Friday, September 28, 2012

Cafe "Zondra" Has Never Closed: The War Yet She Spoke Only Peace

Please don't read this blog until you've heard the voice that still lives inside the soul carried with me each and every time my lungs expand to bring air into a body used as a message carrier. November 14, 2011 32 years ago while turning on my first radio station microphone at KOYN in Billings, Montana how would I have known that it would one day capture not just a moment but an entire journey? Caught were the answers to the most sincere questions. Heard are the unscripted replies given to a writer that's spent the past 14 years walking near but never into the true corners of what breast cancer is, does and will do. I studied her voice all the way up until she waved goodbye. I once thought the human voice wasn't capable of hiding the truths held by a body no longer pushing forward. Then it occurred to me that Zondra never stopped reaching. In the beginning she could touch a falling star. Hours before softly whispering into her ear I felt her fingertips gripping my hand in a way that spoke much stronger than the origin of why we chose to share. Her greatest moment could easily be the day she bravely sat in front of sixty elementary school students answering questions. I fought hard to stand without tears gasping for air only to quickly turn away so she wouldn't catch me inside a weak moment. And then came the day God called her name; she chose to stand up and walk from the place she rested her sore shoulders and legs. She left the home that became a nest of safety. There would be no way that she would be connected to the chapters this life gave. The Warrior walked when all others would lay. She instantly recognized our voices when those nearby said she wouldn't. She never let go of her dreams; proving it true when the path that kept her trapped freed her unto the world where all things she touched could find her spirit looking back I now understand where she was going. Zondra passed just five blocks from the school she taught, near a place where the children race on spring and summer days, play loud games and dance like dolls in the name of being just as free as she was that one particular moment of that very special day. From her final window connected to the soul she took note of the Greenway on Kings and Moorehead in Charlotte, NC... It's here where the students she taught often came to grow. To see life and all the living things that sprout wings, petals and everything musical, funny and without fantasy. And it's here that Zondra will sit each new beginning. Waiting for the children she loved so much. It's my job to make the writing of her story simple enough for them to read yet deep enough for them to carry. October 1, 2011 Not because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month but because Breast Cancer awareness is every day. Especially when you think those close to you have won the war and the attacker's retreat…only to come back stronger. Dear God, what am I feeling: Zondra's story. We laugh, we cry and playfully bend stories to better suit the shoes we fill. We walk, we run, chase, dodge and when we least expect it the feet that have carried us into the unwritten chapters kept trip, stumble then fall. Quickly reaching to grab hold of any object to pull, lift or shove aside the body begins to speak, “Not today. Please not today.” A bathroom mirror is trained to lie. It’s almost too easy to convince a reflection that it is what it isn’t. Slowly each eye scans the surface of your skin wondering while fearing the depths of what’s happening. The assumed trembles in the tips of your fingers so often ignored, the unexplained tiredness the same, bedtime at 8:40 the norm; an agreement with the system of self asking for nothing more than the opportunity to rest. The journey becomes a challenge in places high school never taught. Shared are the commands to pick your self up and dust off the butt of a one time slick pair of now faded and weathered jeans. The voices in your heart have now taken over, “Get up! Get back in the game! Play like you mean it! Give it everything you’ve got!” Held in the corners of the smiles that paste positive reactions together outside the shell carried are the softly spoken whispers, “Not today. Please not today. Dear God, tell me what I’m feeling.” Life plays mystery like a master. Each time you’re forced to guess gives life new reasons to change. Bank accounts can be low, favorite football teams can have losing seasons; grocery prices can reach new car levels but nothing compares to the value of air when it escapes your body the moment the doctor says, “You have breast cancer.” As a writer I’m not being truthful to you if I continue to ignore the stories, the empowerment of personal survival that’s met the face of the beast and continues to find purpose in battles that nearly steal your name. Through encouragement and trust the creative side of this daily dedication of pouring ink on the continuation of a living tree I’ve tried to convince so many to place their journey into journals to help teach. Then God whispered to me, “I asked you to do it not them…” And so I heard the word… I introduce to you Zondra; one of the most optimistic, highly spirited, deeply devoted to her school and community human creations I’ve met in thirty two years of radio broadcast. A champion, a physically visible master of sharing, caring and selfless leader; the missing lyric to everybody’s favorite song becomes whole the moment she walks through the door. Before a writer sets out to words in motion we’re taught to build a beginning, middle and end. Know the path before emotion sets in. Become the character hidden within the parenthesis. Feel not what your reader cannot therefore you must speak in a language taken directly from the street. I do not know the outcome of Zondra’s story. It makes me extremely angry to think the artist I am with giant canvas’s on walls of so many could deliver a portrait of incredible peace, one that she hasn’t begged for but holds on the other side of the fence keeping her from touching a horizon we’re all destined to chase. In the days, weeks, months and I pray years from this page forward it’s within the purposes I keep to share with you the willingness of her gentle, “Yes…” A single word shared when asked, “In the name of saving lives can I please share your journey?” “Yes…” Tuesday January 25, 2011 We've read the same story's and have been taught about the affects of breast cancer. I must be a cat with nine lives because eight of my closest friends have been diagnosed. October is always set aside as breast cancer awareness month. It's my dedication and loyalty to those I've lost to make it every day. This story is real. No blinders, no marketing managers reaching for politically correct presentations. This is the life of a teacher that students look up to everyday and through every storm she hasn't let anything stand in the way of teaching. Forty eight hours from surgery; a prayer service titled Healing and Wholeness is planned for tomorrow evening. If your body has the ability to create thunder I feel the vibrations everywhere including my fingers. If Zondra is nervous or scared she doesn’t show it. A couple of times a day she has alone time to lie down and rest under a warm blanket. I often wonder what she thinks, allows her imagination to design, plans out or releases into the universe for a passerby to pick up and help her carry. Fellow teachers continue to share what little money they make to help Zondra with the high price of medication. Ask any of them why…a union of faith and support takes the shape of light stealing from the cold a shadows curse. I will be at the prayer vigil listening to the heart felt compassion from a community of leaders and supporters. Two questions play over and over in my mind: what sort of peace does she find while covered under the warmth of the blanket hidden away from a world of constant change? What does she feel knowing in two days hope can become her new place of happiness? I wait for her reply… While under my blanket I sometimes think about what I should be or wish I was doing. I am a person who is always on the go but since chemo I am not able to move and go about as I would like for example this year is the first time since my daughter was in preschool that I have missed open house and she is now in 11th grade. I was really upset. I thought the world would end; my daughter assured me it wouldn’t. I also thought my church was going to fall down because I was not there for a WHOLE week LOL (I am usually there multiple times a week). Other times I welcome the peace and quiet, because people actually let me sleep and get the rest I need. They are not calling, texting, and saying ma, auntie, Zondra can you please…………. That didn’t happen until now. In two days I will be going into surgery and leaving this old place of breast cancer behind and starting a new chapter of healing. It’s exciting and scary at the same time part of me will be gone and the healing process long, but I will have a bright new beginning. I am overjoyed by the fact that my surgery will help others because I am participating in research that will try to understand breast cancer more. I look forward to seeing what the future holds. January 26, 2011: The interview on the night before surgery The night before breast cancer surgery plays games with assumption when you’ve never been part of a circle of love. Zondra’s mother races around the church to make sure there’s enough chairs available for guests offering their warmth and compassion. She speaks in quick overtones about how she wishes her daughter of 31 would talk more about resting rather than running back to work or getting back involved with the church, “She needs to understand the doctor wants six weeks of rest. I don’t understand how we’re going to get her to slow down.” School teachers begin to arrive one by one followed by principals and other community involved leaders; there are hugs, questions filled with fear and yet no one has let go of hope and faith. Maybe because we know Zondra wouldn’t want it that way. An extremely positive outlook not only on the present but how such a stumble through life can be turned into a tool to help educate people she’ll never meet. One such person, the friend of a friend who through chance or fate crossed paths with Zondra; she’s a breast cancer survivor. She talks of the surgery openly, no fear, no embarrassment, a constant, “Praise God and thank you God,” comes from nearly every paragraph. She begins to laugh when she speaks of the medicines that have helped her calling shopping in thrift stores the greatest pill there is. The closer we move toward 7:30 the room becomes flooded with guests not expected; Zondra’s eyes become wide as love slips into the corners of a soul that has only questioned during times when chemo nearly had her too weak to lift that unforgettable smile. Her minister speaks out, “You can’t stop Zondra! Sickness couldn’t keep her away. She would lie down on the sofa outside this room and ask me to keep the door open so the message could find her heart.” Her mother locates the courage to stand before the collection of open palms and hearts, "I found out about Zondra's cancer through a note she left on the back of a Walmart reciept." Which made each of us wonder about our own stories and what if's? Where would the strength come from to be able to inform those I love if changes came with a face called there's a chance? Back at work, a charter school set in the center of downtown fellow teachers have lined up at the board on the wall selecting times available to pick up Zondra’s children, to make sure dinner has been prepared and to do whatever else is required to make sure her life carries with it no worries and in Zondra’s case no reason to break the doctors six week resting rule. I’ll never forget watching Zondra’s mother during a time of open prayer; she shook uncontrollably, fists clinched, face buried in the shoulder of the one God chose to lead the ministry. Whispering words I’ll never know, she found peace allowing the birth of new beginnings to blossom rather than giving permission to anger to paint pictures in places they weren't welcome. I didn’t sleep last night knowing Zondra didn’t either. Six in the morning would arrive too quickly and the world of medicine was prepared to help lift the shadow off Zondra’s cloudy day. 10:52 am is where I stand at the present moment and no word has arrived. Life isn’t a DSL connection to the internet nor can the art of healing be sent through a UPS overnight package. Hope and faith… 4:37 pm: Word from those closest, "They got it." January 29, 2011 Texting is a beautiful tool; got word late last night that Zondra is home. The one place her mother and friends feared most. Why? Zondra has more energy than me. Her personal embodiment of positve energy requires places to be displayed and if not given life, movement is given permission to unwrap. I still laugh at the way I reacted to my heart attack; heart surgery on Tuesday back to work Monday. If people are shaped by the same molds, my fear for Zondra is her inability to let go. A Native American Medicine Man taught me, "Western Medicine Doctors practice medicine. They can't cure you nor can I...what we offer are substances that bring peace to the body so it can heal." This story is far from over...not until someone tells the poet in my fingertips that all has been cleared and Zondra's breast cancer is truly over. I'd be lieing if I didn't admit to holding onto fear; they said my very good friend Theresa was in full recovery; we celebrated with dance; honored with family love and togetherness then without warning the phone rang when none of us were expecting a good day to suddenly twist. I'm thinking, praying and helping to deliver positive vibrations from the universe but the most haunting part of the breast cancer journey are the invisible portraits of everything's going to be peachy keen and then... Its the part of life I've constantly questioned leading me deeper into spiritual studies. It's the part of breast cancer you don't read about during the 31 days of October. This is why I'm dedicated to sharing the true face of this horrid disease. I pray every second that Zondra is perfect. Her positive view make it so much easier for her family and friends to find peace. Right goal is to guarantee that she find it too. She needs to rest for the six weeks the doctor requires so the true healing can silence every fear I hold as a friend. Getting mad isn't the answer. Understanding the several levels exposed is the quest then sharing each dip, trip and unfocused reminder with anyone willing to listen to the truths that surround the silence so many women are feeling. Wednesday February 2, 2011 The measurement of time is constantly changing; for some it might be a song, three city blocks, a Wednesday night in front of American Idol or the heart beats connected to the passing minutes where the pain isn’t as bad as it was yesterday. A week after breast cancer surgery I was invited to Zondra’s house not knowing what to expect; I didn’t know what “time” might have done to her. Wednesday February 9, 2011 A medically trained professional sternly told me on Christmas Eve 2010 that the body has a way of letting you know when it’s had enough and ultimately there’s nothing I can do to fight it because in the end it will always win. Staring into the doctors eyes I accepted his challenge by sending a valuable message to the body that’s carried my dreams for forty eight years, “You should’ve picked someone else to be your mind and soul because I’m not quitting.” I continue to see that same vibration of embodiment in the spirit of Zondra two weeks after the world of medicine reached onto her path and took from her part of the luggage. I’ve met the root of her endless attraction to developing a positive outlook; Zondra’s mother is like shaking hands with God. A gift of trust, faith, healing and leadership has placed her feet on the backstreets of this nation that only get talked about on late night newscasts and yet she hasn’t stopped touching those areas of silence that need love most. Her outlook, vision and decision to remain attracted to the higher creations doesn’t go anywhere near anger, disgust or failure, “I was put here for a reason and I will do what I am told until I’m no longer needed and I am far from that.” Zondra watches the two of us talk about spiritual leaders as if they’re our neighbor, Joel Olsteen being the one who shines brightest in her smile, “I heard you speak the other day at Zondra’s prayer meeting; I thought Joel was standing in the same room.” “Oh yeah? You should see me at a wedding ceremony,” I laughed back… Zondra opened the door for me to document the real face of breast cancer and through it someone higher has added a teacher to my family. I love listening to people talk. Inside these chapters, roads where dreams can be connected to drug abuse, gang violence, hatred and fear; Zondra and her family continue to symbolize what Buddhist Monk Thick Nhat Hahn teaches, “Love is why we were born…” Two weeks since the surgery and tonight is the first time I felt something different…the microphone unknowingly turning off during a deep question might be a higher decision maker’s way of saying, “Not now…” Zondra and I spoke softly about how she keeps from being bored and what its like to be trapped in a home while her imagination is placed in a world of escape in distant places only she can see. Tonight I felt a tear crack her voice; the laugh she’s known for faded as she explained the difficulties of having the energy to reach beyond expectation but the body refuses to abide by the rules of listening to what its been commanded to perform. Her story about the first round of stitches coming out and how horribly bad it hurt gripped my heart; her nervous laugh no medicine for the fear I now felt. She got a picture of everything…there was silence…for her imagination train had pulled into a station of disbelief for the body that carried her for thirty one years no longer looked or felt the same. Monday February 21, 2011 The minds eye is too quick to forget. When things become out of sight human connection begins its journey toward becoming unimportant. This is why I’ve dedicated my life to the art of attracting then re-attracting. Four weeks after Zondra’s surgery her positive presence is still missing from the school where she teaches. I had hoped heavily on her making an appearance at Friday nights Valentine’s Dance. The students would have flipped with excitement which might serve as the reason why the distance continues. The doctor said six weeks. Today I reached out wanting to record another interview. No answer. I refuse to rest while believing she’s resting. Her silence has forced me to dig deeper into the chapters already written by actresses who’ve battled this disease; Jaclyn Smith of Charlie’s Angels fame one the most haunting, “It’s the news nobody wants to hear. I remember going home and telling my husband to get it off me! Just get it off!” Although Zondra granted me permission to step into the private levels of struggles she would face, it’s this silence I want to write about most. She isn’t the first but through her disconnections we can all learn how to walk stronger. I miss hearing the laugh; a burst of energy that shoots from the corners of an imagination locked on always being first in line for something great to say. I know of the doctor’s visit last week but know nothing of what was spoken behind the doors closed to cut off the world still moving forward. My wife and granddaughter Mia were with Zondra; it’s so important that the seven year old is able to see the unexpected changes delivered at times when having fun should’ve been taking place but a different ending was designed. Mia was with me at the heart specialist carefully staring at the nurses and doctor studying every page of the reports my ticker was sending. These are the lessons untaught in school and kept far away from the canals that feed the journey soon to be called reality. I’m told Zondra’s eyes lit up when she saw Mia. Hidden behind a mask, smiles were shared but not germs. The student and the teacher meeting in ways that poets can’t write about because there aren’t enough descriptive words created that best paint the portrait of compassion led by affectively being involved. Come on phone ring! I want to hear your voice! Biting the edges of these writing fingers…it’s difficult to keep assumption from falling onto a page not already written on. Tuesday February 22, 2011 A reconnection is made...the interview Wedesday March 2, 2011 Week number five…to the average person time moves too quickly. Months feel like seconds, years can be lived out inside an hour. For someone with breast cancer the view of the world is flipped; time isn’t something you’ve lost but rather you can’t get enough of. I caught up with Zondra in her car. She’s been given permission to step back into a more normal life and style only to realize it’s still not enough compared to the freedoms she once had. She laughs about driving being more of a gift rather than something we do automatically. So is the way her body moves as its being taught how to relocate motion in an area once taken for granted. Her voice remains chipper but being in tune with vocals and how we use them to push our way through conversations I can hear restlessness. She wants to get back to living. She’s ready to take the reins of the shell called Zondra and guide it back onto the path of everyday occurrences and begin the journey of making new memories to stuff inside invisible pages of later chapters and horizons. Her efforts remind me deeply of the poetry that fell from my fingertips during my most recent challenges: All the darkness I assumed would be Has painted pictures I can’t see I always wanted to know what it would be like Only to learn its me against me Im not chasing rainbows Im not walking in circles I wanna get back…to living I wanna get back…oh so back…to living… I’ve walked 10,000 chapters in self created books Beat the odds by breaking the rules I’ve worked a lot of games to make love with the wind Only to learn Im not my best friend Im not chasing rainbows Im not walking in circles I wanna get back…to living I wanna get back…oh so back…to living… A thousand hearts to hold A million smiles to feed You came along for the ride I’m not chasing rainbows Not walking in circles… I’m here because I’m alive… Written by Arroe Collins October 2009 More to come... And that's how the story ended...doctors were excited about helping Zondra find a place in her life no longer threatened. Today September 30, 2011 I've learned the cancer is back much stronger than its last visit. As a loving friend you want to scream at the passing clouds. As a writer you never walk into a paragraph knowing a new chapter silently waits in places you least expect and because I refuse to allow readers to be blind sided by an act we can't control...the origin of why she wants to share the story must continue to rise above the flooded valleys. October 11, 2011 Today I wish to laugh. Not to laugh at. Not necessarily to laugh with. To laugh… From which shadow does a laugh begin? Might the corners of my mouth be inspired to share its journey? How difficult can it be to laugh on a rainy Tuesday? If this were a kid’s movie there would be farting and burping. Adults tend to laugh through a method called following. We laugh to laugh because the laugh came from someone accepting. Laughing is a bodily function. It should be natural… Only to learn radio people fake laugh. Comedians have mastered the nervous laugh. Politicians and car dealers laugh their way to the bank. While banker’s laugh about how stupid we are to accept their $5 ATM service charge. We laugh out loud. We laugh with a crowd. We laugh when we fear. We laugh at the sight of tight jeans and all that rear. More importantly we laugh when we don’t understand. I laughed when the Emergency Room said I was having a heart attack. The doctor made me laugh while inside the ticker…we were impersonating car commercials. Laughing is our green leaves of spring. Laughter doesn’t wait for Fall to glide freely to the ground beneath. Laughing can be irritating. A child’s laugh steals my breath. When my boss laughs I no longer trust. So I believe laughter is a disease. Does laughing really lead to a cure? I was kicked out of class for too much laughing. I heard the principal laugh after swatting my a** My friend Zondra has breast cancer stage four and I’m not laughing. I’ve spent two weeks trying to keep it from you. Wearing bright pink shirts has made many people laugh here at work. To hear it pours faith into the veins of a laugh that went up in flames I think God might be calling and he isn’t laughing. My friend Zondra didn’t do anything wrong then again she made me laugh during times we were supposed to be focused. I feel guilty about laughing. It’s unfair to laugh knowing Zondra is in that hospital bed. If I didn’t have so many incredible memories of her I’d be laugh-less. But no she always had to be that friend who always did funny things during awkward moments. Her two daughters made us all laugh when they gushed over the sight of Justin Bieber. The doctor wasn’t laughing when he asked them, “Where will you be living?” Is there a laugh to be found when asking why? Are laughs washed away when you have tears in your eyes? If I trapped a laugh and stored it in a bottle; would it be wasted if I pulled it out right now? If Zondra caught me writing this blog she’d stand beside me laughing. That’s who she is… No matter how strong the struggle she laughs. No matter how bad the singers perform on American Idol she doesn’t judge she laughs. No matter how many school students race to greet her while knocking her weak legs to the cold floor she always comes up laughing. I often wonder how many of students know of her genuine laugh. How many of them spell it Laff? Who wrote the rules on making a laugh look like low-g-hhhh or loff-gg-hh? When I laugh with tears in my eyes boogers can’t wait to shoot from my nose. When I laugh while thinking about Zondra’s incredible strength I find a reason to believe.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reocurring Dreams Carry Messages: Are You Watching?

