Kramer Voyager, maybe – was the best thing in the world. I don’t even remember if he went there to get that or if he just happened upon it while the madness was swirling around. That place got crazy.”
“How did you guys meet? I don’t think I ever heard you talk about that.” She moves over to pet the comatose dog at her feet.
I continue to laugh as my eyes well up with tears. “Hmm, you know... I dunno.” I pause for a moment. “He was just always there. I think it was sixth grade. In middle school, we were always just around each other. We had lots of classes together, but I think the first time we talked was at a Coke break in the sixth grade.”
In the ’80s, in our middle school, we did this Coke break thing, and it was a big deal. Every class had a designated thirty minutes to have a Coke and a reprieve from class. It was also another thing that got held over our heads. If you got suspended from Coke break, that was a big fucking deal. Even though you could only buy one Coke (for a quarter, of course) and it was only an eight-ounce bottle, we waited all week for Coke break. It was a chance to have a Coke, sure, but it was also a chance to sit down, almost like elementary school recess, with your peers and shoot the shit. It was long enough to
talk about D&D campaigns and strategies, sports or, more likely, the girls. We were just starting to notice the girls and their, ahem, attributes. These days, every school in the country has a wall of vending machines and anyone with a dollar can buy a Coke. Back then, it was special. It was an event.
“He and I were also in the band together in middle school. We both played sax. I think he played tenor and I played alto. His sax was ‘bigger’ – that’s all I remember, and he never let me forget it. He was a scrappy kid with short hair and matching outfits. I think it was Garanimals or some shit. We’d rock out to ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Ode to Joy.’ The same shit most middle schoolers play. But I always wanted to start a rock band, so when I got to high school, I decided the school band was not for me and I quit that scene. I was always trying to get a rock band off the ground. I’d ask anyone who would listen if they wanted to join. Bob was always a good listener. He had wanted to play guitar, but his parents were pretty conservative and wanted him in the marching band instead. He worked out a deal where he could do both as long as he kept his grades up.”
I turn the page and let out a deep sigh. “Even in middle school, we used to make up band names and make flyers to try and recruit people into the ‘band.’ It was so goofy. We’d sit in Ms. Shelley’s music class and fuck with the recorders, playing ‘Highway to Hell’ from AC/DC or ‘Iron Man’ from Black Sabbath. She hated us – most of the time. On Fridays, she’d let the kids bring in records to play. Bob and I almost never got our records chosen. You can imagine why.”
“Yes, I can,” she says slyly.
“Back then, there were probably four or five people in that school that could even carry a tune. Nobody, I mean nobody, played or even listened to rock. Bob was different. He liked all the bands that I liked. Rush, Kiss, Van Halen. Especially Van Halen. He had just started to play the guitar, so we really didn’t have a working band for a few years, but we pretended we did and it didn’t stop him from trying to play ‘Eruption’ – on an acoustic guitar. With nylon strings.” I break into a wide smile. “Our ‘band’ had, like, ten members. Everyone wanted to be in the ‘band.’ We’d meet at recess and discuss band things, but there was no band, not really. It was more of a social club. But I really wanted it. Badly. I just wanted to play... For as long as I can remember. Bob was a good sport and he was up for anything.”
I continue to flip through the photo album and land on a very faded Polaroid of me and Bob sitting in front of an Apple II com- puter in the school guidance office. Me in my jean jacket, jeans, and my messy hair. It was a middle period where the Jewfro was trying to figure itself out. Bob was in his matching blue Garanimals shirt and powder blue jeans with his short, scraggly hair sticking up all over the place. We were typical middle school dorks.
“Ha, look at this one,” I blurt out. “He and I also got to get out of our last period class on Tuesdays and Thursdays to go to the guidance office to do data entry. We were the only ones interested in the computer, and we were so bored. I was usually getting into trouble, so they’d pull us out of class and we’d tinker for about an hour. It took us about ten minutes to enter the data – we fucked off the rest of the time, mostly playing games. We did, however, always keep our eye out for the master grades password – you know, like WarGames? But our school wasn’t nearly that sophisticated.”
“Oh, I remember.” My wife looks at me with a melancholy sadness. “You need anything?” she asks softly.
Not looking up from the album, I respond, “No. I’m good. Thanks.”
I stop on yet another piece of memorabilia. A flyer. The flyer for the event that defined my childhood. At least my high school years. The flyer is for a rock show at our high school. An event to raise money for the prom committee that our motley crew was somehow able to pull off. While it felt like magic at the time, now, some thirty years or more later, it seems even more magical. More improbable. How many teenagers are ever able to do something like this?
“Man, we sure shook the pillars of heaven, didn’t we, Wang?” I say as I close the photo album. I shut my eyes and let out a big sigh. I finally get up, with a creak in my fifty-year-old back. “It’s late, and we have to get up super early in the morning.” I reach my hand out to my wife. “You ready to head up?”
“Yeah, what time are we getting up?”
“Four or four thirty. Flight is at seven.”
“Ugh, early. Ok. Better let the dogs out one last time. I’ll meet
“I’ll be up in a bit. I have to get a few thoughts down for what
I’m gonna say at the funeral.”
“Ok. Don’t stay up late. You can always finish it on the plane.” “I’ll come to bed soon,” I say, knowing that I won’t get much
sleep tonight. My head is swimming, and I can’t stop drifting back in time. Back to when I was young, poor, and full of hopes, dreams, and whatever it is that gives kids the ability to ignore any obstacle.
I hope that I will get to tell some Bob stories at the funeral. Me and others. We all have good ones. Some (most) wouldn’t be appropriate for a family audience, but I think it will be important not just to honor who he was but to lighten the mood a bit and let folks know that if Bob was going anywhere it was “up.” He was a good guy.