On the average how many "Reoccurring" dreams find their way back to you? In what seems like peaceful waves of restful recovery; late nights, early mornings and middle of the afternoon mental covert operations invade the distance you'd like to place between you and that layout of uncontrolled visuals. The first thing you need to know is "Recurring" dreams are looked upon as being incredibly common. They're triggered by situations in life, changes at work, the neighborhood or on the streets you drive. It's completely natural to feel like you've just become a cast member of the Chevy Chase film Ground Hog Day. According to "Reoccurring" dreams can happen daily, by the a week, or like a monthly cable TV bill once a month. Whatever the frequency, teaches such dreams may be highlighting a personal weakness, fear, or your inability to cope with something in your life - past or present. The most interesting thing about dreams isn't based on what they're about but how we easily give them permission to poison the "awake" hours. My wife Lee wastes no time to critique the film playing in her theater of the soul. I do everything to interrupt her! Like a yawn or common cold, dreams are infectious! Visuals shared inside friend and family circles can and will interfere with the vibrations assumed strong enough to protect you from harm's way. I'm a "Dream-a-phobe!" Believing whole heartedly that casting away what became pictures in your thoughts should "not" be laid out like Halloween candy. continues: The repetitive patterns in your dreams reveals some of the most valuable information about yourself. It may point to a conflict, situation or matter in your waking life that remains unresolved or unsettled. Stop! Don't you get enough drama at work? Now the directors and producers of Brain Wave films wants to invest in the chapters you write! Absolutely I've seen things happen while dreaming that became my new found reality. If there's one thing I've learned from the spirituality lost in Martial Arts: Life is a series of set ups. The moment you share a dream the message received now has the required amount of air to breathe on earth. In essence you're setting yourself up. Your mind is an architect. The body is the builder. You've been blessed with enough tools to sky scrape the next seven generations. So what are you supposed to do? Sit around and not feel like you belong? While the rest of the office is pouting, doubting and shouting you're stuck in a gray cubical thinking, "I have dreams too!" Yeah...but who wants to be found at the end of the index finger when the question is asked, "Who was the first to have the flu?" How do I deal with extremely difficult to digest then dump dreams? I make fun of them! I write daily in journals and at the top of the page in huge scribbles the words read: Future book idea. The moment I find reason to be tackled by the strength of something I can't control is like looking at your kids and softly saying, "I hope you one day grow up and rob banks for a living." Sure I have questions for the inner core of this area that needs to be explored! Rather than face the dream, the concept of writing turns toward presenting an opposite action to the reaction. What I do may not work for you! The thought of writing every morning is for sick minds and wanna be spiritualists that assume they've heard "The Calling!" shares some ideas on how to better deal with dreams. 1. To start to understand your recurring dream, you must be willing to accept some sort of change or undergo a transformation. 2. You need to look within yourself and confront whatever you may find no matter how difficult it may be. 3. Look at the dream from an objective point of view. Try to get past the emotional and reactive elements of the dream and get down to the symbolic images. Often times, dreams are masked by elements that are disturbing, thus preventing you to delve any deeper. This is a defense mechanism that your unconscious is putting up. 4. Each and every time you have a recurring dream, write it down in great detail. Look for any subtle variations. These variations are the most significant as it indicates that you are one step closer to understanding why the dream recurs. 5. Pay attention to what is going on in your waking life when you have these recurring dreams. You may start to notice a pattern. 6. Be patient. Do not get discouraged if these dreams still recur even after you thought you have come to understand them. 7. Learn to accept yourself truly and fully. Once you discover what your recurring dream is trying to tell you, these dreams will change or altogether disappear. The bottom line is this: you were designed to dream. Whatever the method of participation; if the destination of what you saw while being disconnected has the strength of twelve mighty winds never should you ignore getting help from a professional. Dreams are messages. Dreams do clearly point out. More importantly dreams can crush your dreams. Don't allow it to take its energy that far. Learn to be in control of what keeps you out of control. I will always believe in you first.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Robert D Raiford Shaped Charlotte, NC And Beyond

So this is what it's really like to get old or am I destine to become the next Robert D Raiford? There used to be a time when "being from" Charlotte carried a little weight. Business relationships generated revenue based on the depth of localism not the latest fads and research. Spending the summer at the River not Lakes Wylie and Norman gave off the scent of homegrown not a transplant from Ohio, Rhode Island, West Virginia or Florida. Guys spent longer than twenty minutes at gas pumps developing their own opinions about the latest rumors about the radio guy John Boy at Plum Crazy on Tyvola road. While the ladies would point, roll their heathering eyes then giggle about catching Tammy Fae Bakker buying fabulous fashions at South Park Mall. I've always been a little bit jealous of "Real" Charlottean's. To be part of the original cast has always come with superbly told stories. Every neighbor has an uncle who did while a sister that didn't then quickly followed with a catchy ass laugh that still states, "Glad it wasn't me but damn happy they're gonna be ok." The thickness of Charlotte's southern accent changes at every stoplight. Westside puts you up against Gaston and Cleveland County, East meant leaning toward Harrisburg and Albemarle. The North slams you into the coattails of NASCAR's Iredell County while Kannapolis and Concord silently bid on their proper dominance with I-85 being their only separation. When I arrived on March 11, 1985 the upper levels of age still had a firm grip on inventive teens and college scenes baked with students barely touching their twenties. Church Pastors fought to keep Playboy Magazine out of convenience stores, Mayors ran their campaigns based on filling chuckholes at major intersections and Downtown was renamed Uptown but nobody cared because it was cheaper to live in Rock Hill, SC. Charlotte Radio was in a dogfight. Z100, WROQ and WBCY planted multiple amounts of promotional dollars into projects that ignited the cities imagination. From canisters of money being hidden behind rocks, buried in Georgia clay and or slid up against billboards on Independence Blvd; listener's wasted no time taking out every barrier to find cha ching. Chuck Boozer from EZ 104.7 gave away a house near Park Road in a day when the lanes were only one on each side wide. Magic 96 hadn't been born and yet the music they would one day play fed cold Carolina nights with cuddly snuggly reasons why most of us were born. So this is what it's really like to get old or am I destine to become the next Robert D Raiford? I don't expect anyone outside the John Boy and Billy network to know who Robert is...but when all the dust fades and memories can no longer be placed on sticks his name will still mean something. He tells it like it is. No matter how thick the fog created by fake politicians, well educated heart surgeons connected to overpriced hospitals and home builders who've chopped down nearly every limb in a place once dubbed Tree City USA... Robert D Raiford has never been afraid of being himself. A longtime Radio Broadcaster trained by the biggest and best in the business on a mission to keep this Twitter addicted Face Book drunk generation hanging on to the importance of single thoughts too heavy to shove to the side but light enough to laugh out loud like two little boys farting n the backseat of your parents car. I love running into Raiford in the hall. Too bad I'm not one of those new age smart phones where such bumps would instantly transfer his rivers of experience into my memory banks. But I'm each unexpected meeting, greeting and or commercial that needs to be produced... I've made it my business to steal his art. Being Carolina raised creates character but ultimately it's being a Broadcaster that's shaped the value of his word. One that's that poked fun of, ignored and or poured over neighborhood BBQ's because someone caught up with it on YouTube. He's always been that guy! The sturdy rusty nail in a board waiting for you to step on it. A new hero has been born in Charlotte, NC! Due to his poor attitude on our playing field Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers took it upon himself to question the conduct of one Cam Newton. In the Charlotte Observer Mr. Smith was quoted, "If I'm afraid to say something who will?" I have an answer to the question? Robert D Raiford. For the love of God doesn't everybody know Raiford questioned Christopher Columbus's reasons for floating 3 ships named The Nina, Pinta and The Santa Maria across a flat planet? It's Raiford that sees his shadow first on Ground Hogs Day not some spunky ass furry creature in a city park. Raiford should get all the credit for the South becoming a revitalized positive progression. He spoke the words of truth that inspired the leaders to think not once but twice about decisions that might have kept this area of history in the books defeat. There is a "Real man" behind that voice. Not too many "Radio" people can say that. For their journey has evolved into a method of liner card reading do as your told performances in cities they've never visited. As a listener you should be questioning, "Are they really there?" If not how does their radio FCC license get away with serving your community? Wouldn't it be great if the jock on the air knew what local traffic was really like rather than dropping four hours of perfectly edited vocal tracks then racing out the door to catch the latest sale at South Park Mall? So this is what it's really like to get old or am I destine to become the next Robert D Raiford?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Art Of Failure Caught On Tape

President Ronald Reagan wasted no time when declaring the 1980's, "The birth of a Sound Bite Generation." His fellow American's and all the people of the world were purchasing video cameras, better designed and extremely smaller tape recorders and CNN was out to prove news could be located on every street corner. Like everything else in the world, technology began turning regular Joe Blow's into assumed professionals. It instantly caught a lot of politicians and normal public figures off guard. Once word got out of there being money to be made; everything changed in the nation based on freedom of speech. At one time, the term "Sound Bites" belonged only to television and radio newsrooms. It was a tool that directors needed to professionally fill "Top of the hour" updates. The challenge for writers and producers was to meet the broadcast companies three to five minute deadline. That's all you got in radio to share the latest headlines, traffic update, a spit or two of sports then the weather. Before the instant connection of the internet a constant demand of having the latest in facts was how we lived in radio and television. The complete design or image of news released unto the people had to clearly make an impact or the threat of losing the connection with listeners and viewers would dominate the next "Ratings" period. Broadcaster's couldn't be tied down with minute long Presidential promises, murder investigations and tropical storms. The goal was and still is to find faith in your ability to rely on the art of splicing. To vividly, abruptly and expectedly cut into a listener or viewers way of thinking while giving them the satisfaction of knowing they're safe and secure with what's just been handed to their busy life and style. Sound Bites draw you closer or push you away. Look at what ESPN does with sports. CNN's Headline News lives up to their promise while nicely dressed men and women sitting in big offices have accused Fox of attempting to repaint the direction of your opinion with lopsided propaganda. Radio is no different. News isn't the only thing big business boys and girls control. Your favorite songs are skillfully displayed by national consultants and music directors. The Ipod movement lasted about ten minutes. When stealing music from Napster began appearing in the headlines as $200,000 real people fines...we found I Heart Radio and Pandora. Show me the connection that plays just my picks and I will invest. Until then expect to hear Foghat and last year's American Idol winner playing next to Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. That's a written Sound Bite! Headhunters will completely dismiss the entire blog putting attention only on what seems to be a bash, crash and slash against the newest in social media driven entertainment. The surge of electricity moving through YouTube is to fine copyright bandits using music written and released by artists that rightfully deserve to get paid. Just the other day a major player in advertising sent me a video that featured a well known musician's song and part of their live performance...they wanted to know if putting it on the web would be illegal? My response was a Sound Bite, "I'll be over in ten minutes to take home an item without stopping by the cashier. Let me know how well that goes over with your investors." To which they instantly replied, "I'm lost by your response." Upon every path we walk someone or something is shouting out. President Ronald Reagan was 100% correct when making his Sound Bite declaration. Books, movies, morning radio shows, Fox News Edge with Matt and Ramona on Channel 18 in Charlotte feed your need with extreme amounts of verbal speed. Two quotes from author Steven Furtick's book Greater: 1. A big dream without a small start is nothing but a daydream. 2. Having the faith to grow forward requires action Did you locate the positive in either of the quotes or are you still stuck on me using the name Steven Furtick because Sound Bites from other sources of social media have ripped his image in half due to being connected to the fastest growing church in the Southeast? Eric Butterworth once said, "Within you is a limitless unborn potential of creativity and substance. The tragedy can become a blessing. The disadvantage can become an advantage. Failure can become the opportunity and the disappointment." Embarrassingly I share with you the truth about my style of writing. I find myself having to defend more than I help motivate. Through mastering the art of Sound Biting then delivered in emails, text messages and Face Book poopings... I continue to learn the impact of not giving readers or listeners enough headspace to digest Sound Bites. The art of sharing is nothing more than the new afternoon quickie. I got what I wanted! Really don't care if you did. Ouch! But what a Sound Bite!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Upon Further Review: Your Reasons For Quitting Have Been Dropped From The Game

I latched onto a brilliant lecture yesterday fed by the rivers of a single thought: Upon further review. It's become human nature for the average person to stand in front of the bathroom mirror complaining about Life's every day game, "It's unfair! It's filled with un-sportsman-like conduct! Invisible injures are costing you yardage and money!" In his new book Steven Furtick embraces the impact of what's made Reality TV a household must see then turns it into your personal gain in becoming Greater. far do you push a wish before the dream no longer comes true? The first breath of challenge pokes up and instantly you're reminded of every bad day and event that resembles something just like this. So it's easier to quit while you're ahead. Only to realize...the biggest complaint all people near and dear hear is how stifled you feel at work. How you wish you had. You wish you could. You wanted so bad to be, to see, feel and enjoy. Only to remind the itty bitty voice inside, "If we had tried there could've been more pain." Being a Gallery Artist, published Author, Wanna-be musician and Radio Disc Jockey all in the same body then salt and peppered with a never ending infatuation with being in the right place at the right time deserves to be taken to the referee sitting in the seat high above reality. In my song Kicked Out Of Heaven I take a swing at the higher creative purpose exclaiming, "Give me a chance God that's quite a lot!" Which was my way of saying, " I can't stay ahead of the pain. The pain is winning!" I allowed a bad gallery show in New Orleans to silence unforgettable strokes of paint from moving through me. Because book sales weren't high enough to feed my ego I laid down the writing instrument. Because business minded GM's caught a glimpse of my extremely vocal dissatisfaction with radio commercials I forced myself to give up on the true passion of being a fun loving radio jock that brightens up your car stereo speakers. Upon further review, the only person in the stadium that could fully see every angle not offered by the billion dollar Jumbo-Tron system reported back to the field, "I didn't teach you to quit. It was my job to invite you into a world of creative flow. You decided that it was too much. Therefore I put players on the field that blocked you from becoming..." Do you know how many timeouts I've lost because of a need to keep throwing the coaches towel out onto the field? According to Steven Furtick we are failing to learn from our assumed defeat. We are trained to believe there's only one shot without realizing each time we take aim, we're better then who we were yesterday. Being "Greater" isn't about climbing the lowest mountain. The goal should be to study the curves of the rolling hills that make up the cliffs being clung to by white pines not ready to leave life. That tree could be silently screaming only to take note of two whirlwind hikers holding the very latest in digital cameras, "Wow! Look at how incredibly beautiful those roots are!" Quickly the hiker's snap not one but several pictures and one of them ends up in a book or on a poster that's been professionally framed then displayed in a hospital because the true message is, "Endurance in nature inspires tired hearts and wandering imaginations to find focus." Between us... it doesn't matter how loud the human voice is; nobody has been able to inspire and or influence me back into spreading paint over a blizzard white canvas. Upon further review; the invisible referee who's probably all decked out in sponsorship clothing from McDonald's, Nike and Johnny's BBQ Hut has rearranged the face of the game, "The Doves Nest in Charlotte has put on display something you've kept hidden away. The canvas sent to New Orleans might have been given away but the email read: Your art served as a window for my wife couldn't get out of bed. The jerks down in Atlanta that rate radio commercials sent some sound to New York: You are the only employee from Clear Channel's 850 plus radio stations to be nominated for a 2012 Mercury Award." Upon further review: Endurance in nature inspires tired hearts and wandering imaginations to find focus." This morning I woke up at 4. A hospital in Los Angeles has put on display works of art so that the sick, weak and or wandering have a place to escape. I don't expect you to know the story of my paintings. Just know they aren't for me. It's not about me but 100% about the willing. Those who can see through reality and find a Greater reason to endure. There's a piece dubbed The Hope Stout Angel. Google Hope's name and read her story. This painting was donated to help raise funds for the Make A Wish Foundation. It made its way to the children's cancer side of local medical complex. Children reached up to touch the brilliantly blue angel. In doing so they scraped the paint from it. The person that purchased it from the art auction took it back and asked that I refurbish it. I did... only to have it come back to me a second time because the hospital had placed it in a closet. The owner said, "One day you will find someone that needs it. Hold on to it until..." Upon further review: The artist needs a team of believers to help generate a Greater color in what would otherwise be a lame dreary hospital hall in Los Angeles. I know of no way of getting in touch with the hospital therefore I'm hoping the powers of Social Media can make this piece a place where children can touch it again. I being the artist didn't erase the finger prints and finger scrapes...but brought attention to their purpose. The real story is what they shared while touching what used to be thin air...until a brush dipped in paint slowly slid across a canvas so white. No man or woman knows of what another feels when something they call simple changes another life forever.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Mastermind That's Been Wrongly Crucifide

I just landed on some video chat with Hip Hop's biggest in Pop Kanye West who finds faith in describing his new collection of art "G.O.O.D." as not being the beginning nor the end of the conversation. Set inside the center of the world's most decorated generation, the view of the valley floor continues to be a judgment first without listening approach to exploration. I don't know if I've ever forgiven Kayne. A moment, a sliver of space, a decision to climb upward toward a podium to express decisional dissatisfaction while publically offering support in areas of assumed unspoken. At the height of "Greater" value a letting go of the guards left an innocent Taylor Swift locked and lost in several shades of well documented shock. What? Was I supposed to instantly understand? A collision of brilliant artistry had unfolded the blankets that usually hide the mix ups and outs of the business called music. And this night changed the life of not only the listener but the man that would have to fight his way back. Through video we learn not of a kinder heart but a desired passion. Candy coated Kayne is not and it's the fault of an uneducated judgment caused by the effects of decisions gone wrong that the genius in Mr. West is kept from so many surfaces of acceptance. That needs to change... I'm not afraid to admit my failures and embarrassments of presentation. Being one that sets up his own stage. It's been my sickness to fill silence. I can't stand walking into a hall and the only thing I hear is the scraping of chairs across wooden or concrete floors, fingers fumbling table designs and ceiling fans connected to a constant whirling with the occasional clinking of the chain that influences the motor to wanna work. Therefore the destination of first thought is based on locating rhythms and rhymes not necessarily of my liking but those in attendance. And it's my disconnected assumption to believe that what you see must always be what you want to make part of your personal stage. I'm often reminded that Latin music has the cover of many different emotional escapes. To assume steals from the paint while leaving the inside sleeve empty of words the artist had chosen to sing. Basically meaning I don't know who you are until you tell me. "G.O.O.D" from Kanye West blends into place not a race or color but a continuation of a sound and idea that tells a better story of America than the 11:00 news. For a man to be vibrant with his art by way of setting it free does not deserve to live in a past that cannot be changed. Therefore the journey evolves into rediscovery. I sat with the Preacher Man that steps into my studio twice a week to study the written word not of the Bible but of the Poets that turn their release into air for the ears to breathe...and he asked me, "What do you think is God's calling?" "Words..." my sharpest tool in the chest. "If more people spent time listening to the accent of "words" hidden from technology; time would develop places of well deserved rest. Followed by fields of tremendous growth." The Preacher Man wanted me to mix his music with vocals blaring beneath the message. Mentally challenged by a passion to expose the depths of "words" I found myself defending why I love Kanye West. The writer, producer, visionary, marketing brilliance he's always been has never sold out on making "words" the most important part of the story. "Words" Hip Hop isn't afraid to melt the wax protecting the plastic eyes of a nation blinded by faith. I was there when record store windows and mirrors failed to show my face in the reflection choosing instead their attempt to point fans of music into a different direction. In the early 1990's handwritten signs hung in the Southern sun simply stating: We don't sell nor intend to sell Hip Hop or Gangsta. I still hate myself for not walking out of the DJ nightclub scene when manager's of clubs halted me from playing Michael Jackson until 11p. Even today radio stations refuse to play the stories that were forced to hide in poetry. Being one that writes every day there's no way I can explain the mindset of who, what, where and why at that time...therefore the imagination is forced into a game of assumption recreating the consumption of "words." Who dreamed that Baby Got Back from Sir Mix Alot would be just as much a classic as Twist and Shout from The Beatles? Have you already forgotten about how record stores wouldn't explore Hip Hop choosing instead to instantly label it as a no show? Have you forgiven yourself for stealing music from Napster? Why then are you keeping yourself from the "words" of "G.O.O.D" from Kanye West? What if you're missing out on one of the most creative minds of this time? Does that give you the right to find it entertaining thirty years from this page? The birth of music is a passion play. Why are you putting it on a cross? The Rollingstone Magazine interview: Warning its very real and filled with artful words that don't mix well with offices and churches.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who Are Trying To Fool? You Can't Fake Endurance!

What is endurance in an age when what you project is taken for granted? Does endurance dress itself up in "survival" so that those who've marked you as being enduring may fade their demands while searching for fresh blood to poison? If it again. Research shows, your vital being, the ability to "put up with" every condition presented can be walked through by way of endurance. Your body is an enduring servant. It was made to tame the beast of burden. To endure and or survive sets aside a book of rules while putting focus on two words: Give up. Give up your likes and dislikes! Don't give up on the self that's chosen to endure. Show no disturbance when challenged by others. That's what it means to be enduring. The keen sense of direction that makes you solid on a playing field that's too disturbing for others to follow. Are you or have you ever been this person? This is a time of reflection inside a current stage of American history that'll one day be described as pompous exaggeration. Wildly out of control is leadership. Titles more than actions harness discontent and yet through shades of gray there are few who endure. I have no problem laughing in the face of the one that brags of being the best of all time. I feel no urge to pull back from opinion when being wronged by coworkers and family members that feast on greed. Show no disturbance when challenged by others. That's what it means to be enduring. But how many people cross your path exclaiming their righteous place for they've been beaten up every day by visions too far to attain; only for you to take note of there being too much play once they assume your eyes have turned away? Nothing great is ever accomplished without endurance. Business success in 2012 no longer requires desire. It's based on clock watchers. Employees, co-workers, family and friends that believe endurance is the act of just showing up. I've learned the hard way that responding makes me the ass. To react does in fact make you less enduring. It hurts me deeply when people say, "He's difficult to work with." Only one General Manager has stood up for the expressions shared while in despair, "It's my goal today to not punish the employee in question. But to question the other employees responsible for bringing height to so much emotion." If you stop and stare at a department store cashier; the truth of their treatment will be exposed inside five minutes. We've developed a style of life that moves so fast forward that taking note of bad habits and misconduct no longer gives reason for there to be a Human Resource Department. Does this make us more enduring than our parent's generation? Are we cowards for doing nothing to protect the innocent? I'm reading a book called The Power's Within. It teaches the art of kicking. When you feel you've been wronged the sound of your kicking awakens the core of your soul. Is this why Martial Artists spend so much time doing front, side and roundhouse kicks? Maybe it's design wasn't to protect your physical life but the sound of your left or right leg extending quickly guarantees the mind body and soul that it has refueled endurance. Show no disturbance when challenged by others. That's what it means to be enduring. The presence of sound that is that of "Kicking" erases petty consciousness. Maybe this is why the heroes of war spend so much time marching. The act of pushing your left or right foot outward in fast un-natural way is that of a kick. Through kicking we learn to master inner peace. What is running but the motion of pushing your lower limbs outward like that of a kick? The principle of endurance relies on the strength of spirit. Why do martial artists and famous tennis players named Williams exude ear piercing screams when kicking or hitting the ball away from the source of energy? To hold the spirit of endurance. Do you endure or collect paychecks? Give me five minutes to watch your playing field. b I'll know...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Burning Your Plow Toward Avenues Of Greater Value

Why do so many of us live in the past when being there "can be" the most painful part of the journey? A past cannot be changed! I've tried hard to rewrite it through daily journaling! The old write it down and set it free method of rediscovering happy! Through memory the past has a tendency to hit you harder. Because your imagination is a powerful weapon of mass destruction. Dr. David once said to me, "Men need to see visuals in order to succeed with a greater destination. Women require only thought." Painful emotions lead us to the act of running away. Few face their pain. Because we don't know how to take care of it. Guys tend to think of themselves as being emotional "Super Hero-like." Through design and technique they are the keepers of secret strength which empowers us to assume all that's been done is now over. Talk about the a political cover up! Rather than plant positive seeds in a ground fertilized by anger, depression, aggression, greed and too much ego... the evolved man and woman of modern society has become a better escape artist than Harry Houdini. How are you dealing with life's every day changes and challenges? Fake it all you want. Being a silent wolf I'm gonna sit back and take my time studying your plastic smile and ability to balance sandwich bags filled with invisible tears. Here's the biggest giveaway of someone calling out for help. Research shows excessive cell phone use is the leading drug when it comes to silencing pain, fear, sorrow and despair. Denial feeds cravings. Thinking all is right enforces the walls of worry. Face Book and Twitter will never be labeled an illegal drug because lawmaker's and decision driven leaders know the only way to your soul is to continue to see you as weak. Until you begin a process of mindfully Mothering your'll always be eating out of other people's hands. Ouch! I'm still not over my first wife's decision to have an abortion. By law it was her right. It didn't matter how loud I became in the clinic. How hard I cried into my bedroom pillow. How tough I was ordered to be. I was never given "the justification" to be sad, lonely and less than. I had nothing to protect who I was from what I was about to become. Therefore I chose to run away from. Not her! The situation! Everybody has past they'd love to rewrite. Show me a man or woman that hasn't attempted to erase their fate! Every Disney movie deals with reality. Those who've kept Disney open see only fantasy. Recognizing and embracing your pain invites peace of heart. How can there be peace of mind when your imagination reconfigures every step? It lies to you! It cheats on you by forcing the thinking process to locate cell phone conversations, computer talk and texting, shopping that's dropped your bank account to ruptured existence. I am not proud of my past and know the moment my toes touch Heaven someone's gonna kick my ass! Think of your personal pain like that of a flower. I've never seen a morning sunrise destroy the delicacy of scent as it floats through the air. The sun embraces change and challenge. That's what you call mindfulness. I mean seriously! What does the bud about to pop on the tip of a bright red rose truly feel before exposing its soul? Cattails! My God those things shoot seeds everywhere! What does the plant feel the very second Mother Nature whispers, "Do it now...." If we continue to allow anger, fear and despair to make way for our secret invisible forts of silence to exist...when in life will you become beautiful? Unforgettable? Breathtaking? I thought writing poetry would invite inner peace. It only made me darker. I chose to use words that didn't explain but invited your imagination to create its own destination. Now that you know of my past. You can't listen to the song I wrote about it the same. The song: Accepted Behavior Of Randomly Tight Invitations Of Numbness I can't get where I need to be in life until I forgive my first wife. More importantly I have to forgive myself for being so hateful in the decades after. Guess you could say I'm burning a plow. Now it's your turn. Leaning on others to help you only makes them stronger. Mindfulness allows the windows of your soul to see the future is waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Your Butt Looks Big! Because You Didn't Thank It When It Was Small

The Italian proverb reads: He who enjoys good health is rich, though he knows it not. Got a headache? Pop a pill. Have a heart attack? Pop multiple pills. Endless pounding in your arms and neck ache like a middle of the night Carolina thunder. Pop your back!

Never mention that to a chiropractor.

I'm not a doctor or a medical student but Lord knows the amount of money forked out for quick fix it programs could've landed me a fancy plaque to hang on the radio station wall. Remember when going to a Doc in a Box was the easiest way to get hooked up to the fluids that kept away a stomach virus and cough? Now that we're knee deep in September, neatly designed flu shot window posters blanket every drug store scene. I'm shocked McDonald's isn't offering them with chocolate shakes or a heaping cup full of coffee. The healthier we are the more we crave burgers and fries! He who enjoys good health is rich, though he knows it not. Health is a gift of life. Just like the sun, no matter how cloudy the moment, you receive it every day. But how often are you grateful toward health? I ran hard for 45 minutes last night. Never once did I thank my body for being strong enough to take me beyond 30 seconds. Today I fear the rain knowing the bodies system can swiftly pick up a virus or be brutalized by fall time allergies. Once the process begins its human nature to point fingers while depressing the air that circles the workplace, home environment or weekend shopping. Written deeply into the veins of the pages that make up the book The Magic is a valuable lesson to live by: When you are grateful for your health, you won't only maintain your current health but you'll increase the flow of health to you. The first thing seen? Improvement... Energy, vitality and happiness increase when you showcase gratitude toward the mind body and soul that brought you to the dance. For the love of God this is starting to sound like a damn 3am info-merical. I lost you at hello! A Presbyterian Preacher by the name of John Henry Jowett once said, "Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin and an antiseptic." Is this why Wal-Mart greeters constantly thank you for stopping in? Research probably shows the average person feels incredible after falling witness to a simple smile followed by a solid, "Thank you." Ever thought about pulling off a Home Depot moment on the eyes looking back at you in the mirror? Oh oh...we might have to jump on this party train! New studies say, "Sharing gratitude with yourself eliminates stress and tension." This goes totally against the family doctor that calmly told me the best way to free yourself from high blood pressure caused by stress was to take this pill. Being the total smart ass that I am my immediate response was, "Wow! Do you mean a pill will get Keith Hawthorne to show up at a recording session on time? This pill you speak of, will it get the two guys producing my music to wake the "F" up and finish the project?" Time out! I need to showcase some gratefulness to my body. I can feel rivers of boiling stress pouring over the edges of the snot canal below my nose. According to The Magic...don't just thank your stomach for accepting last night's spicy meatball surprise. The journey begins with balance. Who better to offer gratitude to than your legs. Outside of your hands, those two constantly aching pain in the butts next to the butt put you in the right place at the right time. Have you ever thanked them for being part of the chapters you write? I'm calling the Department of Social Services! You want and want! You crave and crave! You get to where you're going but your legs never hear a simple thanks? I'm not even gonna ask about your arms or facial cheeks. Have you thanked your rear for keeping the system clear? What? If I was a doctor you'd be spilling your guts! I know it sounds stupid! Can you imagine laying naked thanking the bodies system and someone walks in? "I was showing gratitude! I swear it was my gratitude!" The gift of health is what keeps you alive. Send yourself an email or text. Say only two words, "Thank you." People ask me all the time if having a heart attack changed my life. No it didn't. I changed my life. I lost the 50 lbs by my 50th birthday. I chose to free myself from the medicines doctors so easily prescribed. I workout every day, the gym and while placing the spirituality of martial arts into the veins of each page. My body gave me a gift of I quit on July 21, 2009. As mentally sick and challenging as it may sound... no morning passes that I don't sit down with a pen and paper and be real through journaling. The inner voice has the strength to silence multiple systems of choice. Communication with your body is a brilliant display of gratefulness. No moment passes that I don't stop and thank the signals sent to me in the shape of a sore throat. The body knew if it hurt...the radio and voice over career was in danger. I went to the doctor for a strep throat check and came out with a heart attack. I refuse to believe it's the silent killer because the body speaks to you in ways that you've learned to tune out. Just something to think about...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why We Are Seeing So Much War

Hello? Is this thing on? Test! One! Two! I don't know if it's the funniest experience or a serious lack of judgment but it doesn't matter how thick the commitment is to writing a daily "Blog" you still can't hear the sound of my "real" voice. One might assume the sketches once heard on radio shows could be that picture seen. But in reality he's only an actor. As are the vocals listeners quickly turn away from when shot from a favorite song toward a business driven agenda located near the center of advertising. My true voice is never heard. Who I am in thought doesn't always agree with what I've become in character. That gets me in a lot of trouble. Anyone nearing the birth of my art naturally ties who they think they the one currently delivering. When in fact both personalities are separate paths not cut from the same set of rocks. On paper during each gift of rays showcased at sunrise he that is radio isn't anywhere to be heard. The writer in me can't stand the scent of his conceit. Rather than fight like two brother's whose Mother is passionate with keeping peace; each knows of their rightful place of expressing... Think of it as a "Timeout" corner. All who are me, the writer, Blogger, radio jock, commercial producer, artist on canvas, musician and so much more stand away from sharing the same view when confronted with issues not associated with having to be a single source of energy. Pretty sick right? Not really! People who are creative are normally the most moody misunderstood and completely irrational sets of expression given air to share. It takes true angels dedicated to masterminding the results of an after effect to make what other's have labeled wrong and make it a right. The moment someone tells me of their passion to write, paint, sing and or dance. Out pops the personality addicted to studying the behavior of a passerby that might in fact be hold the missing needle and I'm stuck mending the haystack. Artist's that admit their shapes of shaming are in essence listening to the voice. Hardly if ever does it accept the weight of association when pitch volume and tones of the hearty groans, mumbles and stumbles cast too many close to the artist into acts of judgment. From out of a vocal box it loosely plays notes like Mariah Carey somewhere in the core of the neck with just enough reason to create judgment. The Jock on the radio lives so far in the future that by the time the present shows up to the party he's off microwaving hotdogs in a backyard twenty four hours away. I don't expect you to understand that. Unless you play with modern radio waves and know that being here no longer carries the importance of every day. While Blogging I'm a "Keyboard" talker. The value placed into each paragraph and or expression must meet a personal demand of keeping everything in "conversational" form. He that lives inside fights to make room while the outside voice tends to take up too much space. Words that first appear within the cobwebs of my head don't always make it past the "Perfectionist" therefore the distance of the best thought doesn't reach beyond a momentary idea. To write is to release. Once free the next goal is to prepare for the critic. I can say anything to myself and laugh it off. 82.3% of the time another human's expression falls short of touching the depths of the creative heart beat. Julia Cameron's most powerfully delivered lesson is based on displaying your art so that you may learn to ignore criticism. It's become a game to quickly hide what others might find to be out of tune to their perfect day. I'm not ashamed of pencil sketches and doodle droppings. Nor do I shy away when the songs I sing cracked like paint on a 200 year old house. Admitting that you're an Artist gives you permission to be different and not always accepted inside the social networks of pretty hair and shoes that match. The pain an Artist feels is the birth of a new idea. You hear it in your head, heart, fingers and toes. You smell it with your nose. It doesn't matter how long you stare at a white wall nobody but you can make it big, fat, itty bitty tiny or tall. And you won't stop until the origin of the sickness says, "I've had enough! Move on to a new object that will make you even sadder." It took radio morning show shock jock Howard Stern nearly his entire career to realize the importance of meditation after stepping off the stage. I sit and do nothing but listen to a Preacher man on Monday mornings tell his tales of what it's like to openly deliver only to be one of the loneliest people I've ever met. I call it Post Production Blues of what it's like to help shape you. How can someone be so full of Art and expression and within seconds after delivering it like a wedding cake can be a walking wall of silence? Is this why Face Book is brimming with endless amounts of cut and paste? Billions of creative minds have no place to run so they choose websites. We aren't a depressed social networking society. If we were all born to create then who is left to teach the massive amounts that don't understand the art of emptiness? For when you are and nothing is available to help fill you back up...war begins in the most simple of places. It doesn't require much to influence a group of innocent to angrily charge a fortress. The pain delivered by loss cannot be healed if what has been lost has never been explained. You were born an Artist. Write, paint, cook, cut, design, understand facts, figures and architecture... Art is what you think. The voice in your head and heart not the pitch volume and tone thrown out of vocal chords tucked away in your neck. If that voice was truly meant to be the most important... wouldn't it have been hidden within your ribs? It takes a lot to penetrate that cage. Think about it... I will always believe in you first...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Halloween 78: The Blizzard White Canvas (Book One)

This is the book that kept me from dropping out of high school. These are the word sketches of an 11th grader forced to ride and bus to school then do everything humanly possible not to disconnect from the reasons why I was in class. Knowing this...the language used does cross the line and is extremely street. Meaning you have been warned there's a lot of cussing inside these pages. Halloween 78 is fiction. What I share is my secret hiding place, a hangout. It was originally written in pencil in 1977/78 then stored away. After I’m gone, it is my wish for someone to step inside the womb. For what I need is an explanation. Why did the characters of this fiction book die the same way my best friends did between the period of September 79 and the present? Did I foresee the future? Have I lived this life once before? These chapters are dedicated to Neal, Tony, Gary, Bart, Sam and my sister Susan. Under The Blizzard White Canvas Book one: Halloween 78 Along the path, every grown man looks back. Invisible thoughts are what we see. “The change of life,” I’ve been told, As has my father, his father and several before him. An argument with the final outcome. Blame it on my grandfather he’ll understand. Point the finger at me and I’ll travel inward, closing off the world to build much taller buildings. Then give up just like the rest. M’e/2000 I don’t know. Call it a fluke of luck. A brush stroke of impossibility combined with parental morals. My deepest thoughts tell me I should have been a mapmaker. The headlines would read: Johnny Joe Schoolboy Locates Answer. Adding thickness to the fog…the next question: What is it I’m searching for? Any answer? Viewing what had been scratched into this blue lined sheet of notebook paper I notice a left turn at the tracks. I’m spending my life realizing I should have taken a right turn at the blinking yellow light. The older we get, the fewer chances we take. We’re programmed to believe our bodies are going to break. Truth is, most of us still think we’re teenagers. Instead of talking our own walk, we live out those years through the eyes, hearts and souls of children. The stats: 2.1 kids per family. When I see three I assume someone didn’t want two of the same sex but got it anyway. Look at the houses we live in. The cars we drive and the schools we fight to put our tiny thinkers through. We’ve grown into a world of fantasy. Great economy, positive decisions, less chance means more gain. Today’s kids get everything they see on television by thirteen. Forget busing restaurant tables. Leave that for the dropouts and druggies. Think of it as an early Christmas present. Why should I force myself to wait in this long line for ice cream? I’m going to beat the system and let these beggars and bums wait for me. Let’s cut to the front. What a life style…2 Then…there…is…me. Not one second go by that I don’t feel like something was forgotten, totally left behind. I search for the keeper of all answers to every question asked since birth. I need the healing ingredients to every low moment. I act as if it’s sitting right there inside my childhood bedroom. Can’t you see it? The walls are plastered with KISS posters and tainted with barely clothed Penthouse Pets. A friend once said to me, “Parents tend to find half naked chicks more acceptable.” Yet I know dad wanted to rip them down-carefully-then place the goddess of beauty and love in a box. Please no assumption. I’ve had my share. Somewhere in that room sits the reason why I’m still here. That bedroom was my second womb. Therefore I’m depending on this pencil, to get me back there. It’s time I pick up the missing something. I find pleasure in rubbing my ageless fingers through the thickness of my long dark brown hair. I feel quite lucky. Not because of this number two pencil with its half eaten eraser. But, I feel extremely fortunate that time hasn’t taken what most of my friends started to lose while still in high school. I think of this hair as being my manly statement, a personal grudge toward those who stood back and harshly judged me during those infamous teen years. The quarterbacks that nabbed the best-looking girls but today are bald and fat. The music majors that concentrated so much on getting noticed they forgot to enjoy the essence of having great people skills or how to attract the opposite sex. So yes, this head of long dark silky sunrays is a personal message to those who constantly think they are better than anyone else. I keep it long as a way of saying, “Look what I have. I win! Money can’t buy something this natural.” Then my smiling thoughts become cloudy. It’s time to begin. It’s nice to see the student within still breaths. How else did that chunk of eraser get between my teeth? From this point forward I will confess the truths behind Halloween 78 but to hell if I’m going to keep a running count the number of pencils I devour. You recognize me don’t you? I was the student who carried chewed up pencils with no erasers-the little guy who wore un-tucked KISS t-shirts and off orange corduroys. I carried with me wads of tossed together notes that couldn’t save a fly during test time. Pens exploded in my pockets and these wooden sticks with lead in them were usually snapped in half due 100% to deep thinking. (Correction: chewed in half by a pair of knock out front teeth) I was a musician locked up in a classroom. The power to high kick stage lights, dance seductively inside a man-made fog while carrying on a conversation with rock-starved visionaries who came to our show to escape. It is my desire to share with you a sliver of many lives. Chapters written about friends who became enemies, songs that got you laid, and hopes that turned into nightmares. An event so haunting…the challenge is to make this journey as relatable as possible. My words will be big, very descriptive and sometimes hard to digest. The fact remains: I was there and I’ll do anything not to go back alone. I hope you trust me. Not as a reader but as a friend. The type you traveled with. Not once but till death did you part. Because that’s what the Hangout did. We hung. So much so, the neighborhood referred to us as the “Hangout.” We were extremely close…at times. That wasn’t enough. There was never a guaranteed step into the future. Some didn’t make it. Their spirits rage inside my soul. They scream to be cooled. To be let go, freed, so that we may live happily ever after. Yeah right, and I’m going 3 bald. I take my number two pencil and scratch into the blue lined notebook paper-one line, a mark that resembles an L. Is it another wall? I am not a writer. I’m a traveler. My thoughts change quickly. Run on sentences having sex with simple places to breathe. I’d hire an editor but that would only change the way I speak. Remember, innocent until proven guilty. From within the walls he speaks A full harvest moon slowly rises over the rolling hills of Montana. With each passing second it adds color to all who wish to reach out and touch the sky. They who savor the opportunity are blessed with the ability to bring unto others a gift. One gift. To be shared in the purist of all art forms. Let it be that we call music. Deep heartfelt words written by a prison inmate. His handshakes after sketching the dream. His musical aspirations now sit silent. They live inside the Montana state penitentiary located in Deer Lodge, Montana. Halloween 78 isn't a story. It’s a reflection. It’s a picture whose landscape has been dug out by six young lives brought together by one man; a man-who challenged each of us to believe in a blood contract. He claimed it had the power to outlast forever. Only in a child’s mind can such a thought exist. Death within inches of our next step, sometimes “forever” can mean five or ten minutes. We all wanted fame and did anything to snuggle up to fifteen minutes of it. No person walks who doesn’t dream of one day becoming “The Best”. Even if it means placing themselves on the borders separating good from mean spirited. To achieve greatness: Sacrifice everything you've got. Your family, best friends, your love for music even your life. When you’re 16, the idolized challenge is to grab the headlines. Once achieved…like a true hero you endure the consequences. One rule of thumb: what takes you to the top may never be your gift of performance. You’re very guilty of having an addiction to excitement. Sitting back on my unmade prison bunk, I realize there’s no need to straighten up. My life is already a self-delivered mess. Looking at the paper on my lap, a lump in my throat, bad posture to blame, even the handwriting resembles that of scribbled mixtures in a coloring book. I want to write. Scribble into place the faces and characters of the people that brought the music. The Hangout-a group of kids in local band unexpectedly caught in the middle of music critics, high school teachers and neighborhood fans. We were hidden, taken away by willingness and swiped from our individual families. We were runners. We ran from the people who chose to beat us with words, belts and frying pans. I called them my backbone. Survival. Opposites forced to sit next each other. It looked funny but it brought together many lifestyles. What we did was hang. Packed like wolves. Herded like sheep. Sometimes I saw us as cattle in the corner of the field waiting for the next storm to come marching by. Music kept us complete. Bass beats and never ending guitar licks ripped angst to shreds. We grew up in the midst of the love generation-Marvin Gaye, Elvin Bishop, McCartney and his silly love songs. Ingredients required warming the sidewalk separating us from local music critics, teachers and fans. We had fans! They called us “Paradise.” The Gazette wrote, “They have it all. Paradise bathes in talent. They feature an 4 unforgettably tight sound. The sculpted players are living out an incredible urge to want, sell and be what they are quickly becoming. Famous But was it all coming too fast? September 1978: 30 days before the band is scheduled to perform at a well publicized Halloween show at the Shrine Auditorium-Neal is reported missing. No leads. No physical evidence of death. No path is left to follow. The bass guitarist was known for his quirkiness and quick fisted attitude. Assumption described it as being a teen runaway. Billings Police Captain Harry Wayne Stephenson felt something else. A gut instinct-mysterious urges-it became his vision to hunt down a young man and charge him with murder. I stop writing…a coward I have become. The yellow pencil sits lonely. It rests loosely between my sacred index finger and thumb. It’s because of this indecisive decision-making that Neal would look directly into my boy shaped face and jokingly say, “You are such a Tarb! Tarby, Tarby, Tarby.” The name stuck. Unlike Christmas, all things didn’t lead to one event. In this case: The State of Montana versus Tarb. You will quickly come to your own strong-minded conclusion. It is my wish that you see Halloween 78 as an event. One giant red dot on a dust covered map that could have easily lasted a decade. Come on, we were kids! Six teenagers in love with Van Halen’s Jamie’s Crying. 8-track tapes didn’t come with fast-forward so we’d click rush click it over to channel four. Once there, the attempt was to end all things quickly-to start over. Pretty much like our lives. Then, the unforeseen move was made. The hangout was left to tackle a tremendous amount of heat. Neal’s departure fed the wrong hand. Instead of being a garage band racing for fame we were imaged as pied pipers in a headline-addicted society. In Montana, summer begins and ends in August. To locate this much heat in October gave no proof to the existence of an Indian summer. It was crackdown. Neal twisted the lid off something more potent then Mad Dog 20/20. Captain Stephenson melted our cheese like it was his fantasy. He clearly made it his passion to watch all sides. He had to! Burnt cheese is incredibly difficult to remove from a pan. Did the Captain’s desire force him to plant invisible flowers? Inside a cold off-color courtroom I admitted to a crime being committed. My only quote, “Guilt stricken, my innocence should not be punished by death. What I lack is not street sense but rather a witness. The only one I have been handed sleeps forever six feet under.” It started with one confession: A personal sacrifice the media nicknamed Murder for Fame. What the press didn't know was the blood of six young kids placed on that contract… never dried. Captain Stephenson did not induce labor. He gave birth to hidden words left behind. Pictures of a past stored away inside a second womb. Images of the music guaranteed to never be released. 5 Chapter one: Scene one The Bathroom mirror If woken by strange sounds at 2am you often cannot sleep again. Released into the world are the hidden monsters. The invisible secrets you can’t share, the conversations, accusations and unexplained playfulness. I call it: classified lip service. If caught holding it, the ass becomes mud then spread throughout the school. If you have to share it-do so in a manner that forces your lips not to move. You didn’t tell anyone. There’s no proof. Listen…this trick really works. If awake at 2am-get up! Make your way to the bathroom. Quickly turn the light on then slam your face up against the mirror. Stare at the image. Get closer. Never look away. The unfocused creation is projected back to your eyes. Your imagination begins to dance. Music plays from the most distant horizon. Songs you’ve never heard. They glide softly in the background. Lyrics you know but they remain unwritten. What is seen has become oblong and distorted. The pupils are teased like a woman rats her hair. In my case, I see a golden brown. Lion eyes which if looked at long enough take the shape of “The beast” inside. You are such a weird one; the whispers are heard walking beside my laugh filled breath. Nobody does this crap. Yet, you seem so fascinated. I talk to myself…a lot, most of the time so silently even I can’t hear what I am saying. But at 2am, I discover sound. My heart races toward the mirrored rush combining it with the depth of my aging voice. It is loud to me, creating fear. If I talked louder my sleeping parents two doors down would wake, discover the time only to assume and then accuse me of doing modern day candy. You know…the stuff experts write about. They spend millions of tax dollars searching for new ways to just say no. Every kid must be doing it. I see nothing but cold granite stone faces. They beg on street corners for bags of Doritos’s. Then wash it down with a warm can of Squirt or a cold bottle of Rainer’s Beer….what we referred to as Vitamin R. “Bang! Bang! Bang!” The sound you don’t want to hear. Not guns! I’m talking about freaked out parental units plowing through your privacy. Then again, it wouldn’t happen in this stepfather made house. This man has a season pass to any private moment. Who cares if you’re naked in the bathtub? If someone has to crap, turn your back and plug your nose. I can’t imagine my stepfather’s reaction if he honestly knew the truth. One-stepson dead, the other standing in front a bathroom mirror staring up close, too close, but…at what? The beauty of the flea market purchased bathroom mirror? These are the lessons in life books never speak of. Yet we as kids tend to stuff them into cardboard boxes then depart, only to one day find them on an unexpected quick trip back home, which is why I spend so much time standing in front of the mirror. It’s my vainless escape from civilization. My travels are deep, far and filled with no shame. The nearest horizon scrapes the tip of my nose. Then I see it! A raging flash of darkness takes my sight. The playfulness is swiftly set aside. My staring becomes intense. You’re there Tarb, I excitingly congratulate the thinking solo self, and you’re no longer here! The blackness comes in short stabs of painless motion. The attempt is to look into each thin line hoping to discover something new. The shape of my face is a misty cloud. Out of focus 6 it remains. I feel tingles. It’s not my sleeping numb legs. Toes and calves stretched as far as they’ll reach. My worries are far from what this might look like. It demands strength not to laugh. It takes inner desire to remain in such a position above the valley below, mom’s unclean ancient sink with faucets made of painted silver pipe, the sink plug reported missing 3 weeks ago. The pleasure cruise continues. Gentle whispers of air dance on the edge of my light blue lips. You’re there Tarb, now ride the wind. I feel my heart beginning to pump faster. An inward rush leaves me light headed. The gold once seen in my eyes has set. Revealed is an off colored green. Something is different, the self-delivered whispering takes note. My face has become invisible but I see thick black hair, darkened by midnight, stained by blood. Confusion takes over. Within the silence I hear nothing but ringing. Loud scrapes of metal hit by oversized plates of steel. Mass offerings of color rage toward their improper places. Bright yellows and reds blotched then hung to dry. My breathing has stopped. My face is bright red, maybe a taste of purplish blue. For God sake, you went too far! I screamed into the palms of my hand. You ass! You stupid jerk! Fear became my tour guide. My arms were painfully cramped-quite difficult to straighten. Hell yes! The body was angry. It revolted by sending spears of dislike straight to what little soul I owned. The aches throbbed harder and faster. Stop it! Stop. Stop. Stop it! Why do you have to do this? You are such an ass! It was an out of control childhood game that whitewashed nightmares. I had to do it-especially this night. To cleanse each emptied thought no matter how bad they were soiled. Earlier in the evening reality, not a dream, became the demon dressed in a jet-black hood. The stupid shit even wore gray plush Hush puppies. More than ever, I needed to run away. The farthest I got was sitting on the chipped wooden floor with barely enough tiles to keep the bathtub water from seeping into the unfinished basement. I remember crying. The tears soaked my eyes creating rivers and streams on my naked chest. I was cold. The whispering more cracked then before. Each word if not carefully listened to was more emotion then substance. “Dear God…make it go away. Please make it go away.” The art of growing up baffled me. These tears weren’t 16 written chapters all thrown into one basket. Only to be set on fire because the author didn’t understand their purpose. Like most juniors in high school, I had made the wrong choice. I had chosen the wrong friends, the wrong ideas, and the wrong alternative. A lesson learned? Yeah…it taught me how to stop believing. Take it beyond that and you face a path of bad decisions. Take the word choice, it’s the one ingredient we rarely understand and I had no one to blame but myself. The best way to deal was to become addicted to spending several late nights standing in front of a sheet of glass backed with some sort of magic dust. It granted me a vision within a child I didn't know. I would never reach out to touch him. I couldn't! The beast would always locate the perfect opportunity to turn and run. Just like now. Yep…there I sat in my bright white underwear. Not a sexual thought close by. They did though become a canvas that teased my imagination. “Dude,” I giggled. The past few moments washed away. “Please Lord don’t let my 7 mother see me now. I bought you pajamas for a reason. Now use them!” Ever the true Cancer, I have the uncanny ability to forgive and forget much quicker than most. People hate me for it. But who cares? They’re jealous of my gift of performance. Come on, the sight of my tighty whites would make any snotty nosed, holier than though sister laugh. I was guilty of being doped up on hypnotic concentration. There I sat. My Fruit of the Looms had blazed a new trail across the bathroom floor. I looked like a junkie begging for more. Rubbing the tearstains from the corners of my eyes, I felt crustiness but it came with no sound. It was time to flee, to refocus on what would come later. There would be no battle while climbing the cracked staircase. Reborn confidence would safely lead me back to the half built bedroom. I liked the room. Such a state declared it my world. Once back in bed I would locate no gripes. The coziness of duck feathered pillows would leave plenty of room to slam an ill-fated head. It was the only thing holding me together. The mirror forced me to travel. The duck pillows gave me dreams. Hell, if I had my way I’d wear rabbit lined underwear for total fit and comfort. It’s got to be a Montana thing! Outside this shell of rusty nails and weathered wood lived a world I vowed to conquer. This piece of heaven-seven-bedrooms big and wide-led me to believe it could be done. Each strip of wood was given a second chance to survive. Before becoming a part of this palace it held up and kept many families warm. I pretty much saw life the same way. It’s ok to make mistakes. Some poor bastard will one day adopt you. The others? Screw them! I was the hobo’s kid. “Tarby couldn’t be like Neal, Bart, Tony or Gary.” I sarcastically mumble. I was born into a family whose man made mansion was once featured inside this city’s finest Shacks and Sheds. The molding? Grand Ave, the house built in twenty-two. The flooring? First Ave South, the house was taken down to make way for Granite Towers. Used wood doesn’t mean jack to a kid until you starting bringing the friends home. Suddenly your parents fail to meet the demands and requirements of being freakin cool dudes. I made up every excuse not to invite people. Why should I? The exterior wasn’t painted. Green roofing made up the image. Terry Ave, torn down six years ago, stacked alongside the house until Mom pressured the mate into finally doing something with it. I was able bodied and prepared for all changes. I had to be. I lived inside a dictatorship based upon the powers handed down by grandparents. Yeah! The overly aged who show pride by throwing away their worldly duties. I’m telling you, it’s got to be due to a lack of brain cells. Losing my Grandparents at an early age left me tight lipped. Once they checked out my ass was grass. I didn’t have anyone to run to anymore! I had to break free of the stepfather. He wouldn’t stop hitting us. He felt a personal need to fulfill a responsibility. “I’m just trying to raise you kids right.” He’d remind us. If I ever locate this so-called book of Discipline he so proudly spoke of, I’ll burn the damn thing! Bury it! Better yet I’ll float the bastard down the Yellowstone River. It worked for Lewis and Clark didn’t it? Personally I think the dude was born pissed off. When he passes the headstone will read: Here lies an angry man whose mission was to make me look like a fool, which was extremely easy to do. Billings is a large town set inside a very small atmosphere of rumors, assumptions and big city crime. Every block is lined with new and old housing. No matter how old the structure, the paint is cracked and the streets are paved with car-sized chuckholes. 