I slip the flyer out of the photo album and carry it with me as I shuffle around and turn off most of the downstairs lights. The whole house goes dark. The only exception is the Christmas tree – still up even though it’s February. It’s a fake tree – the first one we’ve had in many years.
We had been doing so much travel and had just gotten back from Italy before the holidays, so it made sense to have a fake tree. Less worry about fires, dogs knocking it over, etc. The tree was pretty plain, by design, with simple bright white lights. We’d decided to only put on the handmade ornaments, the ones made by our kids and our grandkids. It’s a nice tree for a fake. It looks kinda real from a distance, not like a pole with green pipe cleaners attached. The tree light also shines over the menorah that sits in front of it on a table. It’s a visual representation of the schizophrenic religious situation in my household. A little of this, a little of that. It is all the same, basically, anyway.
I pass by the tree and into my office. “Hey, Siri, turn on the neon light,” I say as I enter the room.
“Ok, got it!” she says.
A red glow takes over the room. The neon light is an arcade Atari sign from back in the day, which bathes the office in an eerie red glow
reminiscent of an ’80s arcade.
I sit down at my desk and drop the Prom Aid flyer right in
front of me. “Look at those fucking kids.” I hit the spacebar on my keyboard. The screen lights up and asks for my password.
I’ve forgotten to put on my Apple Watch. My password is twen- ty-eight characters long, with numbers and special characters (as it should be), but I’m going to have a hard time typing it in this light. I give it a shot. Third time’s the charm! The screen brightens, competing with the red glow from the Atari sign.
“Machines have no conscience,” I think although I’m not ex- actly sure why.
I fire up Safari and jump into a new Google doc page. I stare at it for a bit and then I type.
“A few words about my friend Bob...”
I stop. I stare at the screen for about a minute. It feels more like forever.
I continue typing. “1985. That was a good year. ’85 into ’86 was when the whole world exploded for a bunch of scrappy, long-haired kids. When we finally got to realize our dream and play a rock show. A real rock show.”
I stop typing, and my eyes drop back down to the Prom Aid flyer sitting on my desk. I smile and manage to produce a little chuckle. “Look at those skinny-ass kids,” I say quietly as I pick the flyer up and study it even closer. Our buddy Jer had made this flyer for our show. “If you’re gonna play a big show, we have to have a professional flyer. We have to put this thing up all over our county,” Jer would say to us constantly, usually waving his arms for effect. Jer was good like that. He sweated the details. He had made this flyer on his family’s new Macintosh. We had taken some band pictures in the town graveyard (of course we did – if you had a local graveyard, that’s where all the metal bands were taking their band pictures!) and Jer had decided to use one of these shots for the flyer. In the picture, we all had our menacing ‘metal faces’ on and were posed to the hilt. We were showing off our newly acquired assortment of spandex and ripped-up T-shirts, some with logos (either bands or musical gear) and some without. My outfit was fairly monochromatic and consisted of black- and-white spandex, with alternating black leopard-print stripes, and a ripped black shirt over a ripped white shirt, both shirts procured from the girl I was dating at the time.
On the far right of the picture, our bass player, Mike, was wearing a pair of black-and-red-striped spandex that almost looked like a demonic barber pole and a Yngwie Malmsteen Rising Force T-shirt. Between Mike and I was Jak, one half of our twin guitar attack. He was wearing spandex with a blocky pattern of black and white, seemingly prison issue, and a Live Aid T-shirt peeking out from underneath a sleeveless jean jacket. To my immediate left in the picture was our drummer, Ron. He was a good-looking guy and he knew it. He managed to capture the androgyny of ’80s hair metal perfectly. In the picture, he was wearing red snakeskin spandex with a slim red belt off kilter across his hips, a ripped-up black Zildjian T-shirt, a red bandana, and black gloves. That’s how you knew he was the drummer – the gloves.
To Ron’s left was the second half of our twin guitar attack, my buddy Bob. I sigh as I look at Bob’s image intently. He looked so nervous. Bob was a great guitar player but was never fully comfort- able with the whole putting-yourself-out-there-in-spandex thing.
And in spandex, you definitely put yourself out there. There was no mystery about what was going on in those things. Bob was wearing black-and-white leopard-print spandex and a sleeveless, ripped-up Triumph shirt. Triumph was his absolute favorite band. I remem- ber being a little pissed at him when he brought his spandex to the “clothing reveal” practice before we did the photo shoot because my spandex were also leopard print. They weren’t exactly the same, but they were close enough, and we were really trying to make sure that our outfits were unique. I guess that was too much to hope for in our little town. We all had to get our spandex at the same shop in the mall.
The top of the flyer had our band name, ONYX, in a big, com- puter-generated font. Below the picture were the details about the show. “One night only – High School Auditorium – February 28th, 1986.” 1986 felt like so long ago. Around the edges of the flyer were ‘celebrity’ testimonials. These were all made up, of course, since no one had seen us play at that point, save for the people who would drop by our band practices – and none of them were celebrities. The handwritten testimonials said things like, “One of my favorite local metal bands” (attributed to the drummer from Wrathchild) and “One of the best up-and-coming local metal bands” (attributed to Brian Jack of Child’s Play). To my knowledge, neither Wrathchild’s drummer, Shannon Larkin, nor Brian Jack ever said these things.
I think it must have been Jak’s idea to add these to the flyer. He was always the promoter. We did, however, have one testimo- nial that might have been real, by Andy from Lynx: “These guys kick ass!” Andy was a friend of the band, and a previous bandmate for most of us, but I’m still not sure if he ever said this either.
Sometimes you have to embellish when you are just starting out. Fake it till you make it.
“Whew, man. What a fucking wild ride.” I drop the flyer back on the desk and stare straight ahead for what feels like forever.
All the memories keep flooding in...