8 And please believe what they say about the people. The man next door is your uncle. He married your sister’s best friend. Yep, the same girl who secretly made love to the softball coach at the Stage 4 outdoor theater. Who really cares? He wasn’t a schoolteacher or a relative plus it lasted 13 weeks, which I think is a local record. Billings has its share of culture. Take the infamous South Side. Anything below the Sugar beet factory is South Side. No man walks alone if he hopes to own the future. Its several city blocks of poor, extremely poor and headed that way soon. We’re unevenly mixed with the middle class. Whites, very few blacks, Germans gathering with Chicano’s and biker gang wanna be’s. Early morning bar brawls mean someone’s going to the hospital or losing their front teeth. Step inside and you better be prepared. This close-knit collection of America at its best doesn’t warm up to easily. That’s what happens when you dig up what is left behind at the Yeager outhouse. Like it or leave it. Most die with it. We lived near the border. The beet factory railroad tracks separated us from the worried man’s trail. They call it Yellowstone County. Septic tanks, gravel roads, one hundred rabbits and pigeons in the back yard. We even had a horse back there at one time. Nothing like my friends though. They had classy stingrays and 10 speed Schwins. I had a big red bike with a flowered banana seat. The damn tires were the size of my grandmother’s panties. Oh you knew when I was coming down the road. I sat so high off the pavement the older folks thought I was a semi without a cab. The doctors, lawyers, college professors and other Montana rich settled on the North Side under the rims. Lewis and Clark called them The Palisades of the Yellowstone. The view was incredible! You wanna see beauty? Take an early morning stroll and catch the sun rising over the Yellowstone valley. The view cost money. These bastards could afford it though. I on the other hand, took my giant red bike with granny panty-sized wheels and its flowered banana seat up to their perfectly paved roads and just peddled by. I did it without a worry in the world. That giant red bike may have been a royal pain on my nuts but damn if I’m gonna take back everything I fell witness to. You made no mistakes if you grew up in Billings unless you enjoyed being harshly judged. Living in the bowels of Montana meant the locals 10 miles away knew of your ass getting tanned. You could hear the giggles and laughter everywhere you walked, shopped or played. When word hit the streets of you getting your butt kicked, people forked out top dollar to get a glance at the scars. That’s why I didn’t like to fight. I was horribly afraid of scars. I couldn’t imagine looking in the mirror and seeing one of those things staring back. The best way to keep your nose clean is always be a follower. It didn’t matter who you followed. The Wild West is downright friendly. Guess what I liked about growing up there were the friendships. There’s nothing more valuable than a small town connection. Such relationships are taken seriously. I’d say friends are closer then true family. In fact, we were family. We just had different creators, teachers and those who offered improper discipline. No one lacked dedication or loyalty. Each guaranteed to run their full course before being cut loose. He or she who escaped early paid the price. But remember what the headlines read: There is no gang violence in Billings. 9 Wait! Wait! Screw the deep thought. We! Here alone, inside these four unguarded walls where self-hypnosis is the drug shooting through our veins. We! Are about to be abruptly interrupted. How do I know this? Listen…shuffle, shuffle thump shuffle, thump. A sleepy eyed walker has discovered their pee dreams are quite real. Who creates these dreams? Think about it. There you are, about to save the day. You have super human powers and the ability to score by reaching second base. The girl loves you! You might make it to home plate. At that very moment! BOOM! The vision of a toilet suddenly takes over the dream. No man can satisfy his sex craving if the vision being watched is painted with commodes. How many times must a human pee in his dreams before the kidneys finally get their way? Nothing angers me more. There’s no way in hell that I’m gonna make it back to the dream. “Are you going to get out of there?” The forceful voice was heard through the bathroom door. My scuffling body quickly rose. I could see the shadow of this growing conversation caught the mirror. The very place we met. Do you remember? Oh crap! Now I sound like a woman…. Do you remember? Gees, I’m such a Tarb. This explains why all jokes are half-heartedly tossed my way. There he goes. It’s our buddy Tarb. We like him. He’s our pick on toy. “One, two, ” The cracked vocals of a young female start to count. Her late night attitude seems demanding but carries little strength. I suppose those three cans of Pepsi she downed before bedtime are fighting profusely to escape. Her wicked ways of non-personal sacrifice and torture can wait! More proof that God’s biggest mistake was giving a boy a sister. They are not required when trying to complete your teen years. They’re not only in the way but they stand in the way of you scoring. “Three, four.” The count continues but for how long? Notice how worried I am. Yawn…It wasn’t my mom. She’d walk in. This girl can wait! It’s a family thing-a delinquent battle that goes way back. THUNK! “Oh oh,” I nervously think to myself. “This anxious woman is playing evil dirty tricks. She has leveled herself to kicking the door.” If the stepfather hears this, he’ll rip from his jeans the leather belt and lay it deeply into her young skin. Then, I’d feel guilty because it was me who instigated such child like play. Let it be known right now! I am not giving into this woman to show she has powers over me. I am only trying to keep peace in dark halls-the very halls that lead directly to my parent’s room. I will never admit this in public. As far as you know, my pee dreams were complete and it was time to go back to that baseball diamond to score. Wait! One more thing before we leap from this white porcelain palace. This is not how I wanted you to meet my sister. But, fate’s game is one you rarely win. Her name is Susan. I’m acting like this because of her out of control, power happy, and want-it-all-but-get-none-of-it attitude. There is no conceit in my family. She has it all and hasn’t been willing to share it since birth. Her long dark brown hair and face are copied images of me. Damn God for doing this to 10 my life. Even worse, my looks were hand-me-downs from my brother. We look like triplets. The only thing that makes us different is this ability I have to run and hide. Then again, they could be doing the same thing. They just have better hiding places. I opened the door that once served as the gateway to my privacy. Because I had been before, each move made was almost perfect and very silent. I smiled when I heard no clicking of the knob or whooshing of the wind as I hurriedly swung open the door. Darkness instantly greeted my tiny black pupils. I was blind. She could have taken a swing at me and knocked me back inside. Then, from over the horizon it rose, the identified mug named the common criminal; the bitch that stole from my shadow and me. “Why couldn’t I have been born into a different family?” Her cynical expression shot out at me. It made no dent on the bulletproof shield I wore. Truth is, I get along with my sister…only if she’s spending the night somewhere else. Outside this house…I’m not so tough. I blame it on my mother. She over sheltered us. We were powerless do nothing wimps. You know the kind. Non-fighters, typical leave me alone individuals. Yeah, we’ll make the sacrifice. We’ll do whatever it takes, so YOU can score a touchdown. My closest friends agree with me. We love the women who brought us into the world but please… this smothered form of protection must stop by the age of twelve. Young men are supposed to toss away their bicycles and think solely about stealing cars. Racing through neighborhood streets then burning perfectly rounded donuts in Optimist Park. Right there next to the baseball diamond. God I love doing that! You’re holding on so tight your hands change colors. Not once but a bazillion times. You’re spinning in circles so fast dizziness calls out your stomachs name. “Puke now! Puke you bastard puke! Now!” Sure, like all boys my age. We bicker and complain a lot. The arguing is based on each other’s house rules. Neal and Rob come from alcohol-influenced backgrounds. We assume it’s made them street smart. They’ve learned to take no bull unless the giver is willing eat dirt. Maybe it’s the never-ending beatings their screwed up fathers toss out like Halloween candy. God forbid someone touch the ice cold Rainer’s in the fridge. The sperm infested freak is quick to blame. This does only one thing. It heats up the indictment engines. The next step of the game is down the lonely stretch of highway commonly called hatred. We become a brutal force of raw energy that makes us want to steal cars. Hell yes! Just so we can give them something worth being angry over. Please, whatever you do. Just let us have our Vitamin R. There’s just something about that mountain fresh taste from Washington State. “Mmmm…” I’m telling you right now-it’s good for us! It has to be good for us. Our energy levels scream with excitement. A can of vitamin R helps us leave the realms of reality. A six-pack a day is like tossing pressure into the back of Robs Ford pickup. “Screw the future!” I say. “We’re all a bunch of boards nailed to a wall that will one day become part of my dad’s stupid house.” You know what I have just done? I have publicly admitted to you whose been stealing 11 the man’s ticket to Buzz land USA. Shhh, if you wanna be a member of this hangout…you’ve gotta keep this to yourself. If anyone asks where you got the beer, the answer is always, “I don’t know.” If my sister finds out-I might as well kiss my butt goodbye, which is the very look I share with her the moment our eyes meet outside that bathroom door. From my lips comes a warm welcome smile. Not smart words. I give out words of apology for taking up so much of her precious time. I call it my shield! It protects me from her evil ways. I think all women are born with the powers to break someone down. She knew that one day the cops would bust me. Instead of saying she told me so, Susan would whip out a list of favors owed. So I guess she’s good for something. Too bad it costs so much. Another thing, Neal is her item. Teen lovers. My street-smart friend has the inside. This is good. It helps me put together a favor list. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. I told you. I want to conquer the world. The best way to do that is by collecting favors, trading good deeds for reacceptance. Finally getting my butt settled in my iron-framed bed-I take not of its structure. It too has been given a second chance in life. The bed was brought to American by freedom searching German born grandparents and just like the wood, it’s now part of my life. So I ask, “Where am I going to pop back up when this life is over? It’s only natural to share different attitudes.” Our parents were here two decades ago. Therefore, we are left with the elements of their journey. They borrowed from their parents. The steps originally taken cannot be fully traced due to a lack of listening. Hearing the words of great grandparents who thought they knew it all. What makes me sick are not the challenges that lay ahead. It’s the idea of my mother and father having sex in the very bed on which I’m lying right now. Above all, though, children are linked to adults by the simple fact they are in the process of turning into them. -Philip Larkin- Chapter one: Scene two The hangout Tainted by street sweets and liquid brewed from barley, Neal, Rob and I were blessed with an equal share of delights topped with whipped cream and nuts. Hell yeah, we were addicted. If it meant getting something to eat we’d put the bright white fluffy stuff on green grass or Doritos. Barely a quarter to our names yet somehow we could always scrounge up enough change to latch onto a bucket of spun sugar and egg yolks. Cool Whip hides the taste of everything. Sure, we were crazy but not insane. Being young and free from daily busboy jobs and local gigs at McDonald’s meant playing “Truth, die or dare.” Drink all you can, focus on the band and never lose faith in synchronized willingness to always the cross the line, that invisible 12 something parents hated and we cherished to the very end. They were pot smokers. I was the innocent stand by who thought he was cool but not whipped. Whatever the path chosen, be it keggers in the south hills, swimming in the Yellowstone without life jackets or leaping off houses to feel the essence of flight. Rob and Neal couldn’t be themselves without casting unto all the pleasant scent of heated earth flowers, which eventually created the most agonizing case of the munchies. Like every kid in America between the ages of 12 and 15, no young man can stare into a mirror without thinking he was born to rock n roll. In our rulebook, that meant living out the life of David Lee Roth, Gene Simmons and every badass member of AC/DC. Aerosmith was cool but we had heard a few rumors about how drugs were destroying their musical foundation. Guess that’s one mirror we forgot to look into. Either that or we just refused to believe we had a problem. Our Rock n Roll idols had cool hair, beautiful women and high kicking stage appearances that left us screaming out anthems of acceptance. The steady Hangout diet was a guarantee to attend every live concert that came to town. The mission statement was to push, prod and gang up on anybody who wouldn’t let us near the Metra or the Shrine Auditorium stage. The only battle I lost was during a Leif Garrett show; way too many chicks with heels and fingernails. Besides, like most lost young boys, I couldn’t help but believe it would lead to me getting some action after the show. Yeah right… Neal loved being near the giant towers of black speakers. He’d pick up on a bass beat and rock it to sleep. Eyes closed, body in motion, his lips counting out the bars and chords. Then, just like any other show, he’d lose control. “That’s our stage!” He’d scream at the top of his lungs. “Get those losers off my stage…Right now!” He wanted to perform on that hunk of wood so bad. Most of the deeply felt fantasized inner battles ended with Neal literally crying, real tears and authentic emotion. I’d stand there and just shake my head slowly from left to right. To the rest of the world, this dude must have looked like the biggest baby. Personally, I thought it was the combination of drugs washed down with three six packs of vitamin R. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The night Ted Nugent invaded the Metra I had filled a baggie full of sifted flour. It was white, Neal or Rob had never seen coke before so I thought I’d put on a super cool attitude and make it look like I had graduated from Woosie School. Yeah, good ole Tarby finally broke the ice and went on a coke run. I wanted to be the super hero and create a magical moment. You should have seen their faces. They looked like two kids that had just discovered a bakery filled with powered donuts. Neither of them had any idea how to properly ride the snow covered fields of joy. There were no straws, mirrors or privacy to inhale. They’d take a pinch of that sifted white flour then shove it quickly up their nose. It didn’t stay there. Most of the powered substance fell to the littered floor. Stepped on by Nugent freaks that felt they deserved to be next to the wooden wall that separated us from the oversized stagehands and guitar cords. Ten minutes into Ted’s ear piercing, wave creating, couldn’t understand a damn thing said show, Neal started his typical antics of wanting to be on that chunk of wood. How dare Mr. Nugent think he was better than my friend Neal? My God, couldn’t the wild man of rock with a raccoon’s tail tell from his position on that stage that Neal was the greatest bass guitarist ever born? It really pissed him off bad. So, we left. 13 One thing we didn’t leave behind was that crumpled up baggie with three or four good-sized pinches of sifted flour still remaining. Neal kept tapping his pocket. It was his way of letting us know the goods were under heavy-duty protection. Plus, Neal being his true self couldn’t help but attempt to tell the cops we had something illegal and they had no clue what it was. Trust me, they did. Drunken kids trying to escape a rock concert are the best entertainment around, especially those whose faces are covered with powdery white flour. I remember hearing officer ask, “So when did they start allowing them to wear their food?” In Montana, the primitives do nothing but stare. Sometimes it’s very difficult to deal with. Come on, a kid is a kid and every rule we break falls under that officially documented rule. If you have a problem, allow us to help you take it to the street. I mean, you’re only a kid once and these old people with skin hanging from their jowls had their chance. It wasn’t our problem. The Hangout couldn’t be blamed for what time took away. Rob’s favorite way of stirring up the soup was shaking the can. “What are you looking at?” The attitude shot from his typically smart ass self. “What? Have you suddenly re-written the law making it illegal for us to attend a concert?” Oh great, I said to myself. “Rob, put down the ego and let’s go.” You would think something better would have come out…not this time. His glare back at me showcased the very reason why so many people we meet are fearful of him. Jet-black hair, never combed, eyes constantly blood shot, teenage face decorated in facial fur like his old man. Then he’d slip on a red bandanna. Neatly folded then tied in a double knot behind his head. He said the bandanna gave him incredible strength, which must have been what he was feeling right about now. Rob was set to take on the cops who laughed the very second they saw us racing from the Metra turnstiles. “Not tonight Rob,” I continued to persuade looking not at him but the officers preparing to latch onto the incoming force of negative vibes. Neal stood silently under the spiral staircase leading toward Metra headquarters, the hidden, unspoken world that Rob would soon visit if he didn’t back down. “Hey, asswipe!” I then squealed at the top of my lungs, “Since you’ve decided to get busted tonight, why don’t you let go of the keys so the rest of us can get home.” Normally, I’d be unpleasantly involved, adding fuel to the on-going fires of young versus old. This time though, the peasant refused to add to the ruler’s Kingdom. It might have been the nicely shined silver badge that read “Billings Police, Captain Stephenson. That’s right, my third grade teacher’s husband was about to dance with the balls and backbone of neighborhood. “Why don’t you listen to your friend son,” the Captain said while maintaining his honor. “You’ve had a great time at the concert tonight and you need to go home to get some sleep.” “What the hell do you know what I need?” Rob slashed out, his entire body moving except the long strings of his oily hair, index finger now pointed into the hard stare of the Captain. “You ride my ass every time I see you and this time it’s you who’s on the bottom.” Neal and I briskly glanced at each other. Invisible questions took over each of our thoughts. “When did Rob suddenly come down with a problem with this cop?” The ice storm feared no warm wind. The tracks laid would soon guide the runaway train straight to the river’s edge. I will never forget the chills that consumed my vividly nervous body. It was like someone had grabbed the nape of my neck, the tiny hairs at the collar and was pulling 14 them upward. There were several levels of tension and the passing cliques of Ted Nugent fans were paying close attention. We’re all the same, the moment the dull scent of trouble looms within the midnight night air. Like bee’s we become attracted. “Rob,” Officer Stephenson calmly said without a blink in his eye or a newly formed wrinkle in his well pressed uniform. “Please do me a favor. Don’t let tonight be the night I take you to jail. I really don’t think you want to sit in a cold dark room with a bunch of other concert drunks who are just as pissed off as you are. It’s obvious you’ve had something to drink. Please Rob, give the keys to your buddies and let them take you home.” Looking around I mentally counted thirty maybe forty kids crowded around the Metra foyer. Some, just as toasted but many were extremely disappointed with the easy let down. They hunted down such scenes hoping Rob would get busted, hand cuffed then thrown into the parked black and white outside the bright orange Metra doors. It proved to be too much for the smartest of us three South Side kings. Neal’s quick decision-making ability led to him leaving his post under the spiral stairs. Instead of waiting for his father to pick him up downtown, Neal chose to accept a free ride from his stepsister’s friend. Storming out of the white cement and red brick structure with fire between his lips, Neal knew of the repercussions. Such trouble would lead to even more problems. It was a price he couldn’t afford and needed no bank loan to tell him different. Rob broke his silence when he noticed he was alone. A dead bug in the middle of a million ants in search of food for their queen. Although I stood a few feet from him, Rob knew his backbone had departed leaving his body limp and weak. It was no secret. The entire hangout and Officer Stephenson knew Rob was a complete nobody without Neal. For that matter, we were all individual losers whose passion to be teens was fed by the kid who went nowhere in life without his vest made by Levi and a quote he made up one night while thumping his bass guitar in the damp darkness of his basement bedroom, “You don’t mess with the best because the best don’t mess.” The next morning, Neal’s brother tested the powdered substance that slept all night in a pair of reeking jeans tossed up against the paneled wall. Appearing on Randy’s face was a comical expression, no look of wonder, not even a smidge of disappointment. He knew in his heart that Neal wasn’t doing drugs. The baggie spotted during Neal’s decent into the basement upon his arrival did not contain what his mother assumed. It didn’t stop Randy though from harshly questioning his brother. If had been doing drugs, he needed to know who had screwed Neal? After all, the only way we made money in south Billings was mowing lawns, or keeping score at one of the local bowling alleys. Hard to find money, easily spent but hopefully not on flour thought to be coke or some other unknown drug introduced to the school system. “Tarb said it was coke, so we snorted a few pinches last night.” Neal openly admitted knowing full well my ass would soon be waked up by the heat of a family war. Especially since it now seemed I was the drug kingpin in the Hangout, the Candy Man. That’s the way Neal worked. He was kind to all, innocent to many, a cutthroat to those who knew him best. Neal was the gambler Kenny Rogers spoke of in his song, the card player whose face could never be read. Make any move without justification and he took it personal. Like the news I gave him about the flour. He cut off all relations with me. For about…five minutes. How dare I try to pull off such a trick? “You made me look stupid!” I remember him screaming. “You know why we call you15 Tarb? Because it’s the closest thing to retarded!” Rob’s reaction was a 100% turn around. He laughed, so hard we had to pull off the road to pee. There we were three guys 50 feet apart watering everything down. There would be no forest or grass fire here today. Our portable extinguishers had done their proper function in keeping Montana beautiful. By God, we needed to be rewarded for such hard work and dedication. Hardly a day went by that Rob, Neal and I weren’t practicing many forms of passage. Being sixteen was like re-living our terrible two’s. We were wild, filled with challenge and destructive to all things we didn’t believe in. What freedoms we didn’t gain as diapered inmates were easily made up for through unknown vibrations generated by music. It was a bombardment of unexplained eagerness. The nearest path leading to a well-lit, colorful stage that never moved from the horizon. Neal, as usual came up with the best answer, “It’s a mirage. A giant highway with water like crap everywhere…until you get there.” Our musical dreams were painted all over the bluish mountains that surrounded Red Lodge, Montana. It would be so simple to say that Red Lodge is your typical picturesque ski resort town no bigger than a sneeze, but it’s not. The streets are unevenly paved and dearly blessed with chuckholes. The natural skyscraping pines and carved out mountain faces are perfectly seen all over the southern part of the state, especially in Billings. Red Lodge holds its own energy by hosting summer long rodeo events. The Hangout called it “Beerfest.” Hold out your cup and let the gold pour into your soul. We’d con a parent into taking us up there then take off the moment we arrived. “The car leaves at 10 pm!” They’d yell out competing with their own echo. Once satisfied by the essence each fermented hop brought to our growing imaginations, the next mission was to push the limits and visit the state’s only fully stocked zoo. It was a walking escapade through several thousand people. Main Street Red Lodge was flooded with money and the local radio station was having a field day doing live broadcasts. Every year, I’d stop to watch the radioman perform on his invisible stage. He didn’t look like anybody I knew, not even Wolfman. It must be a lonely world to be in radio. No drummer, no guitars, just you and a bunch of records. There was no way in hell I’d push my way toward that world. Something told me that little box was filled with liars, stealers, beggars and bosses who didn’t believe in your personal visions to become the best. The stage I wanted would be filled with very loud, live Rock n Roll. No cover songs allowed. They would be my words, my guitar strums and bass beats so thick your head would roll from side to side. Yeah, a band where your friends are true companions even after long battles with egos struggling over that should back up who while attempting to harmonize in places unheard of. The poor radioman just sat there pretending to be happy. His head bobbing up and down to Joe Jackson’s “Is she really going out with him.” I think he was drunk. Who in their right mind could get off just sitting there with earphones on? His fingers tapping, his feet shuffling, eyes glowing with a type of passion I had never seen. Yep, drunk. The poor old bastard with a gray beard was crapped out and had to showcase his ability to perform in front of 10,000 people on a tiny radio station. This year though, he did something different. He waved at me. Big hearty smile followed by a wave to come closer. My eyes grew not in curiosity but fear. There was no way 16 in hell I was going to enter his space. Radio people are evil crass men who hate everything, especially little kids who stand beside them asking, “Do you get free tickets?” I was frozen, cold. The mountain wind somehow caught inside my decision to walk away or visit the cheater. Musicians bust their ass to create music while disc jockeys sit on their ass to play it. It doesn’t seem fair. Nor did this man’s constant waving. Then…I took the necessary steps to stand beside him. Holy crap! I thought to myself. Look at all those buttons. Look at all those dancing lights. The radioman’s control board was unlike anything I had ever seen. A giant box, gray just like his beard, knobs the size of my hand, switches that turned on the music or allowed him to hear it in his earphones before he played it on the air. He was the dude who runs the sound, the mastermind controlling the lights and the 6foot very hot flames and explosions. I was standing next to the brain that makes KISS come to life. What would Gene Simmons think of me now? The music Gods were talking and for the first time I actually chose to listen. Somebody get me a pair of tight leather pants like David Lee Roth’s! “I know it doesn’t seem like much,” his graveled old voice spoke one-on-one to me. “Every day before I go on the air I stand in front of a mirror and say…I am the greatest actor you will ever meet.” “Really?” I softly questioned. It was the only thing I could say. I felt like a stupid shit. But, it was the only thing I could say. I was drunk. We were heavily influenced by the taste of barley and mountain fresh water. I left immediately without saying goodbye. How dare I forget the mission I was on? The zoo, we had to get to the Red Lodge zoo. That giant world of wild creatures that usually just stood there asking, “Is there anything I can do for you? Here, I’ll take a crap so you can laugh.” Never once did we tease the animals at the zoo. The last thing we needed was for the giant black bear to pick his lock and kick our ass for not sharing the keg. The bastard would steal it! Take it back to the great buffalo pen and piss the rest of the day away. Truth is, we’d stand there looking into what seemed to be their perfectly ripened little paradise. Each oversized crate was scientifically built with trees that added shadow and decoration to the wild grasses that grew only in Montana, the best damn tasting grass I had ever put in my mouth. Long thin stems with bushels of green at the end. Come on, when you’re a kid, everything goes in. It’s part of the progression to adulthood 101: Things you will never do again because it’s flat out stupid. I can and will admit without conceit; it was me who opened the door. Like it or not, this mountain village was about to reach inside an unopened cookie jar of fame. While I sit here in my favorite writing place sketching out the beginning steps of tightly knotted yarn and twine, the personal wishes play tricks on the actual events. Many times, the heart still wonders what it would have been like to release the bear then chase it down. The Hangout would have jumped the buffalo and roped the legs of the black beast. I guess that’s what I was doing, attempting to rope a purpose. How did I know that a one-man vision quest would take the nation’s leading newspapers by the hand and turn tiny little Red Lodge into a pirate’s treasure hunt? I didn’t know. It was just a chance I was forced to take. All would soon be uncovered, dug up then destroyed. Events I never dreamed possible, but it was too late to turn back. The path was already set in stone and its roots started with that damn 17 band. It was no joke. The Hangout loved its music more than beer or pot. We thought of ourselves as being reincarnated musicians who had been tragically killed in a plane crash. Which might explain the band’s chosen name, “Paradise.” Whoa… I say even today, the only difference between the characters is the length of our hair. You bet I keep it long. I think most adults do all they can to live out what they couldn’t have. With a great deal of sarcasm I grin a shallow smile. Paradise, I whisper again. Isn’t that what Willie Ames called his band? Who really cares? He had already gained his fame on Eight is a Enough. Neal and I did not come from the same shell. His parents let him have long hair, which was stuffed under a Midwest cabinet little league baseball cap. The brownish, blonde paper-thin strands never hung in his face. He’d hang his head and whip it back exposing only the sides and back. I always thought he looked like a faceless clown. But, Neal being Neal didn’t give a rat’s ass about anybody but himself, which was very evident within the ranks of the Hangout. Not only did he come up with the name of the band but pretty much designed everything else around it. If the pay offs weren’t there, he’d toss out his anguish like a kid downing a Twinkie. He was quick, succulent and capable of melting all over everything. Once that took place, he’d storm off to pout inside billows of rolled up wild grass and seeds creating an even bigger reason to reach for something so yummy to the tummy. Our mission was to locate the mapmaker, be it in Billings, Red Lodge, Laurel or the Heights. We had a common bond that couldn’t be shattered. The reason why we were placed on this planet was to get back to that 80 ft stage, a slice maybe even a piece of musical heaven. Since we spent so much time dreaming about being major stars, it easily convinced us that the landscape had already been painted. Without a doubt Paradise was going to take their motivated endeavors to the top of Casey Kasum’s weekly charts. Now, on with the story… I write with a tiny giggle in the very tummy that never once felt the pressures of having the munchies. Is it possible I missed out on a valuable piece of American culture? Even as I sit here reliving every breath we took, I can taste the raw foot long hotdogs and Doritos slipping slowly into the sewer system of my soul. Each chip squeezing the saliva from every gland made available. Then clunk! “Somebody get me the baking soda!” I’d beg while holding back what was coming up. Rob, with his Alice Cooper look and persona, always found such conditions to be quite amusing. I guess if I looked like Mr. Cooper and came with such a reputation I too would be forced to turn any heaving disaster into a classic Disney moment. My sickness didn’t stop Neal or Rob from cramming their faces. They needed to fully satisfy a hollow feeling inside the pits of hell. I loved the taste of those raw hotdogs purely for the enjoyment of doing something completely stupid. 100% junk food slammed into a body that would digest it so quickly there wasn’t any way I’d gain weight. No night went by that we didn’t tap our pocket, search the ashtray and raid my sister’s room for change, whatever it took to purchase our slice of life. We had a legal license to get what we wanted and be as loud as we could. Who really cares if it pissed my sister? We were Paradise… Besides, she belonged to Neal. The faceless clown had his claws in my sister and I wasn’t brother enough to break it up. Besides, such actions would in fact hurt the band. I couldn’t forget, he provided the two-car garage for the raw energy and power generated by our fast fingers and thoughts belted out as well-spoken, self-written licks and lyrics. Trust me; if it 18 happened in life, we had a song for that particular occasion. That was the driving force behind the band, to make those bastards who came to watch us feel like we were singing their anthem. Relate! Relate! Relate! I’d push through that Radio Shack microphone. It’s rounded mesh top constantly kissed by my beer soaked lips. I loved that piece of musical equipment so much invaders from the outside world thought I was having sex with it. Did they say that about Rod Stewart? No! What about Steven Tyler? I can’t explain the relationship shared between heartfelt poetry and the machines that give it life. I’d throw that thing so high in the air then watch it drop hard on the concrete garage floor. Ok, I wasn’t perfect…I didn’t have it together like I should. But this is no reason to give up hope. Suddenly, I have a vision of the Radioman and the way he moved behind his microphone. There was so much static electricity within his space I will never forget the way his gray beard reached out and tickled the audience. I stop writing. All ten fingers sit silent on the edge of the keyboard. No musical notes to push but I can hear them playing. Why did we allow ourselves to be so reckless? Who said we could do the things we did? Teenage boys are supposed to dream about having sex with the girls on the block, not actually do them. Teenage boys are supposed to bond but only in a game of baseball or football, track, a science project. No…not us. We had to rewrite the rules to better suit the dream. We forced our friendships onto people we wanted to steal from. We’d walk into grocery stores and command attention by bowling cans of warm soda down isle number 3. I shake my head from side to side no longer agreeing with the attitude the Hangout carried inside fake leather wallets with our initials stamped firmly on the outside. Who were we? Why did we have such musical dreams? What was the purpose and why did so many people have to die before we finally called it quits? I start to cry. Looking around the room I sit in, quickly noticed is the silence in the air and the lack of my mother’s shoulder to lay my pain upon. Both hands are clasped tightly together and placed between the strength of my aged legs. The inner feelings of a lost childhood continue to bleed from the body and soul. Why have I chosen to write then rewrite only to rewrite again the chapters of honest to god friendships that will die over and over again on these pages I call blizzard white? What is it I’m looking for? Is it more dirt to throw on their graves? How high must a tombstone be before a grown man realizes his friends are dead? The very friends that seemingly keep reappearing in story form on this canvas. Just like those raw hot dogs and Doritos, I can taste every word we laughed at. I see them but do they see me? The shaking left hand wipes from my bloodshot eyes a river of tears that have been stored away for decades. I find nothing funny about this outburst. I only wish to continue moving forward… The complete circle that made up the Hangout was more than just Neal, Rob and me. To be whole, we needed more guitars, better drums and free rides to the nearest garage. Besides, only the Police (Sting and his buddies) could get away with being just three dudes and a list of songs. They obviously didn’t mind sharing the heaping piles of girls that cheered them on no matter how bad the songs really were. I had the hots, no no…I craved a North Side girl named Becky. The biggest turn on since being introduced to my Radio Shack microphone. She would turn herself loose in the back of the garage, always the left corner, and the darkest place to hide. No stage lights only dim images 19 of her hands and arms raised in the air exposing her everything. Oh yeah, she knew I was looking. Becky had the entire freakin Hangout glued to her shoulder baring halter-tops. Then, without a doubt she’d lift it up. “That’s it!” A firm voice shattered the mesmerizing escape. “I am so sick and tired of that whore being here!” Ladies and gentlemen I introduce to you: Jimmy, a staunch religious fanatic who found it in his heart to constantly preach the word of God. His purpose was not to man handle the lust filled, candy coated sinners we were. Clean Cut Jimmy felt the need to do all he could to replace Alice Cooper clone Rob. He wanted that trap set between his legs more than he craved the taste Becky’s sweat sliding down his throat. Clean Cut Jimmy had every right to be this way. That six piece baby blue with white trim drum set belonged to him. His Bible preaching, Joan Crawford mommy purchased it for him a few years back. But, he looked so ugly behind those buckets with skin with his crew cut that exposed scars, eyes that were demon like, and a nose that wouldn’t stop. “My boy is drumming for the Lord!” Clean Cut Jimmy’s mom would proudly exclaim, her voice reaching 3 blocks then back again. “Yes mama.” The words of agreement would pour from his cleansed little soul. It was so funny to watch him bow to her, funny because in our world, dad had the upper hand not mom. And, it was never daddy. It was dad. It was…so funny. But, we needed Clean Cut Jimmy. Rob couldn’t afford his own drums. When your investments in life are pot, beer and everything else that follows, trust me when I say, you can’t afford your own drums. Neal’s plan was to invite Clean Cut to every band practice. The mission was to make it look like we were going to replace Rob. Feed Clean Cut’s ego. Allow Clean Cut to think he was the star we had spent months hunting down. Hey, how do you think Neal got his hands on such an incredible bass guitar? It belongs to Clean cuts neighbor Fat Steve. He wasn’t playing with it. The damn guitar sat in its freakin case for years. It once belonged to Fat Steve’s father. The old man lost his life in a fire that consumed every inch of their self-built trailer house. I stood in my bedroom one night and watched the entire place cave in. Every single corner fell into the raging heat except the closet where Fat Steve’s father hid the bass guitar. Talk about a major league turn on. The flavor of Fat Steve’s words telling that story over and over again add mystic and magic to our growing need to become damn big and incredibly popular. The dead man’s soul continued to live inside that jet-black guitar case. Within the darkness of night sketched pictures and words evaporated from the handmade sheet music left behind. Whispers of wind could be seen escaping each time Neal would reach into the blackened soul now painted over with red velvet. I would stand there and watch Neal transform into a new character. A grown mans expression leaping from his lips, his eyes concentrating solely on the music to be performed. This was…cool! But not cool enough to land either of them within the ranks of our social life. Clean Cut and Fat Steve were pawns worth spending and guess who the banker was? I was destined to conquer a personal vendetta, to get even with before the age of eighteen. I remember standing in puddles of pigeon blood viewing what should have been done to these two BB gun-toting con artists. Just because I acted nicely, reacted peacefully and pretended to love one and all doesn’t allow the soul to ever forget what these two took from me. My music… The Stones had Elvis, Marvin Gaye influenced the Jackson’s and Disco was a producer’s 20 dream. The songs that bled from the veins keeping my fingers virgin pink were filled with the gentle cooing of the pigeons I raised. I’d sit inside a heavily weathered tack shed, their coop 6 feet above my nearest touch. Pigeon crap several inches thick made incredible nests. Just being there fertilized my passion to sing. They never complained, nor did they mind me lugging the garden hose into the dirty quiet barely painted ice-cold tack shed. I’d sit on top of an aluminum trashcan holding one end of the hose next to my lips, the other end tightly against my ear. The delay gave me the biggest rush. Oh, you can’t imagine what it felt like to hear your voice bathed in a smidge of delay. The heart would pound faster but not harder. The nervous tingles painted a picture for me. This is what it must be like to stand in front of hundreds or thousands of music starved people. I never got used to the feeling. It was like I was live in some giant concert hall, sold out, for weeks, maybe months. Denver, Seattle, Casper Wyoming. The tours were long and so were the shows. I stood in front of those people and never once did they look or sound like pigeons. Most young boys would leap at the chance at turning my secret place into a jungle of Playboys, Hustlers and Chic magazines. Not me, I was the weird quiet child; the black sheep who chose instead to make the pigeon coop a different form of constant release. I didn’t masturbate with sexuality. I learned to play with my imagination, an untouched mind's eye that has since been beaten up, torn apart and left for dead. That day I saw, the very shape of 60 or so gray, white, black and purple winged fellow musicians lying lifeless on the dirt covered floor and standing above them with a BB gun between them Clean Cut and Fat Steve. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. To suddenly open my world of so many secrets would bring more pain to an already hurt filled glimpse into what life is really like. I was breathless, my heart so bad. I can’t imagine the trust my pigeons put into Clean Cut and Fat Steve before they opened fire. Then, I finally spoke. I will never forget the violent shaking in my throat. It was tight, so tight my chest hurt, my voice barely there, “You gotta go now. You assholes you have to go right now!” “These are your birds?” I remember Clean Cut sharply interrogating, fear so rigid and out of control. “Oh man, oh man. I am so sorry. I had no idea!” “Tarb,” Fat Steve wined but I felt nothing not even the air that was held back yet my lungs wanted to breathe. They had to…or I’d find myself on that very floor filled with sheets of music I forgot to write. “Just…go.” I softly said, still no tear in my eyes. Not even a quivering lower eye lid that would signal such pain attempting to take over my body and soul. It was extremely difficult not to be the real self I call me, the little boy who wanted to be different but couldn’t in front of his friends. I chose to be calm but I burned inside, a burning of loss, an invisible fire that scalded the tips of my fingers feeding the veins of rage. But, I could not nor did I want to reveal my biggest weakness. A love for animals, for it would make me look like a sissy. I wanted to be alone, to soak in the tiny suds that remained, the clear-faced bubbles created by the final breath of the pigeon once dubbed Beautiful. I chose the name, not because his face was purple and white with shades of dark blue and black. It went much deeper than that. In stature he was incredibly beautiful. The male pigeon was filled with endless colors and pride. Then again, maybe it was something only I could see. After all I was the first one to quickly open the cardboard box. Stuffed inside with shredded newspaper sat a clump of feathers 21 bloodied and torn, his wings dragging on the crap covered bottom, his two eyes looking up at me asking in the most innocent way, “What did I do?” The flying cockroaches as pigeons are so often called had been shot down. The father figure brought him home because he thought I needed a pet, a hobby, anything that would force me to turn off that 20 watt guitar amp that screamed at him every day he returned to the house he built. His ways and means worked. I adopted the bird. Love at first sight. It’s sickening to think how I must have looked like a girl. The way I held the pigeon cuddled him next to my chest, constantly kissing his forehead. I decided the very moment we met it would become my passion filled mission to save him and his buddies, even if it meant turning the gun toward the humans responsible. I would kill no matter what the cost. I lived it, breathed it and guaranteed my pigeons everyday that I would protect them until I died. This propensity later grew into a need to save the deer, the elk, wild ducks and yes, even the chickens. I just didn’t understand why we as humans felt we controlled who and what lived and died. Looking back, I see how stupid I really was. The biggest problem with this Animal Kingdom guarantee was the state I lived in. Montana is best known for its hunting, fishing and rugged ways of living. No man, woman or cranky ass sister would change their way of living because some damn injured pigeon stared into my frightened face. Maybe that’s why I chose to let Clean Cut and Fat Steve go. Maybe it wasn’t their fault. They weren’t there to open the box that had been duct tape shut, remnants of ink left beside each hole slammed into the top to allow air to seep inside. Yeah, ok, so it was my stepfather’s silent attempt to bond with me. They weren’t there when I looked up to watch him break out in tears, to watch a grown man’s face fill with salted water from a soul that happened to love birds as well. They weren’t there! How could I bring the very damage to their lives as they did mine? They weren’t there! I always knew inside that Beautiful was different but never ugly. Therefore he would earn a name that I dreamed would possibly change his outlook on human life. Little did I know that holding such an attitude would in fact change me? No matter how evil and mean Clean Cut and Fat Steve looked holding that stupid BB gun, I would be the ugliest of the three if the next decision made was to allow human blood to touch what the earth covered shed floor didn’t already soak up. “Do me a favor,” I spoke softly while asking for their confidence. “Throw away the gun. The next thing you kill, it’ll probably be my brother’s rabbits or my sister’s cat. My luck you’ll choose to blow out my dad’s car window. He won’t call the cops. The big freakin jerk will make you clean up in front of your parents.” Without any hesitation Clean Cut and Fat Steve found themselves relating with what I had to say. I speak with no forked tongue when I say they took that BB gun and slammed its butt into the ground four very hard times. Clean Cut raised it so high in the air then slammed it hard into the earth. It broke on the fourth time. I have to admit to you, it was a pretty cool way to end a war but I honestly felt extremely guilty. Not because their BB gun had snapped in two but it reminded me so much of the way Paul Stanley wrapped up the KISS concert at the Metra back in August of 77. Holy crap! I very silently shouted out to myself. I’m living Rock n Roll history right in my own pigeon coop. I can’t wait to become famous. This is really cool! Being a songwriter I felt this blaze of glory had to be documented. Once I knew these 22 two freaks were completely out of sight and well on their way, I grabbed my garden hose and gave the pigeons one final show. That’s when the tears came. That’s when the heart finally shattered, each piece carefully placed in the ground next to every bird that lay lifeless on that shed floor. The concert has pretty much lasted my entire life. Without really thinking about it, I can still see Beautiful looking down at the stick figure with a garden hose next to his lyric filled lips and classically untrained ear. His chest puffed out, ruler of the kingdom. When witnessed from a safe distance the pigeon dance is from side to side, back two steps then forward. The male’s baritone cooing takes over the room possibly half a city block. It always made me laugh because pigeons tend to mock the male dominant way of living. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m gonna kick your ass. I’m gonna kick your ass. Bring it on. Bring it on.” The right wing is raised. Then from out of nowhere, snap! Those who challenged the self proclaimed champion, quickly back down or retreat. “Time to think of a better plan,” I chuckle while hanging my long legs over the garbage can. Even as a 16 year old you know revenge is sweet only when the person receiving is caught looking over his shoulder. He knows that I know but he doesn’t know my method of attack. From this point forward Clean Cut and Fat Steve would dine from the palm of my hand. On the outside I was the scrubby little schoolboy, den mother’s type. The kid who grew up wearing Cub Scout button up blue shirts with hand me down pants three sizes too big. Unlike the rattlers who sat on the side of the Billings Rims this kid sent out no warning signal. Coiled inside my own little world one by one they would walk by. Test the child who loves to hide once and he will listen. Create noise a second time anger sets in. I bite…hard. Only to walk away claiming you deserved every bit of what just took place. It’s the silent thinker who forever remains the most dangerous in the pack. Yeah, ok, so it’s a cheap copy of Neal’s, “Don’t mess with the best because the best don’t mess.” In my case, it wasn’t a catchy phrase aimed at pissing off the Mexicans who lived south of the tracks. My hidden anger was gas poured onto fire, hairspray aimed at a match or even a rubber band twisted 90 to 100 times. The moment I snapped, you knew it. The Hangout saw me as the scrawny follower, he whose life is led by words rather action. Gaining full control of reaction is what made me the true leader of this street smart little gang of musicians attempting to be big time entertainers. I’ve never figured out who inspired me to be so calm in times of rage. Even I couldn’t believe it. Yet, there on the floor, decaying within the passing breeze sat the remnants of my date with fate. Most of the time it took place inside my half built bedroom, behind the handmade white door with thin panes of glass, hidden away from the rest to see. Something as simple as my stepfather spanking my sister for something she truly deserved would force me to seek shelter from the beast. I found that shelter inside the bathroom mirror. I knew of the rage. Isn’t that what really matters? What made the Hangout worthy and incredibly strong were the individual attitudes aimed straight for trouble only if trouble found us first. The challenge wasn’t what we did. It was how we did it without getting caught. I can’t count how many times we were chased down by over protective parents who didn’t want their teenage daughters French kissing behind the garage. It 23 was extremely difficult to run, dodge and leap over dry ditches with a chunk of wood dangling outside your pocket. There was no time to pull in a growing boy’s attitude. I’d admit this is the reason why I kiss with my eyes open. It gives me enough space to look for shadows while locking down the monster. Rob, being the oldest absolutely, without a doubt, feared nothing. He’d stand there, hands lightly resting on the chain link fence, his Alice Cooper image plastered in the face of what he called a jealous fathers rage. “I don’t seem to understand the problem here Mr. Badger,” He’d calmly deliver with a straight face, not even a quiver in his voice. Rob had more confidence than a banker in heat. “I’m only doing to your daughter what you’ve always dreamed of.” “Let me tell you something son!” Mr. Badger quickly interrupted, his grass stained finger in Robs face, neighbor standing nearby for added backbone support. You know the type of backing up most family feuds are made of. Except in this case Grandma wasn’t sitting in the window and the 30/30 was still in the back window of the Ford. I’m sure if Rob pushed hard enough the Badger clan would retrieve that fire stick and shove it so far up Robs butt he’d taste gun powder as it dripped from his nose. “Oh yes,” Mr. Badger tried to playfully agree. It was his way of making sure our fellow Hangout member didn’t get the upper hand. The very hand that would be raised and slammed into Brenda’s face, back, arms and legs once the truce was signed and both warlords retreated to their more comfortable sides. “You have me down so well Rob. You must obviously peak into my windows late at night and see me masturbating over naked women.” Oh no, I immediately thought to myself while turning quickly to Neal who stood with his arms crossed, never once in disbelief. Mr. Badger never used this line before. “Smooth move Charlie Brown,” Neal courageously said softly bobbing his head as if to be impressed with the old man’s new tactics. “He’s gonna bust Rob this time. The screw off has no backup plan. The cops are gonna come, confront Rob and bam! He takes a ride.” Although we were securely tucked away 100 yards from the quick fisted indictment, Neal and I squatted in dismay inside a clump of bug infested Lilac bushes. Neal had a way of letting the world know he was filled with hatred without exposing the whereabouts of what would make him fold. Without delay his lungs would be filled with clean Montana air to capacity and beyond, then ever soooo slowwwwwly he’d release the pressure. I swear it lasted two minutes maybe three. “Tarby,” He’d say. “How the hell are we gonna become famous with jerks like this in our life?” “I’ve never liked the old man,” were my carefully planned out returned thoughts. “I’m not talking about him,” Neal sternly added breaking the thin air. “I’d kill Rob right now if I had a gun. I’d plant his face six feet under and walk on it every day. I’d make sure my dog pissed on his plot of land every damn day. Then I’d cover it with sand so my cat would crap on any air holes that might keep him alive.” What? You expected me to react to that. I had never heard Neal talk this way before. He was serious. While two generations of separate pleasure released their energies in the graveled alley, Neal contemplated the conclusion of a personal war. He had grown tired of the antics of an assumed streetwise punk. I honestly took it, that Neal wanted Rob dead. Adding more flavors to the rolled up chunks of chocolate surprise was Neal’s next move. He felt it was important that we go shake the hand of Mr. Badger and give him our word as growing adults that 24 Rob would in fact leave Brenda 100 percent alone. Such a smoking of the peace pipe came too late. Without shadows or prior knowledge, night became day at the click of a button. It was a blue day, no sun or pink clouds, yet I could see the entire graveled alley without squinting my eyes. The neighborhood trash was building, as was the tension. Walking beside the cluttered metal posts and racks that held things in place were four neatly dressed men with guns and badges, behind them, a revelation that brought a tear to my dreams. After all these years, through several hours of self-absorbed assumption I finally realized the railroad tracks were not the separating point between the rich and poor. The invisible line that controls how a man is judged, accepted, listened to and or respected was born in my backyard. Giving it all away were the unevenly stacked 100-gallon barrels that had been heavily dented and rust damaged by improper transportation. Their tops had been cut out so that we may toss things in. Not even six steps from their weed infested knoll the masterpiece of perfection started to take shape. Perfectly cut grass, tall shrubs shaped like boxes and incredibly shiny metal garbage cans with green and white trash bags tied at the end. The war of words those four cops were trying to calm had nothing to do with Brenda and Rob making out. It was black versus white, Rose bushes taking on dandelions, knit slacks ready to do battle with acid stained jeans with gasoline stains. Now we had a party, one whose guests would not be invited inside or formally introduced. I stood there doing nothing but looking at the blue tree, blue grass, blue faces and blue suits talking with forced pace about the ever-popular kissing place. The freaks! That’s what we were called, a description that bled through that graveled alley like vines in search of a tree. Neal didn’t move nor did Rob. Thinkers, they were, deep heavy thinkers. The cops didn’t stop Mr. Badger from insulting us. They allowed him to curse, raise his arms and kick the ground a couple of times. Maybe that’s just their way of letting old farts release steam. In my backyard we have a better way to turn manure into soil. Just let it sit there in the sun and rot. Come to think of it, that’s what Mr. Badger was doing. He was so full of himself he stunk, which explains why he was in the alley. What can’t be flushed is set back there to be picked up. I did notice something different about Neal. His normal way would have had him goofing off with Rob by making faces or mimicking Meatloaf having sex with Stevie Nicks. Not this time. Neal stood six feet back staring into Rob’s unknowing face. If I had been a sculptor I would have scratched deeply into the ice crystals a bust filled with no movement or character but rather the essence of chapters abruptly ending. Neal’s thoughts were easily read, a tight jaw, baseball cap pulled back, and eyes commanding a full explanation told me so. Mr. Badger was on fire. The flames torched the silence without throwing ashes on Rob’s campsite. You can always tell when someone is too confident. Their lower lip isn’t being bitten nor are the walls that make up their cheeks sucked inward as a way to keep the hidden anger under control. This was the side of Rob that everyone, including his divorced parents didn’t like. He was silent, not even an echo inside his head. Rob had completely tuned everything out. He knew nothing would happen. The cops would listen to both sides of the story then eventually turn everyone loose after agreeing “again” to stop seeing each, which, duh, was the very move Neal attempted to put into action before the two separate sides were infectiously interrupted. 25 The way I look at it…we ruined a fine beer. So much time was being spent in that graveled alley the only thing left were invisible vapors. That’s like swigging an entire can of vitamin R then burping in someone’s face. The essence of what it must be like is there but your taste buds were forgotten. The body revolts and the moods swings set in. Every sign read: Someone’s ass is going to get kicked. You know what I loved about this one particular moment? It wasn’t going to be my ass. It had finally arrived, a moment where good ole boy Tarb didn’t have to accept the blame. I could hear the gray bearded radioman in Red Lodge doing his lines. His ageless voice filled with bass and purified soul, This exciting beerless moment in Tarb’s life was brought to you by Rob. Just because you think you’re king, your shit still stinks. Rob…available only in Billings. Being a troubled teenager means what? I have to know this stuff. It’s a boundary line that qualifies me or kicks the Hangout completely out of the game. Any young adult who doesn’t spend countless hours behind books or weeding out gardens is headed for problems right? Wrong… My stepfather had tons of magazines from the 30’s and 40’s laced with scientific studies that concluded that teen violence was on the increase in America. If my calculations are correct, that was three decades before it was my turn. So again, what is a troubled teen? It’s a finish line I had to cross. I knew friendships would be shattered, relationships with parents turned to dust and somewhere along the trail I would have to make the ultimate sacrifice to get the band what it deserved. Hell if I know what it is. It’s all based on this dream I continue to have. There we are, The Hangout, stuck on a fair ride. We are inches away from touching the golden ring. The brightly lit, incredibly colorful merry-go-round slowly turns to the left as each hand carved, neatly painted horse moves in its stereotypical up and down motion. I look around, searching for heated friendly competition. Come on, true fun doesn’t exist without there being some sort of challenge to break the rules. So what do I see? I’m the only one in the dream. The music is gone, the lights are turned off and the horses have stopped. Yet I continue to reach outward. I grunt so hard my face is reddened by a passion I can’t explain. The cringing becomes forceful strains, pushes that represent survival not predictable. I believe in it so much the sockets of my eyes showcase crow’s feet and my teeth ache from gritting so hard. This…is what I dream every night. Now tell me if I am a troubled teen. Is Rob? My gut says, “Yes.” Here stands a total freak that craves my neighbor’s daughter. He yearns for her touch, that lasting kiss, the pup tent of perfection. Rob’s emotions claim he needs this more than he wants to dive into a freshly opened bag of Doritos. Every freakin guy from Ponderosa School to Riverside Jr. High to Billings West and Senior lived for the opportunity to leap inside this chunk of human flesh. Brenda was sexually playful without acting like a district whore. For her age, she was busty and didn’t mind if you openly displayed her all to a full moon. If Rob didn’t have a date with street sweets and candy he’d find himself leg locked in an everlasting position with Brenda. The average person would think Rob under waxed his vehicle “How many more times Rob?” Mr. Badger firmly questioned attempting to break away in confidence while still contained by the uncomfortable scene. It was clearly obvious and neatly pointed out by the uniformed peacemakers, the man had 26 better things to do. The head of the Badger clan wanted to return to his lifestyle of grown up conversations created around card tables filled with poker chips and used up cigarettes. “No!” Rob intermittently laughed, fingertips tucked loosely in the back pockets of his jeans. His body movement resembled the long slender strip of cardboard set to strike the backside of a matchbook. Red in the face, Rob knew his reaction would shoot flames toward the already out of control forest fire of miscommunication. “I wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for your daughter’s need for her daddy’s love. Let’s just say, I’m here to help you out. Put away your panting ego dude and watch me button up your daughter’s shirt.” What are you doing? came the question I sharply asked, my vision blinded by eyes rolled so far in the back of my head the world became dark. Oh yeah! I wanted to be invisible. The shirt Rob chose to button was the noose suddenly hung around each of our necks. If I didn’t speak now, we’d end this night totally screwed and no wet spots to brag about in the morning. “You Rob are an asshole!” Neal bluntly crunched into our foreheads. The jerk beat me to the punch. The opportunity to be the big man on campus was shot down quicker than any pigeon still living inside the coop. I couldn’t believe it. Every path led to me taking control of a losing situation and I chose to roll my eyes instead of react. No wonder I’m the follower. This explains why the first thing out of my mouth when told to jump is, “How high?” The anger swelled my ego into total submission. Was I going to be a loser my entire life? Forever shadowed by a big brother, my under growth dead due to a sister’s reluctant way of pounding me farther into the ground and now my damn friend takes the words out of my mouth and lays claim to the victorious comeback of the night. If I were to say something it would prove I was follower. It would say, “Hey everybody Tarb is a weak S. O. B. who can’t be himself unless governed by friends with bigger balls So…I left…Hell I was already home. It was my backyard. I was so hurt by the lack of my participation that I chose to walk away. No longer were the concerns leaning toward the final outcome of the neighborhood brawl. The disgusting hollow empty feeling inside my stomach literally made me sick. If there were going to be pockets of puke on the graveled alley they wouldn’t be signed by me. I…was…the…coward. Sure, Rob failed in the brain dept but not in leadership qualities. What he had were the bucks to spend on gaining the strength to affect human emotion. It didn’t matter if he was pissing someone off or introducing gut wrenched fear to other neighborhood. Rob had earned his stripes by being a loose cannon. He could take any chance knowing there were five others backing up his decision to screw up. Our job was to lick his wounds. That’s what you do when deeply involved in a brotherhood, an agreement to protect no matter the final outcome. We were the Hangout. Chapter one: Scene three The elephant Ok…now you have met my two South Side comrades. Rob of equal age, Neal two years younger, but remember age is only a number. Neal was smarter and less defiant. Two incredible 27 qualities that gifted him with captain duties that had to be enforced whenever confronted outside the governed rules agreed upon during the original handshake. The newest rule introduced was ignited the night I spinelessly turned my back. It was a self-protecting empty decision that locked my two friends inside a circle of unwelcome flavors. “From this point forward, no one walks.” I remember Neal telling me, his eyes inside my soul controlling the beats of a heart I thought had disappeared. “I don’t care if your character is fogged over by bad direction. It is your duty as a member of this Hangout to accept that person’s actions, reactions and consequences.” “Neal,” his name parachuted from my question filled lips. “I don’t agree with you man. I will not face my stepfather in the name of Rob.” “What? You think I enjoy getting the crap beat out of me?” Neal immediately responded while keeping a firm grip on his whisper. “I live with an alcoholic remember? That man lives out each day knowing he’s only minutes away from beating me. No matter what time I get home he’s standing there at the door begging for me to smart off so he can hit me. Do you think that’s fun?” “No. No.” I firmly delivered in a confident way as if to be supporting rather than stealing from the invisible pain shooting through the sides of my face, down my back and into my legs. The very open to the public places where bruises and cuts had been patterned on Neal’s body. “We both know Rob’s the worst friend anyone can have.” Neal continued, his patience and way of delivering thoughts creating pictures of every uneventful moment we’ve had with Rob. “We gotta be there for him Tarb. If you want this band to get out of garages and basements, we gotta be there for him.” That was Neal’s way of saying Rob had just been delivered to the level of Clean Cut and Fat Steve. We were to take as much as we could without giving up a lot. While I envisioned several dozen dead pigeons on the dirt floor of that coop, Neal’s imagination painted masterpieces of transportation. Rob’s pickup would be our ticket to a bigger stage. Most importantly Rob’s inside view of the candy store would lift Neal toward accepted ways of escape. A path I reluctantly refused to acknowledge knowing it wasn’t my place to hide. Nodding my head once, Neal took it as mental handshake. But it wouldn’t become official until we signed the agreement in blood. All things, agreed upon within the Hangout had to be written with the liquid our bodies produced when screaming out for the hand of our brother. This added purpose to any scar therefore representing proper protection while under fire. You think about it a lot when chowing down a Big Mac. Your arms are raised to feed your pimple-rooted face and suddenly the power of peripheral vision latches onto that curled up chunk of forearm skin. Newly layered, incredibly soft to the touch, an outburst of once hidden anger fights as hard as it can to hide what you’ve taken away. You never forget the place, the reason and the rule now made into law. It took only seconds for Neal to reveal the handmade gavel. Its butt was made of locally grown bright red cedar, a scent that never died. Nor did the story behind how it was cut from the bowels of a living trunk that lived peacefully in the hills surrounding Red Lodge. He spent three weeks developing a core robber, a long metal shank that would twist from the cedars stomach the purity of life. He wasn’t religious or spiritual yet at times you were left wondering. I guess it was his way of putting value in all guarantees. Without proper protection he stood to lose everything. To borrow life from a living hardwood fed his desired energy, therefore he felt 28 protected. “No man will dance with death knowing his life could snap like a dried twig,” he quietly said to me, his eyes looking through my presence more than acknowledging it. Trust me, I was really was there. I just couldn’t figure out the image, the shadow that he seemingly was talking to. The best I could offer was comic book attitude tainted with Hustler facts and Playboy ambitions. Plus, every now and then I felt like lifting a garden hose up to his lips in hopes the receiver of such sharp messages would grab the other end. My reply? I really didn’t have one. When I did, large shovels were never used. To dig so deep in thought required personal travels I had never taken. At times I knew what he was saying or at least pretended to understand. The best reaction to such whimsical forms of process was to reach out and push his body aside. To sometimes punch him in the arm, a guy thing, only to notice I’d be the only one breaking out in laughter while he stood there sulking. “He who braves to take on life shall shatter the silence heard when a tree falls in a forest. Looking around he notices there is no one there to pick it up so the tree dies.” Neal continued to preach, a serious tone delivered. “Where do you get these words?” I finally had to ask. It was time to stop assuming and latch onto the subject in question. “You think like an adult. What, you think you’re gonna die?” “We all die Tarb.” Neal smoothly sent in my direction. No curve in his lip to etch out a smile, not even a twitch in his eye. “Some of us just die quicker than others.” Turning my head to the right, to look away rather than be sucked in deeper. I forced my visions to carefully scope out the neatly sanded chunk of wood that fit perfectly into Neal’s grip. The butt of the knife was evenly varnished and toiled. In Montana, most young men carry a knife, which pretty much explains why nobody stopped the two man judicial system from working. Outside of the big city limits, knives are no longer weapons they are tools. Whether you’re fishing the Chub ditch for catfish or tiny trout, hunting the Snowy’s for deer or long horn sheep or adding new rules to the constitution we lived by: Any person caught unprepared is never forgiven. Size has never really mattered unless tempted to showcase your goods inside a circle fueled by fire. In most cases, blades longer than three inches were securely tucked between your leg and musty unchanged sock. Heck, I’ve seen Bart cushion it next to his foot inside a pair of oversized burned out K-mart brand Chuck Taylor’s. Unlike Neal, or for that matter Rob, our fourth South Side Johnny had predictable character. Bart was a daring young dreamer type whose sights were set down on paper then polished off on the back roads leading away from Billings. The rumor was that Bart had kicked more ass before he was sixteen and spent more time in holding cells then anyone I knew. Compared to Neal or Rob, the one thing that Bart brought to the band was an actual criminal record. You hear of things like this but never really get to see them. What is a criminal record? I know it’s not made of vinyl or wound up inside some 8-track tape. I’ve always pictured a giant file case sitting somewhere in the courthouse on 27th street. On the outside of the dimly painted gray metal box are the letters that spell out Bart’s name. Then he’s given some sort of rating, B for bad boy or M for murderer. Bart never bragged about his record. It did though create respectable conversation when the Hangout would meet in the right hand corner of Optimist Park. The three of us would pick Bart’s brain then laugh. Guess you could say Bart was our pet circus clown. 29 "Locate any new lovers?" I'd jokingly giggle while sipping on left over suds from a kegger held three days earlier. "Just your sister, Tarb." He'd flash back expecting to be hit with harder more demanding questions. "Bet you got some insight on the whereabouts of the Candy Man?" Neal forcefully interrogated as if to be declaring war on the official mood change. It was Neal's way of hoping to one-day lock jaws with the master of all journeys, the king of the road, builder of all kingdoms. The infamous Candy Man owned not a piece of Neal but his entire undelivered self. Neal became weak in the heart at the mention of his name. I blame Bart for this. Prairie flowers (pot) and Vitamin R were our only tickets to Paradise until he was introduced to us during a rugged band workout in Neal’s backyard. Bart knew of his power over Neal, which is why he treated him more like a groupie then an actual cohort. "My friend you will wish you never met such an enemy." Bart warned Neal as if to be salting the already bare wounds but done so in such strong confident way that it reminded me of a father who warned but had no way of following through. Although it brought great fear to my coward ways, I couldn’t help but feel the Candy Man and I would soon cross paths. Pandora’s box sat wide open and guess who wanted to taste the essence of fascinating adventures? It was my gut reaction to all evil things. Why should the three street punks in front of me gain all the fame and I sit back and be the only innocent bystander? I wish they knew my hidden self. The kid who sat staring into the mirror believing nothing could harm him if protected by the monsters staring back through the magic glass. I dreamed of one day letting go of the walls that kept me from passing them, to step forward and fight with my clinched fists and knifeless legs and feet. I would then watch them leave their blood on the freshly planted spring grass. The only scent in the air would be the monsters that stopped by to lick up the liquid giving them more energy to create. You've been here before, I kept telling myself. If anyone knew of these stupid ass thoughts you’d be laughed at as far worse than jail bait Bart. Like all things that greatly depressed me, without delay I’d try to shove the hollow feelings left behind to the dirt covered ground. Within my imagination I could see myself stepping on the face of such emptiness watching it, instead of Rob or Neal bleed. It was all I called for to fully satisfy the need, which granted me permission to return to my rightful position inside the Hangout. Even though I traveled deep inside to levels unexplained, my departures never left me lost. Once back I would glance at Bart in hopes of following his eyes. At the tip of his vision were the current events. Major novels could be read in his face. He couldn’t play poker unless he was willing not to gamble his life. Bart's glare said it all. He knew it, which is why he kept his look well hidden behind a rounded head that blossomed nothing but blonde hair. A bowl cut that had over grown its purpose. Maybe a Beatles mop top that had outlived its originality. Because I sat on Bart's left side I could see his eyes dart from the pine tree green picnic table to Neal's question filled face. Don’t ever forget, the quickness of a great thinker is not always revealed. He who listens to everything but time has learned to cut into quarters a split second. Impatiently waiting for proper answers Neal anxiously moved closer to Bart. 30 He expected the mapmaker to take him to his fix and for good reason. It was common knowledge that Neal had pumped much of his personal affairs into the pockets of the Candy Man. The majority of those interactions had been swiped from his mother’s purse or lent to him by friends we hadn't met yet. Clueing in on the carefully sought out attack, the entire picture of persistence and recovery became Rob’s hustled game plan. Chosen were the spoken words that would lead Bart into an unexpected sporty mental chess match of regrets. The goal was to knock Bart off balance. To get him to talk, not necessarily about the Candy Man but everything around it. To twist wisdom and confidence into vines linked to poison ivy. Then without notice bring Bart to his knees for it had happened, the smudging of truth. "How's the band?" Bart swiftly utters cramming himself into the dialogue. A smart player and not easily taken for granted. I couldn't help but declare the move a brilliant display of painstaking dedication to a personalized challenge "You ain't shit with this band until you lay off the fake lights and fog." "What the hell do you know?" the sarcasm started to fall from Neal’s scowling nostrils. A direct hit! I said to myself knowing the best way to change the course of war is to invade your enemies home. "This band is my damn life!” Neal screams at the top of his lungs, words so loud school boy baseball players in a field a thousand feet away turn to watch an unusual redness blister his face. “All was fine until you screwed things up. All I did was ask you a freakin question totally having nothing to do with the band and you have to turn me into the retarded kid on the block!" "No!" Bart immediately screeches out hoping to re-exchange blows. "It’s always about the Candy Man. Tell me more. Tell me more! You and Rob are losers. A real band gets gigs and performs until 3 or 4 in the morning. You lazy ass freaks would rather waste your time and money hunting down someone that famous for falsifying your existence!" Wow! The hidden self roared exploding in excitement. For the first time ever I actually found myself cheering for Bart’s one man team…but silently. Let’s get that straight. Very silently, typical me couldn’t take sides. It would mean losing one of these losers as a friend. But damn, I was very proud of Bart’s come back. It was a phenomenal demonstration of a safeguarded secret. Yes, Bart did have the opportunity to meet up with the Candy Man. He claims it happened three separate times, each night just as bone chilling as the other. What made me laugh about Bart’s story were the rules he had to live by. Neither he nor the Candy Man could look into each other’s faces. No eye-to-eye contact only voice against voice. Street sweet safety starts with protecting ones identity. For that reason the Candy Man demanded that anyone who wished to participate would do so behind a cloth curtain. That meant Bart had to bow to needs of another ruler, fall to the floor and not utter a sound unless spoken to. If he truly wanted the sugar to sweeten the chartered destination the Candy Man would have to have his way. The way I look at it, the Candy Man earned the upper hand by setting the pace from the very beginning. It only made Bart hate him more. All three times Bart returned with his pockets full but his soul did nothing but bitch and moan about being bathed in overheated body sweat, flying saliva and anything else that escaped his lips while running through the rugged woods near the gravel pits. But that’s the price you pay when feeding the masses.31 I honestly wish I could say, "I am proud to introduce you to the man we nicknamed Deadeye Bart." So what if we had a bonding moment while sitting on the picnic table at Optimist Park. It wasn’t enough to heal what he destroyed. I was forced to like him because Neal believed in his ability to focus on outside relationships that would take the band to higher grounds. Unlike the rest, I really did live for that band. It was my passion to see Paradise become the first musical act from Montana to go national. Deadeye had hidden ambitions to locate every needle in a haystack. This made Bart's life miserable. Without that needle he didn't become angry, but more determined to locate all forms of truth as long as it reigned over arrogance. Oh my God Bart hated conceit. He would attack you, beat you and then forget to bury you all in the name of making you look like crap instead of the stud you claimed to be. Bart would spend hours on one thought believing any sentence delivered directly to him was a bold face lie. The world was out to get him. Paranoia caused by midnight runs through a forest f downed trees and thorny shrubs. Sure, Bart had his angry moments. Who else but Neal or Rob would simultaneously invade the current circumstance? This constant crying about not getting to meet the keeper of the candy factory was getting old and Bart didn’t know how to stop it without introducing more danger to the ranks of this extremely small group of South Side high school kids. In the beginning, I did all I could to keep Bart from becoming a member of the band. His everyday appearance sucked. His personality and presentation in or out of the garage as well as in front of potential clients reeked with prairie flowers. Most importantly, I didn't trust him. Bands don't need four guitar players. Our group was called Paradise, which meant we had to act out the part. No day went by that I didn't think the plumber's son had located a new place to hang his butt crack. The only thing I liked about Bart was his determination to take fate and give it a name. Having such an outlook had the strength to swipe the mystery out of the six questions that haunted our drug filled musical lives. "Who? What? Where? Why? When and How?" He piercingly pointed out to me. "Until you learn that each question has only one answer, you Tarb should expect to lose." “You’re an asshole…” Yep, fighting words. They came from my mouth and I was quite excited about stealing such a moment from history. “Oh Tarby,” Bart howled in laughter while throwing his hands high in the air. “I am telling your mom! Tarby boy here has used foul language. Brothers and sisters of this congregation! I cannot believe what my virgin ears have heard. Tarby has cursed in the eyes of the Lord!” He looked like a jerk off preacher in torn overalls, a Godlike mortal set free at dusk to heal the children of the world. His words scraped your ass then chapped the attitude that followed. You not only became sore but chastised to the point of retreat. “Who taught you how to talk like this?” The sermon continued. “Was it my dear, dear friend Neal? You heathen! You candy coated bastard!” Rob quickly grew tired of such foreplay. The mood had been busted. There would be no orgasmic conclusion to Bart’s torture. “You fuck with Tarb. You fuck with me.” The serious toned whisper laced with no fear tore from Rob’s angered soul. “Most importantly, you don’t ever point the finger at Neal!” 32 Bart didn’t move. Past experiences offered the best lessons learned. When shattered, one must look ahead. Peer not into the present but incoming future. Gain control of it first and the exposed knife tip nestled closely to your balls will be put back to sleep until the next time it is challenged. “I hear ya…” Bart calmly surrendered offering no smile but you could tell a new thought had been given birth. “How many times did I tell ya that Tarby has to be kept clean? An unsoiled child is your pawn. A dirty mouth punk kid will get you killed.” There it was…the answer to all six questions. Bart had just delivered what he assumed was a well thought out plan that dealt with not only their future but surprisingly mine. Behind my back the kids on the block spoke outwardly of the avenues taken to properly bring up the shy child. Guided by the hand of a mystery man, they were to tap into my ability to perform and the willingness to be accepting without judgment. It was all there, the cards, the pegs and the foldout board. We were playing Candyland. To this very day I don’t think that such a photograph was to be revealed. Bart, Rob and Neal had made a pact. They guaranteed a total unknown…to whom I had not yet met, to keep my musical dreams alive. “Use his aspirations as a front.” The Candy Man explained to Bart who sat alone on a sawed off tree stump inside the unlit forest surrounding the gravel pits. “I know what you’re saying.” The soft-spoken listener agreed knowing how important it was to leave open a door. The Hangout would market street sweets behind a stack of Marshall amps that would soon be purchased. “Look man, I can get Tarb to do anything. He’s that weak. The fucker only wants his music and people to play with him. Giving him the amps is like tying a bone around his neck so the dog will play with him.” “Where did you find this kid?” Candy Man questioned almost in a laughing way. “What? Is he retarded?” “Yeah,” Bart giggled in response while licking his lower lip. “Anyone so blind to the modern tastes of reality has to be retarded. Let’s just say I’m his mentor and we’re gonna get him to the Special Olympics.” I don’t care how sweet he looked in every near moment of defeat. I was totally against naming Bart the Hangout's professional answer man. Oh yeah, it created a lot of problems. Growing in numbers were the vocal arguments and close to call fistfights at Safeway and Albertsons. Without my knowing the real reasons why, the ruffled feathers had replaced our fun loving excursions to satisfy cravings for Doritos. But that’s ok Bart’s parents had purchased me a new amplifier for my guitar. There was talk of them going all out to get us a PA system to match. It started to soften me up. What inspired me most though was not the new equipment and toys. If you gave Bart any challenge he’d feed himself every angle of the story until fully satisfied. God…what it must be like to be so captivatingly dedicated to locating the truth? But it wasn’t enough. I still did not trust his ways of temptation and control. Maybe it was because he was a transplant. He invaded us completely selling out his own people. Bart didn’t grow up Ponderosa. He was from the Newman district, the halfway point between the South and West Side. Inside I knew Bart was a green person, he had money, hordes of it stashed away in banks or savings and loans. It just didn’t seem right! He carried a Les Paul and the rest of us were Pawnshop regulars.33 Like all growing young adults with oversized egos with imaginations attached to unattended hate and fear, all that was wrong became overshadowed by great impressions. I was overwhelmed! The gifts had a lot to do with it. So did the personality behind the persona. Although it’s an extreme comparison, Bart reminded me of an elephant. Yeah! An elephant. His pale white sickly looking skin color would get him kicked out of the tail holding line but his size was right on target. So was his uncanny ability to never forget. "Six months ago, the 23rd day during the 15th hour the Hangout did this," he'd articulate with a smirk proudly exhibited. He would do so without ever displaying his crooked yellow stained teeth. Guess who hated this knack to piece together invisible puzzles more than anyone else? If you say me, I’ll end this chapter right here…By now you know I’m nothing but a bag of air. Seriously though, if you wanna talk pet peeves, blaming me for everything was something I grew to hate. No matter how bad the circumstances proved to be, in the end I was the one who carried the weight of the group related burdens. As long as Neal and Rob had a finger to point they’d use it. Bart’s main intention was to turn that source of energy one hundred percent around. I needed Bart not only for leadership qualities but also for that memory. It made both of us better guitarists. For that matter an entirely better band. Today, they call it A.D.D. Back then it was improv. Every second I could I’d lead Paradise down uncharted waters. I’d look to Bart to squeeze us back in. He’d double up on guitar licks then casually walk across the stage to mumble a few words with Neal. Once Clean Cut caught on, his trap set would ignite taking us back two steps then forward. We did this without ever skipping a beat. Ok, maybe one or two but what did a bunch of bar drunks know about our music? The only thing they wanted was something loud and worth scoring home plate advantage over. I may not have been a stand up roaring fan of his but I became loyal to Bart. He was the only member of the Hangout who saw beyond the trash. He saw band time as being exactly that. Our nightly workouts were designed to better hone what didn’t come naturally. In my heart I will always feel that Bart’s weakness was me. He wasted way too much time trying to clear my name off the cluttered boulevards. I assumed he was sucking up. He later told me differently. His needs came in the shape of blessings. He wanted me to accept him not for his candy store connections but his gift of performance. Yeah…me. He wanted to be accepted by the visionary who lifted his lips to the outskirts of a microphone because the highs harmonized with Neal’s thumping bass lows. What was this man on? Whatever it was it presented me with several tiny plastic bags of confidence that did nothing but force me to inhale. With Bart defending me I didn’t care if it pinched a nerve or could rarely be heard. If it resembled the vibrations hailing from two cans and a string I craved the uncelebrated uniqueness and damn if Bart didn’t chase it with me. Like it or not this newly discovered friendship opened avenues never spoken before. I was working with a true musician who had bigger than pea sized garage dreams and Bart had my blessing to screw the sister figure. Hey, we were guys in need of opposite attractions. Anything helped. Especially when it came to the loud-mouthed sister’s way of handling reasons to sneak out and perform. Holding it over my head like a weapon of the past, she located original habits to help free the silence from the stepfather’s fortress. So, the way I look at it, I won the biggest prize. Not only did I get a songwriting partner, but his heartfelt love songs were seasoned with vigor and purpose. Ok, so you’re not surprised. 34 The street chic, South Side junkie was completely on track to gaining what he needed for the Candy Man. The hole was getting deeper which meant fewer mistakes could be made. He used that incredible memory to guarantee not only the Candy Man but his friendship with me, to never make the same stupid mistake twice. If one happened to pop up, Deadeye would lasso your ass and tie it a chair, which basically meant you’d be singled out of a growing idea. Chapter one: Scene four The Heights They think I’m weird. My hair is long, thoughts too far out there. I pray to a God who flies in the sky. Raise my arms when thunder strikes. The wind it blows so I have learned to listen, dance in the rain rather than run, laugh heartedly when someone says start over again. They think I’m weird. M’e/2000 Musicians are greedy little bastards in search of hot stage lights, controlled amplifier feedback, blue-eyed blondes, free beer and ego petting. Never let a drummer try and convince you that he doesn’t require the assistance of proper stroking. Nor should a guitarist ever assume he’s destined to be the star that shines brightest. Eddie Van Halen and Carlos Santana are one-of-a-kinds who fought for their rightful place in American inspiration. Neal Schon didn’t kiss fame until he lit up Steve Perry’s back up family Journey. Has anybody ever wondered who the straight-laced dude riffing with Leaf Garrett is? How about Shawn Cassidy’s band? Studio rejects or childhood pioneers? Paradise didn’t want to be an altered statement. Like all bands we wanted our name printed in black ink on a ticket stub that would be shoved into a purse or pocket then tossed into a waiting jar. It was a fantasy to think that some young girl would one day look back and realize she was part of our first steps toward fame. The talk was big, dreams much larger, admiration toward each other near or below empty. But like our song said, “We didn’t care. We were Paradise.” It wasn’t difficult to locate the truth. Each of us brought something unique to the self-written songs that were later torn up and tossed into the trash. It was our blood signed guarantee of making sure other garage bands didn’t steal our words. What the hell did we know about love? We were more interested in cruising down the highway doing 94. Couldn’t go any faster, pedals on the floor. I couldn’t help but wonder if Buddy Holly felt the same way? Here was a man from Lubbock, Texas who stared into the face of life and said,” I can do better.” Then one day…the music died. In the second grade we sang a song about making new friends but keeping the old. One is silver. The other is gold. Whoever penned out this harmonic “Row row row your boat” type tune must have been a solo artist who didn’t give a rat’s ass about who was backing him up. 35 Did Meatloaf ever turn to his bass guitarist and say, “Thank you”? This secret love thing that’s taking place inside the ranks of Fleetwood Mac, don’t they realize screwing each other wives could lead to a breakup? Why aren’t the Beatles getting back together? Then again, why should they? The Hangout is part of the Paul McCartney generation. A couple years back we sang “Silly love songs” so loud our throats hurt like hell for a week. Nearly thirty years later, where am I going with this? I callously probe the middle-aged fingers attached to an imagination that rejects the idea of shrinking to an old man. I cautiously watch as they write out each letter. Sentences become thought, memories race toward the paper, getting their chance to be told. Where do I begin to tell you or admit to you…there was trouble in Paradise. It’s been clearly talked about as well as documented. Rob’s weakness was Neal. Neal on the other hand struggled to be what Rob wasn’t. If opposites attract then this was a match made in heaven. They were perfect for each other. You would think right? "You don't mess with the best because the best don't mess" were Neal's much loved words to live by. I chose to challenge that statement. Maybe it’s because I was growing up. I was going to be a senior in high school and suddenly I realized how far this band was off track. I guess you can blame the feeling on the phone call I received from a U.S. Army recruiting agent. He was right. There is no future in a rock band, especially one from Billings, Montana. After hanging up the tan colored rotary dial phone, I ran as fast as I could to the bathroom, heartbroken, salted eyes and a quiver in my voice. I knew this son of a bitch was more in touch with me then my own friends. Looking directly into the face of the growing man I was becoming. The mirror didn’t allow me to see the tears fall. How could I? The pits of stomach hurt so bad nothing could penetrate the visions I had hoped to see. I felt as if the U.S. Army had just rammed their giant fist into my unprotected gut. I had to prove that bastard wrong! No child grows up wanting to perform as much as I have to later learn that regional location stood in the way of success. The only answer that melted down moms freshly cleaned mirror shot out of me like a whitehead in search of a better place to plant its roots. You, Tarb, I courageously prepared my weakened self; you have to tear Rob and Neal apart. You gotta do it, Tarb. The freakin government knows you’re a failure. That’s right. There I stood, as proud as can be but hurt like a pigeon unhurriedly dying in an unlit coop. Inside that energized magical mirror I took on Jimmy Carter. No flags, no brass section or crowds to cheer me on. It was me! My bleeding heart knowing full well that no government figure would tell me what was best. Compared to what? The worst? I didn’t vote for Jimmy and I didn’t care if he ended the draft. His ways and mean invaded me like a million man war. “Screw your dreams.” I heard Jimmy shout out. “Son, my well-trained goons have properly hunted you down. The lost and lonely have always been our best soldiers.” I cried…real tears…honest to God emotion. My stepfather couldn’t have done this much damage if he had put his entire all into it. I was down for the count and damn if I didn’t want to climb back up and take on the world. Yep, little old 138 pound me, he who lives in Billings, 36 Montana. The inner battles that haunt the steps of a growing young adult can sometimes leave you heartbroken, even shattered. Nobody wants to say goodbye to his or her junior high school. Those are the moments when you finally realize graduation is within reach. You bust your ass because you know it counts. Some unknown collage is going to one-day look at your current behavior and study ethics. They will decide, at that very moment, if you are fully capable of passing “go” to collect 200 bucks. That life style wasn’t for me. It wasn’t my thing. School was fun but science sucked and so did getting caught starting a food fight in the cafeteria. You can’t expect me to know how important it is to constantly pay attention to life. Hey, I didn’t know that being a successful musician meant having a backup plan. Someone please scream out, “You are an idiot!” Look at Tom Sholtz of Boston. Not only did he mastermind the music mixes and vocal harmonies of the most incredible un-synthesized band of the 70’s but he also invented the Pig nose guitar amp. We’re talking about the greatest rock n roll invention ever. Ok, so Les Paul gave us the guitar and taught us how to re-dub and layer tracks. But come on! Did anyone before Tom ever think about the energy wasted lugging that big ass amp around? Hotel rooms aren’t built for creative escapes. The sex driven people above you keep banging the floor instead each other. What took so damn long for musicians to take their freakin minds off their personal path and focus on us fellow brave hearts? I loved my three years at Riverside Jr. High. Forget about the beginning steps when I was one of the shortest kids to walk the halls. By 9th grade I was at the top of the class. The He-man monster that could see the entire picture, people depended on me to give them a Dean of boys update. Jr. High gave me a sense of freedom. My parents didn’t drive me to school, which meant I could get there as early as possible. It became my addiction to catch a glimpse of the intramural gymnastics and volleyball. I craved the opportunity to catch a full view of those long stretches on the uneven bars. The mission was to get to the gymnasium before the giant navy blue inch thick tarp was lowered from the ceiling. It was the schools way of separating the boys from the girls, but they were too late. My imagination had already been influenced by the pleasures of innocent fantasy There was something unexplainably exciting about latching onto a quick glimpse of Dawn’s extremely tight gym shorts. You couldn’t see anything, but damn if your childhood didn’t jump to attention knowing that the most beautiful girl at Riverside had just walked by. I hated my P.E. teacher and for good reason. The old bastard is guilty of pissing me off on two separate occasions. Both times so violently wrong I’ve been left silent until now. In junior high, co-ed isn’t as often as you’d hope. He could have changed that. But like most who lead, he feared the inevitable. Therefore we were conveniently shoved into areas where the school bully was given the power to pull your gym trunks down your knees. Sure you laugh until you notice that Dawn just happened to be watching in the baseball field less than 15 feet away. What I didn’t understand was why co-ed didn’t exist but it was ok for young boys to shower together exposing their growing parts and firmly shaped chests. Even worse, the P.E. teacher would force you to drop your towel so that he could see if you properly dried your balls 37 off. When you don’t have a hair to stand on, the rest of the world seems to look on with more laughter than one can consume in single 24 hour period. “I understand you play the guitar and sing a little.” A soft timid voice shattered the monotone atmosphere of past chapters already written. “Sing a little?” I sharply scowled while rapidly turning to square off with the unknown intruder. A stunted kid, chocolate colored hair, wire framed glasses, Billy Joel’s chin. Right away I knew he was startled by the unofficial welcome. It opened all doors for me to believe he was a weak heart, easy push over, possibly a sugar coated druggie, but definitely not from the South Side. “Sing a little?” I threw in his face again, this time eye-to-eye, soul within soul, which proved nothing. But, at least it made me look stronger. I said “Do you know what happened to the last person that belittled me like this? “Yeah…I do.” The misplaced New Yorker spilled out taking a firmer grip on the conversation he started. “You stormed out of chorus like a two year old looking for his mommy. You were so pissed off you dropped your books three times, finally sending one of them into the wall, which you refused to pick up. Mr. Anderson asked you as politely as he could to remain in class. That’s when you turned to him and said something about your band and how it was going to be number one before this class ever graduated.” “What did he say after I left?” The softer embarrassed self inquired hoping this tiny spunk didn’t see what everyone else in the Hangout did. “Mr. Anderson laughed. Sat down at his piano and played Rainy Days and Mondays from the Carpenters.” He answered back in total detail. “Then he told the class to take note of these actions because the only way to the top is to suffer and it was very obvious you were doing a lot of it.” “What a bastard!” I shrieked out loud, the echo touching all four corners of Mr. Gonzales’ Geometry class. “That jerk fuck thinks I’m suffering.” “Honestly I had hoped you were.” The words stopped me in my tracks, you know, stunted my growth, pulled me back to reality. “I’m the best damn guitarist in the Heights and I think you need me.” “How the fuck do you know what I need?” The ass in me forcefully shifted gears returning to the original position when first confronted. “You aren’t good enough to do lead.” His confidence bled on my parade. “This kid Bart is ok, but not brilliant. I’m thinking my friend Gary could steam clean his ass and send him to his rightful owners.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not even two feet in front of me stood a four-foot metal monster whose ambition was to watch my steps then carefully map out a personal attack toward making us better. His name was Tony but he liked to be called Jack Casstel. Jack, which I instantly took as a joke for too much masturbation, felt that since the world of music was filled with fake names he was doing his part to realize the same dream. I have to admit it grabbed my attention. After all…what was my name? Tarb. “The group KISS has done it.” He struggled to explain thinking I’d call him a quack for loving such a band. Yeah, little did he know? “In fact Gene Simmons was once a school teacher.” The biography stumbled from 38 Tony’s full throttled mind. Eyes so wide it generated a tingling of excitement at the tips of my fingers. A victim I had become to a total guitar thing, a fascination craving its fixation. Better then street candy, far more reaching then snorting nutmeg. To hear someone else speak of chords and the historic stories that follow manufactures hidden stages that entice you to soar into character, hop onto something as small a breadbox, bang out songs on tree branches and pretend to envision 25,000 people who had forked out six bucks to see you live. I let him talk. I had to. My life had been blessed with another KISS freak. This was good…really good. One problem though and I’m sure most my age faced similar situations. I didn’t listen to the stepfather figure whose cracked head had finally poured into a glass, a sip of logic. “Look before you leap.” Never once did I consider how Rob and Neal would react the moment I told them about Tony and his friend Gary. How could I turn down such an offer? They were in need of a musical release and we had the party. Besides, they were from the Heights. Never should one forget: The waters that shape Lake Elmo bless all who hail from the mighty Northeast side of town. Once filled with corn, winter wheat and maybe a few sugar beets, the Heights have developed into our first suburban sprawl. Nestled above the Yellowstone River, on top of the sandstone formations called the Rims, the main draw to the Heights would have to be the need to break away from straight streets that point northward. Lawns are several feet long as well as wide. Back roads remain two lanes and outside of Lake Elmo being the summertime attraction, the Big Sky Outdoor Movie Theater is a weekend lover’s paradise. Both Tony and Gary grew up in the Heights. Being products of Lincoln Jr. High gave them a tough look. I’d look like crap too if the city government refused to build me a high school. Lincoln kids were bused in. Guess you could say it was our local date with inner city relations. The inner city is where the chance takers bathe. They silently gather during school and after midnight within the grounds that make up North Park. An area of town the Hangout was very familiar with. Guess you could say we were sisters, married to the same secrets, attached at the hip due to what was held inside the close-knit circles. “They have to join the band.” Bart insisted pointing his finger directly at his male parts. “They have balls, fresh girls and North Park is Candy Man headquarters baby.” “What makes you think this Tony guy is faithful to his word?” Neal added to the conversation with a serious tone. “If you want them in because it means the end of Clean Cut and Fat Steve that’s fine. But if you want this Tony fucker and his butt hair Gary in because you see it as a lead…I ain’t with ya.” It was one of the first times I had recognized fear rather than lack of trust in Neal’s actions or reactions. He had introduced a great point, one that would either shape our future or land us all behind long straight dark plated metal bars. It was no hidden fact the Hangout’s weakness was our lack of courage to invite outsiders unless already known. The rules if agreed upon, in blood, would change. But! Would it be our final contract? “Here’s what I think.” Rob bigheartedly tossed toward me. “Since its Tarby’s idea to bring these two Lincoln freaks to our park, he has to convince them to always play on our side of town. This way we can watch T and G the same way we carry the court with anyone else.” “They won’t come here.” Bart snarled. “Rob, did you hear? They’re from the Heights. 39 The last time I checked, asswipe, that’s a long damn ways from here. The only way they got to North Park was by school bus. They’re at Senior now which means they probably aren’t even part of that crowd anymore.” “Wrong.” I quick fistedly stuffed into the storyline being shared. “Gary’s a drop out. He’s done rehab twice. One more time he’s being shipped to Salt Lake City. He needs the Hangout to help keep his ass clean.” “Are you fucking insane?” Neal bolted his next view to my chest. “Rehab means he’s being watched.” “What about Bart?” I unsympathetically cross-examined, shoving my open palm into Neal’s shoulder. It was my way of shoving back the attitude, pushing his asinine ability to properly think into overload. “When did I say Gary was a convicted drug abuser? I said he was in rehab! There’s a fucking difference.” “Difference?” Neal screeched out loud. “The difference is this, asshole! Nobody here is a convicted drug abuser. Gary has admitted to the problem. Nobody here has a fucking problem!” “What the fuck are you talking about?” The anger shot from me hoping to win rather than sit back and soak in this continued bullshit trip. “You’re telling me Bart. This fat fucker right here has never done a day of jail due to his problem with drugs.” “You…can’t…prove…it!” Neal chicken pecked every letter that made up every word straight into my losing soul. “No one in this Hangout dares cross the line that judges another man’s character. Especially since that character was created on the outside of this circle. He who brings unnecessary pain to what we create must without question agree to depart. Do…you…fucking…agree?” I couldn’t bear to look at Bart knowing my own blood had brought those very words into play. There was no silence because I could physically hear every Western Meadowlark gasping for another note to cram into their already lengthy song. Red Winged Blackbirds sat on posts holding up the chain link fence that outlined the nearby baseball field. I even felt the breeze cool off the sweat brought to the surface of my skin during our most heated battle. Fuck yes! I was ignoring the little bastard. The South Side triplets knew of my dreams of packing this ass into a pair of skintight, balls showing, jet-black leather pants. God didn’t make me fat because he knew my ass looked good. I was 138 pounds of muscle defined skin and bones. If I had lips like Jagger or Steven Tyler they would have drafted me at the age of fourteen. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to make music. I wanted to be on live stage. Knowing this imagery had lasting power and it would take all I had to plaster it onto a blizzard white canvas. This one particular moment not only felt right but also proved to be the most perfect time to admit how wrong I was to sign that contract. Holy crap, we were kids at a kegger in the south hills doing all we could to buzz the quickest and longest which did nothing but win me a peeing contest. So goes the first break up of Paradise. All those visible as well as reachable dreams were almost lost due to a hidden infatuation or longing to be musically famous. I knew in my gut it wouldn’t happen unless we agreed to be one team, one family, one entity under one agreement as brought together by the blood flowing from the left wrist to the waiting heart. Then and only then it would come true. Instead of closing my eyes to a mirror hanging from a bathroom wall, I chose instead to open my dreams to a new cast of characters who believe it or not thought we 40 should be called Paradise II. Chapter two: Scene one: The old man and his pigeons could now go home. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t stop to look toward the Hangout’s place of rule. The quiet little right hand corner of Optimist Park sat empty, almost ghostly. It resembled normality; an invisible “Welcome” sign had been ruggedly hand carved into the hard wood of the picnic table inviting any or all to sit where once they could not. I wasn’t jealous but instead curious. Like a soul mate whose tortured heart had been tossed back, I hunted for the music makers that knew how to make me happy. The absence of such friends hollowed my stomach leaving behind caverns of emptiness. This became my hunger. I fed it with chocolate covered Twinkies chased with frothy, well-shaken ice-cold white milk. Eating Doritos was passé. It’s not that I feared being re-introduced to bad habits or memories. Sometimes your tastes change. Guess you could say giving up my no name six-string guitar for an Alvarez was probably the biggest difference. My fingers were cut by reputation. Calluses ripped from assumed points of strength. Both eyes burned from constantly staring at empty rows of clefs and notes attached to scribbled out endeavors that would lead me to new music. I engaged in recreation, the strings were played with like Rob massaged Brenda’s breasts. Although we once sat hidden inside the nearby bushes to observe any act of love, my one time friend in no way revealed the grandest of all secrets. To fully expose would leave no room for imagination. Therefore, unsighted touch became the guide. Threads from my soul levitated the perfect dream. To constantly tighten and loosen was purely out of choice. The desire sought out was uniqueness I found by unhurriedly twisting the oblong metal keys that laid next to the true purpose to why I paid cash for such a pleasant sounding piece. Have you ever stood back six feet and stared into the eyes of an Alvarez? The signature nearest your arm carries with it an essence of wine versus Cool Aid. How dare I attempt to sip the head off a freshly poured glass of suds with this girl sitting on my rock hard lap? It is then you notice the hypnotic symbol painted between the strings. That is where the music is born. Lost souls travel millions of miles seeking hands to release the music they once sang. Destined classics filled their ears but like me their journeys were selfishly erased. So we wisely sit together. A treaty is willed out to my over heated passions. Without tepid red blood streaming from the already scared wrist, I agree to become skilled at what hasn’t be heard only if I undertake the honor of rightfully crediting the proper creator of song. Music isn’t a talent. It is a gift. Just like the Alvarez, I invited to my bed any creation of lyrics which would in fact be remembered as my first kiss and or sexual experience inside the breath of a real woman. But who was I to think like this? Brenda captured no desire within the wealth of my growing muscles. Off the record, the cover of a Cosmopolitan magazine fed my loose ways of thinking more than any woman my age. Such truth forced me back to reality sending the Alvarez outward. My right arm stretched beyond its natural point. I needed to capture a better view to share with a wandering self. It was so easy to become addicted to her naked self. Unseen by others the visions leaped 41 out at me heating the depths of all paths nestled closely together. I could see her well-rounded curves to which I would hold tightly but gentle enough to allow her to embrace all I would shove inside. When I knew the time would be right I would then take my fingertips and slowly slide them across her long sleek neck massaging music from her soul. “Click!” The Kmart brand beige tape recorder shrieked out. Not a thunk nor bang, clang or ticking sound but a, “Click!” Two buttons pushed simultaneously had repeated their ritual. In modern times you would hear things like, “Files done. You’ve got mail or some odd recreation of cartoon characters whose only purpose was to signal the abrupt ending of something so pleasure filled. It was if the stepfather figure had just walked through the door. His eyes lit by the total shock of catching you with your pants down, a magazine still visible within the slightest grips of your fingertips. The only difference would be the rewind button allowing your chartered self to safely return to the crime scene. Quickly gripping the white earpiece that came with the tape recorder, the mission was to relocate any song that may have appeared without my knowledge. A solo speaker somehow placed inside a slender tube with a hole at the end reconnected me to my most recent past. I would sit for several minutes pushing play, then rewind, play, rewind then play. If you had been sitting in the room with me, the clicking may have driven you crazy. If that didn’t then my constant questioning as well searching would have. Something must have happened or I wouldn’t have been so lost or slumber when the clicking effect took place. You can’t practice as much I as do and not expect a spirit of some sort to walk by and hand you a new trick. There has to be something on this tape. From the constant button destroying, ear shattering, pulsated pushing, a unique way of making love twice within a 60-minute time limit. I was able to locate a reaction. A positive flow of lyrics that unmistakably would be written by my shaking right hand yet I could never tell you where they came from. Hell yeah, I’d sit back and cackle like a hen who had just beat fate by laying a double yolk egg. Like that shell covered creation, what I trapped inside this free flowing electric square device would be plopped out into a frying pan then savored by someone craving to hear something new. This might better explain why Brenda or some other Senior High girl like her didn’t have what it took to play the lead roll inside my Rock n Roll fantasy. How could any girl be expected to understand the passion I held for something as silly as a stupid guitar? I say blame it on Wolfman Jack. He makes it all seem so…unbelievably incredible. The Alvarez became my hand held Montana mountain man carving tool. Not a long metal chisel to pluck away granite but rather a feather used to softly brush into existence the hidden treasures buried below the surface of my skin. Something had to fill the void or I’d be locked in a world of emptiness. I didn’t dare agree to sit inside the impatience of a wandering teen. For, this young man had no true friends with whom to share each new discovery. When that occurs you might as well put me in an unlit damp basement or root cellar. Allow me to ferment with the canned green beans and stewed tomatoes that would one day make it to a pot of spaghetti. What I see are pictures. The unframed visuals don’t move and they don’t breathe. An unspoken magnum opus has taken the shape of songs unwritten. A squad of quarter notes 42 nestled together with herds of 8th’s and 16th’s crowded together side resembling mile long galleries of untouched harmony. To anyone else this is gold. To me, night dreams are pained by nonstop awakenings, which only enhance what is being written. Once the sun stumbles to attention the crusted clouds that glued my eyes shut sometime in the past few hours struggle to fall witness to the sketches left behind. The slanted smudged handwriting extends far to the right then sighs a healthy, “Good morning.” Call it conceit, too much confidence or self-influence, but no person loves his or her accented style of painted letters more than me. Please, if you only knew the extent of what went into perfecting this crap. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every last boring ass teacher who let me hold championship matches between my write and left hand in the back of the class. I’d study the letters written like a judge challenges four legged furry cats and dogs. No blue ribbons were ever handed out but inside my mind you could hear the crowd chanting out my right hands name. The unscathed flow of cursive letters was painstakingly trained to melt like chocolate. Each was told to blend with all scratches, which in return would earn them high honors from the invisible crowd of chanters. “F’s” with curly cues, “L’s” with incredibly long-ass tails. If I had my way I’d build a new twenty six-letter alphabet. I’d double the formations gifting everyone with new trails to blaze. “For I was the creator of something new to enjoy! He who introduced play to boring math classes! The man who could endure the worst of the monotones and still have enough energy to take writing farther than it’s ever been taken before!” The crowd screams out my name, “Tarb! Tarb! Tarb!” The chanting is so loud I am forced to look around the cluttered classroom. What I see are ten rows of unlined desks that leave no room for anyone to grow. The walls are ornamented with reasons why we should stay in school. I rebel by returning to the championship. Hell yes! 23 days straight the right hand has created new avenues to explore. Lettering so unique to the naked eye it would drive doctors totally insane. Not chicken scratches but artistic gestures fed by needs to be recognized by no one in the world but myself. This was my party and I was way too damn shy to invite others into this solo mans purpose of doing all he could to just stay awake. They think I’m weird. The hair is long. The way I talk My mind always out there. They think I’m weird because I sit here. I sit here in harmony They think I’m weird Dreams to big, Arms to small But that’s ok, I don’t expect God to look at me through your eyes43 They think I’m weird The music, the songs A pen that never sleeps Nor does the person it’s written about. Written by the poet M’e Ok, so I am weird! Who better to know that then the Beast? Once I discovered what had been written I’d race from my upstairs room to unearth the nerve to stare into the face reflected back by he or she who is the keeper of the bathroom mirror. My luck, it is a woman and the only reason why I kept going back was to entertain her loneliness. She’d privately count my failures. Filled with giant bellows of laughter, her silence would be torment, added pressure and demands. Who was I to take on the Beast? So, I’d allow it to be. My question this particular day, “Was I alone or had Rob and Neal been feeling the same?” Which was then quickly followed by, “How much longer would I have to wait before my sister would pummel the wood door separating our two worlds?” Maybe she would understand. Then again, I was the one who walked away from her beau Bart. I guess I could learn to ignore what agonizingly kept me awake, but…at what cost? If I called any of them first, I might as well let the left hand win by default. How dare the judges grant permission into the ranks of victory if the behavior is not up to proper standards of acceptance? I wasn’t going to shatter the one time, the only time I was capable or able to stand up to their idiotic ways of living out their chapters. Then again, who was I to assume my relationship with Tony and Gary would ever materialize? I spent more solo time banging out non-rhyming, whimsical blunders than any other time before. No dreamer’s guitar carries pride if his ambitions are stapled to the unfinished paneled walls of his bedroom next to an 18x24 KISS poster. Gene and Paul are tired of seeing my Alvarez. The bastards want me to pick up an Ibanez Flying V. Can you imagine that? Yeah right, if I had hair to my ass maybe. The unpublicized split of Paradise caught the 45 to 80 mph winds that blow from the Yellowstone valley. During the blistering well below zero winter months, these strong incredibly powerful gusts are called the Chinook. Unlike the Santa Anna’s of California, this warm windstorm remains very important and extremely exclusive to the banana belt region of southern Montana. I’ve seen four to ten foot snow drifts melt to pools. Cattle that once remained hidden returned to their grazing stance and dogs started barking again late at night. Before Montana farmers were introduced to such natural occurrences, the Crow, Sioux, Arapahoe and other Native American families patiently waited alongside riverbanks or high atop the sand crusted rims to catch the weakened bison off guard. I couldn’t help but feel as if my creative path had been seized then slaughtered, my blood staining the curtains that protected a newfound privacy. An act I never once saw as being negative but rather a building block or stepping stone on a cracked sidewalk leading to a better-built foundation. 44 The temperamental dreadfully cold weather that had seasoned the ranks of our assumed relationship as friends was to be warmed again. Sometimes you can’t control fate. Purpose always outweighs the odds. Therefore, a new agreement would be etched into the Paradise history books, signed in the very blood that would creep from a loosely delivered pocket knife cut to the left forearm of all players involved. This contract would be different. Not only would fate make it our last, but purpose hailed it as being the keeper of the most carefully guarded golden rule to date. From this point forward no man, no woman, no sister, brother, parent, cousin, teacher or government leader could in any way bring judgment against the character of one’s private life. For the first time, probably more painful than the split itself, the off colored reddish orange stain that lay drying inside our Chinook would take from our hearts the convictions offered in the name of brotherly love, trust and care. Any man’s poetic sugarcoated secrets would forever remain his musical pleasure. Basically meaning what he or she did outside the circle so nicknamed the Hangout could not become reason enough for his or her departure. I sat silently, sick like during the symbolized occasion. My worries wrestled with hope, each attempt was to rediscover the final outcome of the Three Musketeers. Not even two days earlier my mother had told me of what shattered the Stooges. Would it be the same storyline for six stupid kids who knowingly were growing up on two separate sides of town? It may have taken an air stream from a far away National park to feed again the childhood ambition but would it require death to break us up? If so, then who would become the chosen one to step through the ropes? Standing alone inside the square circle they’d chant his name but for what reason? Other than be renamed the keeper of the end all? I’m sorry but I didn’t trust the hands whose warmth grew closer. One by one the arms were starved. Mine would be last. I still had time to relocate the visuals of my unspoken thought. My weakness could be seen in the non-threatening chocolate smudged eyes of 100 bison that charged the shores of the mighty Yellowstone. They had no way of knowing what mutely waited for them inside the frozen steps of a future fate had painted the color of purpose. If we, the Hangout, had been “Someone” a majority-treasured mayor, an easily swayed depository executive or a hotel owner whose true fortune was fine-tuned by chunks of black gold recovered from near the Tongue River Reservoir, the Gazette would have covered the bewildered collaboration. Call it my weakness. Headlines…I want to one day clutch the complete top half of the local hearsay: “Local Group Settles Differences” No… “The Future of Music Rediscovered” Stupid… “Who Knew?” Maybe… You’ve gotta love trash like this! It’s this kind of waste you’d like to rip into itty bitty tiny minute shreds just so you can set it free to blow unevenly but artistically through Brenda’s backyard. Her asswipe father would dedicate his life to Christ if he didn’t have to spend all day raking up the crap. Then…from out of nowhere… the master builder, creator of all things would somehow mesh it all back together, roll it up, then beat the neighbor’s dog with it. Being the Super Hero I was, oh yeah!...been that way since Evel Knievel’s first televised jump on Wide World of Sports. I’d leap onto Big Red and race, no, soarrrr…to the scene of such a heinous crime. All in the name of reaching out to help… that…dog! 45 Only to read the next day: “Musician Awarded for Act of Bravery.” “Earth calling reality!” “Earth calling reality!” Taking a stretched out deep heavy breath, I promptly take note of the rigid pounding in my chest. Not a thump thump. More like a raging fire whose blue flames had overpowered the fire marshal. “Get the men out!” The brave hearts voice spontaneously combusted. “This is not our victory! I repeat! Get those men out!” Fantasy over pleasure is the way I look at it. Nobody gets hurt. The blood is easily mopped up and the crime scene goes away. Right? The reality of it was plain and simple. I had somehow locked myself back into the Hangout knowing full well the two separate sides of town would not harmonize. It was time to lean hard to the right and prove my personal vision true. Paradise needed not one but two quality guitarists who could not only write but weren’t afraid to be ground cover (background vocalists who didn’t want the lime light only the chance to perform). "Let’s go to the Pits," were the first words Rob lightheartedly shared with me re-entering the realms of my plastic coated gold plated soil. The Pits, a nickname for a pair of ancient dug out cavities. Boulders the size of dogs lined two shores, the rest was nothing but giant holes created by gravel companies seeking payment for loving their Tonka trucks. Then one day, they gave up. That’s all Mother Nature required before cranking up her natural sprinklers. Within weeks the South Side was gifted with a unique place to party no matter what time of day. Located 300 feet from the Yellowstone, the Pits cuddled the river while necking with the South Hills, a biker’s paradise. Rough hard dirt, steep cliffs, a coma waiting to happen then bathed in sage and wild grass. The essence of danger and death, a scent of greed while tempting fate brought out by needs to locate your manhood. "We can't go to the Pits." I reluctantly harked back. “You guaranteed me that we would practice for the Halloween show.” “Tarbyyy.” Neal started to whine, a typical act of softening his composure to better lay the guilt trip on my decision to stand tall. “Why do you do this to me?” I strained from my needs to escape only to realize a full interruption was better fitting and proper. “This is bullshit! October 31st is less than 8 weeks away. Tony and Gary know nothing about our music and correct me if I am wrong…neither of you know what they offer.” Disappointed by such unpaved negative responses both Rob and Neal refused to look at me. The challenge had been made. Whose silence would outlast the others? Would the weakened be convinced to run free through what they thought was best or would the strong survive another gladiator’s war? They chose to thumb through my record collection loosely laid out next to my unmade perfectly positioned bed. My place, as usual, was on the cluttered floor decorated with broken guitar strings and sheets of scribbled on paper. Beneath the self-chapters based on temptation and lust lived a secret addiction to Lego building blocks. Shhhhh, I say to you who travel with me on this journey. Truth is, I had been sculpting out a seven-story building for artists searching for 46 exposure. Can you imagine what this would do to an industry completely locked up by overzealous greedy freaks that have nothing to say to homeless musicians until they make it big? Am I a fucking genius or what? Screw putting this baby in Cleveland. My building will be planted right here where this house grows. I mean, look what they want to do with the hut that Elvis turned into a home. Poor guy’s been dead barely a year and canines are already sniffing out better places to make more money. My luck, Lisa Marie will grow up and marry someone like Michael Jackson. I just want the world fame then I’ll share it with anyone who carries the same dream, words whispered to myself while the colors of my eyes catch Rob and Neal pulling from my record collection every cue burned 45 for them to touch. They studied the label like it belonged to a bottle of Vitamin R. We had been here before. It was their mission to get their last names painted between the parentheses below the title of the song. Being the party pooper, I finally broke the silence, “Tonight's band practice. Halloween is only two months away and we need to be ready. You guys are either with me or you spend the rest of your life trick or treating for pennies." Not one sound came from them. I knew they’d see my way. Their little Tarby held the tickets to a concert that would change their lives. For the first time we’d be out on the street paying our dues instead of gasping for air in someone’s basement or garage. Yeah I was proud of what had been cleared then opened. After spending the majority of our time shooting for what Jimi Hendrix called a "musical experience" Paradise had finally been asked to be the feature act at the citywide Halloween Teen dance and Party at the Shrine Auditorium. The true roots of Rock n Roll say, "You have to start somewhere." Which pretty much means our opening pages would be written on a sun bathed ancient piece of crap wooden floor built by stained hands and dirty ragged fingernails. The thought of it all makes me cringe. It’s not exactly what an adolescent “gonna be” would want for his first birthday. But then again how far did John Denver travel to lay claim to his Rocky Mountain dream of chrome and steel steps leading toward 25,000 melody famished fans? The step father figure’s voice rang over and over inside my heart “Take what you can get. Never accept what doesn’t seem real.” Hey with deep thoughts like this racing through my mind I might as well hang up my daily requirement to eat steak and take in a 12 oz can of Vancamp pork and beans. Trust me, within twenty minutes these favorite child images would be gifted with enough manpower to blow out such eroded visions of bad taste. I mean, outside of professional wrestling from Canada, is there anyone in the world who wants to perform inside a building constructed on Broadwater Avenue during the forties? It reeks of old age, the staircases leading toward the dressing rooms and other private areas of performance resemble catacombs connecting Catholic churches to their Minster. Giant black metal pipes don’t leak water, its clear blood that paints any floor rust red when ignored. Not a cobweb in sight for no spider lives where death knocks on the door. Unlike the Metra whose seats feed the ass a smidge of comfort, the Shrine pulls its bleachers out and the seven foot high stage never moves. Its presentation is four walls of balanced gray painted concrete, which, from what I am told is a disguise. Sleeping beneath the stage in a world felt only by retarded kids whose parents couldn’t afford to put them in special homes…is a swimming pool. 47 Holy crap! I scream out to a self who wants it all and wants it right now. How dare this David Brown put me above a body of water. Rob and Neal think differently. Are you surprised? Oh yeah! They saw the giant tomb of a stage as being the blessing of all eternity. A true benediction as proclaimed by religions unheard of let alone respected by no one but themselves. “We shall become the 2nd and 3rd men in modern history to walk on water.” Neal brought to the forefront of our visions to be noticed. “Heal my sinned children. You are healed by the hands of the greatest bass player since Herman Munster.” Oh for God’s sake. The expression tore from my rolling eyes and turned stomach. A manifestation of anger and disappoint teamed up with disbelief hidden from their party. It was moments like this one that led to me fear them…more than I did the building. But, I wasn’t going to be the spoilsport. My self-guarantee would be that of silence. We would perform Halloween night and I would enjoy it. Besides we couldn’t have done it or been there for such an opportunity if it wasn’t for Tony’s friend David Brown. His first words were, “Get your shit together and I will take you to Denver.” “Denver?” I half-heartedly toyed with. “Hmm, imagine that…two Shrine auditoriums in one year. Please…People don’t get discovered in Denver.” Dave had a theory, “Continue to build your firm following. Then take it south through Sheridan, Casper, Cheyenne then Denver. Don’t go west into Spokane or Seattle until we’ve finalized a recording deal.” “Well fuck me ten times!” I very satisfyingly blurted to my talkative self. I had finally found someone who could speak my language. I can blatantly tell you right now, Tarb-speak isn’t known by all. It’s a rare form of conversation most people ignore until you start sharing words like “Recording, putting down on track, album, cassette or 8-track.” I had a woody and by God, I wasn’t embarrassed to stand up quickly. “To go east would put us in Fargo. Not good.” I remember David clearly expressing, his dark complexion selling the length of his hair, which hid the eyes that gathered direction. David grew up on the South Side but lived in the Heights. Guess you could say he was street smart but stupid kept flashing across the screen. A grown man of 30 taking the chance to be seen with under aged bar hoppers dressed in band uniforms. “You get used to the attention.” His calming way flowed from his veins without falling to the floor. “You aren’t my first kid act and you sure as hell won’t be my last.” David wanted nothing to be a part of…yet he garnered everything in return. His guarantees were filled with no promises therefore the Hangout couldn’t cash in by selling out. We lived on borrowed time. A friend helping a friend but if caught basking without permission this companion would not only kick our ass but deny ever doing it to keep himself out of jail. “I wear my hair extremely long because I can.” The newfound destiny led us to believe. “I take no drugs nor should you. If you want me to put your asses inside clubs you keep the nose clean, lungs dry and I had better not ever see anything but aspirin in tiny bottles.” Like the losers we were, the Hangout sat giggling. We were hens nesting inside a pigeonless coop, huddled together as if to be protecting imaginary eggs only to learn that Clean Cut and Fat Steve were on their way. Once their grips tore open the melted wood tarnished by 104 degree Montana summer days and 42 below winter mornings, we knew it would be death or breath. Who better to serve as protector of the kingdom then someone who has already been there?48 “So again I ask?” Rob tossed into the circle for a fourth time. “You talk like we have something but you want nothing. Who ya hiding from?” “You, my friend.” A whispered glow ignited from the lips that kissed the hair that rounded David’s face. “You have what it takes to bring to an end everything required to make the next band a failure. You are the keeper of their steps taken forward. If you had the balls to be me…you’d sink them into some chick then run. Being that you aren’t me…your focus should be 125% on Paradise.” All eyes turned immediately to Tony. The spoiled rich kid guitarist who doesn't miss a beat had introduced us to a bass drum of over confident sacrifice. There was no mystery tightly clutched within the unprotected valves controlling our hearts. How could there be? David’s freakin fast-talk and hard driven put downs painted only one picture, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Talk about the most bizarre turn of events. We were about to date Casey Kasum. The Hangout had never met anyone who actually believed in us. Sure it was crap! My own parents are forced to compliment us because its written out in the original papers signed at St. Vincent’s Hospital: “Do you solemnly swear to properly take care of this child, wipe his bottom, teach him how to pee through Cheerio’s, do his 2nd grade math and share incredible words with him, words like brilliant, fantastic and phenomenal no matter how bad he may suck?” Gees!…no wonder my real father dropped all he had then bolted the scene. One look at my squished up, crumpled blubby butt and you too would scream, “Nope! Not what I want. Put that damn thing back inside until God decides to shrink what has made this screaming sack of former body fluid into the biggest fuck up of my life.” A brother flavored, self-gratifying box of tough words. I almost felt proud to think of such whimsical talk. A full-fledged unremarkably harsh out pouring directed toward the only person I knew that had the ability to put air to my lungs but never once the love to feed music into my heart, which meant he knew nothing about leaping outward in hopes of catching our fall before smashing each dream face first into a freshly dispensed flat of cement. How was I supposed to know that David really wasn’t in his 30’s but instead his mid-40’s? Part of being 16 is labeling all things over 21 old. Although I was qualified to look into the stare downs that David constantly challenged me with, I never once attempted to believe my eyes were his eyes. Nor did my mother ever shake the hand of the man who would open more doors for the Hangout than any person we had ever met. It wasn’t until after Halloween 78 that I came to realize two things. David was a very brave SOB to take on such a mission. To inhumanly bend every rule written to realize not his own dream but the aspirations of a six sided idea, took confidence and unconditional love often found in the soul of an eight week old puppy. “You know what I like about you David.” I struggled hard to verbalize to his empty hard face yet my own view was pointed downward toward my feet. “I thoroughly love the idea that we don’t have to like you. You are Tony’s friend not ours. You came here with him. If your ideas fail we don’t suffer unless what you do brings out a raging war and we bust in half again due to egos gone wild. But we’re used to that. Anyone in this circle will tell you that it’s our individualized worlds that make us who were are. So in all honesty it is you who has to make the choice, not us. Do you have what it takes to make us Montana’s first commercially successful musical act?”49 David swallowed every word, as did Rob, Neal, Bart, Tony and Gary. Vocalized angst from chapters past as fed by the hand of a once quiet child. No longer the silent stick with leafless tributaries, they knew of my infatuation but never heard it tossed about like a wild fire set free to scoff a village of waterless homeowners. “Sounds like Tarby has visited the public library.” Neal sprouted out in hopes of warming the snow-capped peaks. “What book was it that you found such bullshit in? Please tell me, I honestly wouldn’t want to step in it.” Yeah they laughed at me. What would the typical day be like if old Tarb wasn’t the butt of every joke? Who would they pick on? To hear such nice loud laughs filled with punches in the arm, bodies being shoved to one side led to several thoughts, which only created more anxiety and a bunch of other crap I truly missed in our time apart. Even David laughed, but for some sick reason he never let go of his stare. I always pictured David and Bart as being the architects. They were animated thinkers who suspiciously reacted to every ray of sun that rose above us. Everything had a purpose, nothing happened by accident. Mishaps are not mistakes they are man created. If properly paid close attention to…injury won’t occur. To which I say, “Bullshit.” Safely playing together in a giant sandbox was no easy chore. Not everybody had green buckets and damn Neal for not letting Gary carve out a deep dark cave with his pink shovel. Tony didn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone. He didn’t have to. Mr. Jack Kastle (aka Tony) was an only child whose head was split wide open by a boulder throwing bratty ass kid. The name “Jack” comes from his honest to God belief that visitors invaded his mind during surgery. The metal plate isn’t headgear it’s a flying saucer runway complete with heliport and shipping yard. Tony’s room was plastic, almost too perfect. The bed could pop a quarter 12 inches upward, pillows with cartoon faces and absolutely nothing except neatly aligned shoes decorated the carpeted floor of the two-person nicely painted closet. Outside this “rich” shamefully feminine vision were four Homer Formby stained bookshelves. This was a palace to my peasant form of upbringing. After all I came from weathered wood from ragged homes, sun stained paneling that looked pink rather than brown and gray carpeting once walked upon inside cheap guest rooms of a rundown hotel. What I didn’t want to be was a faceless martyr. So…I made damn sure that Tony knew how much of a whore dog he was. Please, it never fails, children gifted with a garden of green savor the vegetables grown but hardly become true farmers themselves. A carrot to them is something that’s extremely hard, crystallized and worn around the neck or showcased beautifully next to a gold plated guitar pick. Tony was no different. I would have thrown the milk out a week ago. But somehow the “rich” have been trained to turn curdled cow juice into cottage cheese. If Tone (Tony) wanted Les Paul’s next adventure a true Gibson he got it. If Tony needed the scent of new car to lace the walls of his lungs, fuck if we didn’t have four additional wheels to haul our crap around. With people like Tony and Bart in my life how could I go wrong? Bart played me and I played Tony. It seemed only fair. Call me what you want. A materialistic freak I admit to being. I’ve always been told, “If you can get it? Grab it quickly. If you waste time thinking about it, you really didn’t need it.” What I coveted were those stupid bookshelves. Screw the metal shit the parental figures scored during a K-mart blue light special. I wanted what Tony had. Those freakin shelves had 50 been taken over by long hairy water starved roots. Not plants but hard cover and thinly sliced paperback books crammed with musical opinions, life changing historical facts and every reason possible as to why Elvis Presley brought R&B to the white bigoted fuck offs of the deep South. Who better to tap into that energy then Tony? To most…he came across as being the Gibson master. The heralded ruler of Les Paul’s hand me down kingdom. Well that’s not what made him a star in my life. Those fuckin shelves were Gods. Four of them! They stood perfectly upright and proud. The world owed them everything. A universe of unseen visions they totally ignored because being such a shelf empowered them with every answer, ever reason and purpose as to how this sleepless imagination was going to put its dreams into superior overload. Those shelves bled inspiration and influence. They did nothing but make me want to have more sex with my Alvarez. Even worse, I started to fantasize about Tony’s stupid Les Paul joining the two of us. Can you imagine what it would be like to be locked up in a bedroom for three days with all those freakin books then leaning over to decide which guitar will take you to that level of creation? Fuck me baby…don’t stop! Don’t stop! Guess what? I have to stop. Those God-like shelves were the one thing that pulled Tony totally away from us, which only cleared the way for him to be closer to his tight ass ex-Navy Seal father. God, they…could…relate. A real bastard of a man Tony’s father was. Not evil but mean. Really mean. Guess that explains why Tony spent so much time masturbating to every one of those perfectly stacked unauthorized biographies, Rolling Stone short stories and Teen Beat articles. This kid wasn’t out to become the next “know it all.” His wallet sat empty, genuine leather incapable of purchasing family love. The moment he’d make a break for Waylon Jennings and his history as one of Buddy Holly’s Crickets…life became a bowl of ice cream overflowing with a can in a half of rainbow colored sprinkles. It was all a fucking game, a well-disguised personal quest to “one” up his dad. A battle royal of “Oh yeah…but did you know?” I have to openly confess, right here, right now. I owe the entire Paradise package to Tony’s fertile soil. The blending of twin guitars may have been pure Eagles but nobody materialized bent harmonies like Tony on mic two, Gary on three and dreamer boy Tarb pulling a Rod Stewart slash Steven Tyler on lead. Those stupid books tore Tony’s heart to shreds. He frothed at the mouth knowing Lindsey Buckingham was the brilliant unrecognized king but nowhere near his majesty Eddie Van Halen. In his mind, he would not sleep…until his name was burned with a hot iron into one of those damn books. Therefore it became his death wish to break every written rule in hopes of harnessing what hadn’t been invented or had been forgotten. Either way, Tony knew he was the keeper of the coop. Guitar magazine’s most grand mistake was not focusing on his personalized growth. Until they did, those God forsaken shelves would not become a part of my selfish ass life. I still remember the first time I walked in on Tony and Gary performing a twosome. To collect each guitar lick and every stretched string infamously displayed on albums, 45’s or half melted cassettes, these two freaks firmly placed their fine tuned ears directly onto the stereo speakers. They were visualizing three years before MTV created pictures for the rest of us to see. One who doesn’t play will never understand the motions of thought steaming to be turned 51 into reaction. Screw covering songs, the unidentified messages Morse coded into Tony’s metal plate said, “Be inspired but not influenced.” Paradise would not be a Bar band or High school wannabe. Doctors declared us diseased and ready for death. Being unique meant requesting nothing but demanding everything. Screw the green jellybeans and naked girls waiting for us in locker rooms and hotels. We were Paradise! A rock band from today. People would come to see us not for who we were and what we were generating. No…looking back I’d say we were pretty fucked up. A mixture of punk-ass teenagers believing everything we’re told while stepping on the path leading straight for destruction. Death is that one thing in life that’s completely way over our heads. No one can predict it, not even a suicidal best friend. But we were happy right? Isn’t that the main ingredient that keeps you from self-delivered abuse? Then again, look at the amount of candy Neal, Bart and Rob consumed on the average afternoon. David wasn’t daddy enough to scorn the sheep. Even the ex-Navy Seal would soon find his ass inside a torrential down pour weakening the umbilical cords that controlled him. “Halloween 78.” Bart howled like a feather brown prairie dog leaping from his hole. “Baby, ain’t nobody gonna stop us. When I get out there and see all those fuckers staring back at me, I’ll turn my back and show em my ass.” “There will be no body parts displayed!” The quick fisted rebuttal flew from David’s attempt at keeping his bars and quarter notes straight. “If I see anything more than an arm or your lips touching that microphone…..!” “David!” Neal thrust feverishly into the scene. Somebody had to. Part of what makes you wanna sell your soul to Rock n Roll is knowing the final outcome of the night. Neal only wanted to make it clear that legs would be spread and he would slip inside. “Leave the knocking up for the losers.” The General hoisted up the flagpole. “You got it all wrong my friend…” A soft-spoken well-rehearsed Gary pointed out while inhaling the silver lining of a Marlboro. “We ain’t knocking up. We prefer to knock down…anything that stands in the way of getting some peach flavored tang.” Early night rehearsals became late night crash courses. While David premeditated the moves made outside the circle, the Hangout lived off what Tony called “Jack Kastal specials. They were foot long hotdogs bathed in mustard and kraut. Mouths dried by torched leaves of green then savored were the first in line. Oh yeah…it wasn’t too difficult for David to keep an eye on the Candy Mans connections. Please…when will people learn that street sweets have never made great bathroom deodorizers? Long wood white drumsticks always peeking out the back pocket of Rob’s faded, ripped jeans. He called it his calling card to the female masses. A well-educated mind would tell you that signals to the Hangout were being made. Thick meant candy scored. Plastic tips pointed upward told of a sweeter offer. Brown sticks in the left hand casually but heroically whispered, “railroad tracks.” (Speed) West Side junk had taken focus and given it diarrhea. The theory: You can’t lose what you don’t smell. But someone, be it Neal, Bart or even Gary forgot to mention the infectious hatred Lewis and Clark Jr. high had developed for Riverside alumni. Money doesn’t always buy you powdered donuts. If the offer is made though you should never walk into a Kwikway alone. I wish I could go back. I want so desperately to build a machine capable of masking the 52 present with pictures of the past. No day goes by, not a second, not a minute nor an hour. I hold myself accountable for the measures that unraveled like kite string on a windy March day. I never once feared until I realized how they were never studied but the music was. It was the one part of the breakup that never healed. I had been locked out of the secrets. Slammed inside a musical jungle with vines so tight my roots starved for air and water. They made it difficult for me to get close. To properly back up the blood stained guarantees pasted onto a sheet of paper. I chose to draw from my personal determinations. I know now that I should have followed rather than tried to lead. We were just kids, a garage band, cheap pawnshop guitars and amps and…and now an oddly shaped key called a skeleton that fit perfectly into the door. The first week of September 1978…The scene: The Family Fun Center. An indoor golf course whose shadows are ruled with loud tings and bings fashioned by round silver cylinders fighting to stay alive inside pinball machines. Adding pressure to the quarters that slipped from pockets to bucket were hot new features called Pong and Space Invaders. But there were other reasons why so many vanilla wafers drove beyond the cities outer belt, past 24th street. A no–man’s village blessed with raised skunk tails chipmunks. The family Fun Center was home of south central Montana’s only go cart track. “I ain’t here to race.” Rob remembers telling a slender blonde headed kid with acne growing from his fish gills; a carrot face whose peels were cut then left to dry. “But you are…” the reply was certifiably delivered without a licked then pasted U.S. postage stamp. “Nobody dances until Robby drives.” The adolescent zit industrial unit in charge was Taft. His stats: same age, obsessed by paint cans that explode, typical West Side life and attitude. Rumor has it his onetime best friend Rory was burned severely by an attempt to watch a plume of alcohol tainted reds mixed with blues raise from a nearby hot trash barrel. Guess no one ever thought sudden winds would lift the fire then carry it toward the first object willing to stop it? They say Taft stood there doing nothing while Rory dropped and rolled his way into a life now blessed with more scars then a bad apple. Rory spent the entire 5th grade getting his skin ripped then grafted to his face, left arm and back. They say Taft has done nothing but laugh about it for the past 6 years which has done nothing but feed an ego already pumped up by a golf pro father who would sell his soul to get onto the PGA tour. “Where is everybody?” Taft ragged on releasing an overdose of West Side stench. “Robby without Neal…how could this be? We always thought you fuckers from Riverside were Siamese twins.” Rob has never stopped trying to explain how persistent Taft was when trying to egg on an unexpected war of words and fists. Face it, without Neal what leg did he have to stand on? Sure not the right one. It ended up being the first body part that came under attack. Bart with his street flavored ways never stopped tipping us off, “When confronted never stop moving. Stand on your tiptoes if you have to, but never stop moving. Remember, your reaction is only 49 percent of what they know. By being aware of everyone around you…you own controlling interest. You can’t ever lose that!” Rob stood flat footed, back to the wall. Not a wall made of brick or stone but its ingredients were low cut hedges of Lewis and Clark freaks. Candy addicted long hairs that dreamed of dating jock bait but settled on the suckers soaking at the bottom of the mud caked reservoir. 53 “Do you remember a couple weeks ago when you and Neal sorta took me away from it all.” Taft easily re-exposed knowing he had been gifted with the very confidence the twins smoked at the time of their first confrontation. He spoke directly into Robs face, no more than an inch from curled nose hairs that could have leg locked then been twisted. “Maybe I need to remind you. You know…the fair grounds, Leif Garrett concert. Right there in front of the KOOK radio booth.” “I didn’t do anything.” The solo comrade squeezed from the red grapes that immediately fermented into a classic wine. “I didn’t do anything.” A cartoon touted mimic flew from building audience. “Now that you’re a Senior High tramp guess the purpose of our vacation no longer carries weight. Right, Robby? You’re still a Riverside punk boy.” “Dude…I’m trying not to be a smart ass but I went to Riverside two years ago.” A convincing explanation fell from the unperfected path Rob was taking. “Fuck you Rob!” Taft aimed directly into the cool mans attitude. “Your fucking friend Neal told me two fucking weeks ago that Riverside blood flows wherever he goes and you don’t step into it unless you’re ready to mess with the best. You fucker…then looked at my girlfriend and asked to fuck her…right there because you knew she wouldn’t get any action from a West Side low life like myself.” “Yeah…” the laugh bubbled while Rob’s head agreed to the accusation. “That’s pretty much what I said.” My assumption tells me Rob knew his ass was going to get kicked. There was no way out. He had treaded bad waters in search of fresh candy only to learn there was no lifeguard on duty. Boats were allowed to speed by creating enough wake to drown the muskrats sucking the blood from blue-headed mallards. Oh yeah…he had heard that invisible alarm. It screamed out, “S! Y! A!” Your first reaction is to go silent. Then hunt down anything that resembles an out. If one isn’t nearby or can’t be located…prepare to embrace the odds. The consequences are what follow. Rob obviously knew he had lost the chess game. Taft had seized the queen and was prepared to kill the king or…maybe just hurt him a little bit. Eight students jumped on Rob. Fists were driven into his tightly clutched arms creating monkey bumps the size of Christmas. Unprotected were his legs, which took the full impact of wild knees, off colored footwear and one pair of unidentified teeth. The first item to be totally destroyed was the jean jacket with Paradise embroidered just below shoulder level. It had become the flag the enemy saw fit to control. With it in their hands they knew Rob would feel total guilt without courageously fighting back. For he had lost his heart, the true beat of the street he came from. Dark blood crept from both lips, his nose broken and eyes immediately swollen closed. Uninvited by Rob, but allowed to visit the garden party was a 12-inch hose with a metal tip. Once placed against any man’s heated skin the scars don’t take weeks to grow. They take shape instantly later feeding what becomes the injured soul’s hidden anxiety. Tall wooden poles whose helmets were 250-watt light bulbs pointed downward toward the dry yellow weeds and black-tarred racetrack lighting the night, which did nothing, but blind Rob’s blurred vision. His skin burned from tortured warfare, the type that educates your body to completely shut down due to skinned knees from the original fall, hands that bled invisible blood created by careless punches into the crowd and ears that rang like fire alarms. 54 Nearby, but far enough away not to be recognized stood the calm satisfied collaborator. Call him the warden, he whose orders would remain a secret. An unspoken guarantee felt by fingertips gripping each other’s timid handshakes. The night was to be untold. Unearthed factual accounts could never penetrate the ranks of the Hangout. If it were to break, shattered glass would be found lying next to the lifeless hand. For suicide would be this man’s only escape. Why then? I haunted my imprisoned self, leaving no paper trail for others to follow. Why had one of my brothers paid legal tender to bring Rob not to his knees but to the small of his back? Money paid, time not wasted, but Rob had been. We all had reason but who saw fit to see it through? Would I take the fall just as I had so many other times? The silent one raised his chest while keeping his slender bare arms at his side. To look into his face, one felt no pain grasping what had become his glorified moment. The Hangout may not have approved…but what this family member did was witness a crime. If an artist painted such a scene the colors of his skin would be South Side. But because so much loyalty had been lost, the artist fought hard to distinguish the difference between black and hatred. Was it a professional indifference? Had Rob been weakened to the point of selling his soul? Why had such a visit taken place on the West Side? The infamous Candy Man was North Park not 24th street. If I had been the force behind the knife that cut from Robs throat any confidence owned outside the circle, I would have reached inward to hold Rob’s hand justifying the accusations yet unborn. Sweat from my forehead would have dripped like a spring rain into the pools of blood sporting nametags. Instead of being a shadowed guest, the unproven guilty should have made it his quest to protect the path while fighting hard to bring the broken drummer back to his feet. Vanquished the trust may have been but a true symbol of unity laid somewhere in this man’s cold dream. If it hadn’t existed then why would his face be silent? His fingerprints unnamed. It seemed the blood on the hand written contract no longer brought fear. Instead it sat heartlessly contained within an ungoverned demilitarized zone. The plan had been delivered to its final step. The contract was null and void. The old man feeding the pigeons could now go home Chapter two: Scene two: The gravel pits Tightly wrapped inside a cage, the Hangout impatiently captivated the attention of no one but themselves. Whether it was right or wrong, the integration of several accusations penetrated the loose ends of the shapeless voyage through melodious spills and thrills. Our presence at St. Vincent’s Hospital painted long shadows on the spider-webbed walls. Several times I wanted to pick up the persistently blinking telephone super glued to the pink flowered walls and call Johnny from Squad 51. “Dude…” My playfulness pummeled through his earpiece pretending to be a two-way radio. “My EKG is fucked. This patient is dead. Pull out those round electronic monster sized gadgets and blast his ass once or twice. Hey! Don’t forget to slap on some toothpaste shit on those puppies. My luck they’ll stick and the patient will walk around for the rest of his life with 55 sunburned tits.” “10-4 rampart.” “No! No!” The order unexpectedly blasted through making way for a new set of game plans. “I’m thinking this punk brat is in some need of mouth to mouth. Are there any out of shape big sons of bitches around there with acne covered faces?” “10-4 rampart.” “Please do all you can to convince her to sit on his beat up head. It’ll teach this bastard for traipsing outside the boundary without a leash around his neck.” “10-4 rampart. This is squad 51 out.” “I’ll see ya when you get here Johnny. Oh crap! Do me a favor…no rush on the beat up dude. Stop by the Quick Way and get the rest of us some Vitamin R. We’re in dire need of some of that shit. The IV bottles are waiting for you son.” Who needs friends when your imagination allows you to create its own reality? Ok, so I’m a freakin asswipe for allowing myself to escape. Blood doesn’t bother me but helplessness rakes my coals. This fucker had taken it to the hilt. I kept telling myself that Rob was faking it. The freak would do anything to have someone feel sorry for him. I mean, come on…of all the people to get their body scratched. Why waste your time on such a piece of trash? Rob wasn’t a power broker inside the fortress of hope. He was a no name pawn with a car. As one would expect Neal fought fire with unleaded high-octane chatter. David and Bart served as honorary extinguishers whose hoses had been tampered with. and I did all I could to look deeper into such purpose. A. Why did Rob go to the Family Fun Center? As far as we knew he had never traveled that far alone before. Rob mandated an entourage of confidence. B. Who prepared Taft for such a warm welcome? The chances of him not being wrapped within the sweaty ass kisses of some bimbo are rare. He was pre-warned. He had to be or I’m totally fucked in the wacker. C. Who called the ambulance? Gary did. Why? He lives in the Heights. We’re talking several miles of travel. What happened? Gary and Rob scoring outside of a highly touted drug watch? Rob swears he was alone. Gary has done nothing but laugh it off prided himself as being the caller. Me? I talk way too much to myself. Rob knew nothing. He lay almost silent watching as each hearty player stepped inside the cold lonely batter’s box to do nothing but scratch their balls then stare down the incoming pitches. All who attended such mass brought with them enough pity to fill the old bat’s souls, knitting socks and folding men’s underwear while watching a week’s worth of shows hosted by Phil Donahue. Playing the well-deserved honorable role of Henry Aaron was Bart. Like all games of ball the best of the best sit at position number four on the hitters list. David knew of this and had no problem calling Bart the cream of the crop, top of the pop, the very ultimate when it comes to climbing the pinnacle. He could see the curve before the fingers sought refuge on the stretched out knee of the resting thrower. He acted on nothing therefore his reaction refused to reflect the true plan to lay a bunted ball perfectly down the first base line. It was if he could see the outwardly tossed story changing gears before screaming across the oddly shaped home plate. Hang around someone long enough and his or her vision shall scrape the acid gnawing56 away at your stomach lining. I saw Bart’s newfound entanglement as being pre-Laurel and Hardy. A battle of black and white issues that Rob seemingly saw unfit to colorize, making no room for laughter. There to present it was Bart who not only served as writer but also actively became a persistent undercover Perry Mason. Who else but David could be a father figure? “We need to be better prepared.” The pasted thought blazed itself into shape forcing all eyes to roll like a bowling ball dropped on the alley. “Inside…” Bart incoherently mumbled toward my scattered destiny, the view hidden by a damn good nose picking. Then wiped off inside his heavily weather Levi jean back pocket. “Watch this Tarby.” Casually I stood. The hospital air unchanged. The angle Bart offered was to prove a point or expose a leaking faucet whose constant drip had eaten away the plywood leaving room for a field mouse to play. “Lord Almighty! Rob I am so sorry this happened to you.” The Baptist preacher’s approach scooted from Bart’s uncharted tour. “I have prayed every night for one opportunity to perform and now our world has been darkened by the devil’s desire.” No one laughed. Nobody moved. It was as if Clean Cut Jimmy had burst into fire and flames, the remnants taking the shape of…Bart. I had heard of his gospel swearing approach through jokes shared but never seen it performed. Arms raised, voice loud, eyes fixed to the unimpressed injured drummer. By total mistake we had somehow walked in on the Sunday sermon and it was about to get good. Then came Rob’s glorious choir, “Shut the fuck up!” The reverb was pure heaven as it slid from the pale blue medicine flavored room into the freshly tilled nurse’s soil. Bean sprouts the size of kick drums and snares bloomed flowers rather than fruits or vegetables. Bart wanted Gary to admit that something was hidden within the patch of rhubarb. His sour face proved it to be so. Head hung but not low enough to reveal shame, his strutted walk gave him away. Gary seemed to have no problem accepting responsibility for improperly protecting the drummer now made up like an entombed mummy. The only problem not yet unveiled was how Gary orchestrated the Westside hit. Bart didn’t seem bothered by any reasons leading to why such a move was made…he was more concerned with how? How did Gary orchestrate the woodwind section without providing whistles and fans? Had he done it alone he may have been caught waving the wand. So who then? Who helped seize the stringed instruments knowing the violin was basking in her typical glow? The anger had become a cocked pistol waiting to explode. “Totally inside.” Bart crumpled up in his oddly shaped breathing pattern. Not nervousness but more like awkward assumption without a leg to stand on. If the uncarpeted pale blue hospital room had been the U.S. court system Gary would have ordered to post bond but never see jail time again. Lack of evidence is not only precarious but also undeserving. These sharpened tools caved in ability gifting the Hangout with continued shadows of unrest. It was a pleasant sight though to see Bart finally wrong. Rain soaked kindling torches no log even if lighter fluid is present. If he had stayed any longer the well-documented visit might have turned into a more deafening state of affairs. There is no pain greater than watching musical instruments sit inside their cases unused. 57 Rob proved to be stronger than most agreed. Scratched facial skin only feels like a shallow knife wound. Bruises only become ugly when the yellow sets in. Looking at me for the first time with more purpose than valor Rob’s emptiness bluntly hollered out, "Yo Tarb, Gary had nothing to do with this.” It's that type of attitude that left me to believe Rob would never survive the music industry. Ever heard the phrase “bigger name on the other line”? Moving closer to the imaginary stereo entrenched inside my mind I popped on a couple of scratch resistant 45's. The hard silence musicians create while thinking was beating the crap out of me. If I didn’t accurately play with this puppet my balls would rock back and forth to a tune I didn’t want to write. Neal's part in our unrehearsed mockery remained lifeless. Soured by the candied sweet tarts my twisted face kept reminding me of how typical Neal’s reaction was. There was one rule he lived by. Unless challenged he felt no quest to figure out how to bring energy to the turntable. You know as well as I do Neal and Gary never could see eye-to-eye let alone trade guitar licks to better David’s constant changes. Personally, I think it’s because it wasn’t Neal’s idea to induct them into the ranks of Paradise. Gary’s laid-back persona was total free loader. He didn’t have to try to be non-approachable. Unlike Neal such cool headed first impressions were gutted then smoked ten steps from the nearest handshake. Neal was Gary’s first victim of circumstance. Their only common bond was an unspoken addiction to street sweets. To sum it up…they were quick to share their bags of candy but no man looked away fearing he’d be shoplifted. Spaghetti string hair, wire framed glasses with a rich attitude to match, no moment passed that Gary didn’t bring down the lights. I’m telling you, God puts impossible empty minded total fuck up’s on this planet to constantly test the waters that may lead toward perfection. The perfect piece of music is two bars of harmony short from being realized when God unexpectedly steps in and says, “Yeah right…I move the mountains not you.” His arms raised…the Higher power invites the wind, his brother a deep dark heavy cloud and two pages of vicious thunder and fire engine red lightning. Ladies and Gentleman I give to you creative anger… As I write this, my clock radio, which is never set to turn on, fills the room with the most bizarre sound. A jet like sound as it travels through Heaven while keeping in touch with mission control. I hear hollowness painted with a tunneling effect. I laugh inside only to realize that maybe Gary has pushed hard enough against the wall that separates us. He sits next to me speaking out the best way he can. Never should we forget that “any” sound created by your imagination is the truest form of music. Gary had a knack of recreating the occasion in hopes no audience would witness the Rock n Roll battle royals. After all guitars were wrathfully thrown into their black leather plated cases then tensely slammed shut, the only two cast members left to settle the indifferences were Neal and Gary. They’d sit for hours within the cold elements often introduced by ego and lust believing whatever decisions were made would in fact lead each of us closer to that Halloween stage. Travelers watched their silent steps behind the big black curtain. The most vocal was my stepfather whose daily ritual was to inform me of how disgusted he was about my decisions to 58 hang out with such losers. He felt it was his fatherly right to explicitly indict Gary and Neal. He called them modern day criminals with no future to grasp onto. It was his loose description that fed me most. Ungoverned rule maker words spoken without my permission left me turned. My back not against a wall but rather pointed toward any efforts this father figure carefully crafted while attempting to rebuild my mother’s lost family. I listened for no reason other than to one-day gain the confidence to run. I'm supposed to hate my stepfather. It’s a written rule secretly handed to American teens fighting to understand why certain people are no longer allowed to help shape your dreams. The right to dislike is seen as our first flight. Far from even flow, not a wind to lift, the leap is outward from a nest built by visitors. Usually Uncles and Aunts, cousins and Grandparents who don’t want you to ever feel the tortured pain that love grows into when two people divorce. Paradise was my only way out. Such a Hangout allowed opportunity to seed then bloom into a fully visible screwing of the world without really having sex, which is why it was so important for the band to get together on a daily basis. The personalized mission was to piss off the stepfather. The more he yelled the louder I would scream into that Radio Shack microphone. I wanted to upset him so bad that he would finally give up and kick me out. The bastard never once mentioned such a luxury. He just kept fighting. “You think that being in this band is going to get you somewhere?” The constant drive would ring from his tempered lungs. Thank God he didn’t smoke; such pressure on his invisible body parts would have crushed him alive. “I don’t give a damn if you’re getting paid. If you live under my roof your hair is cut short and you’re home before ten.” Do you think parental figures know what you’re angrily reverting back to them while holding your breathe? Looking back I say the answer is yes… Somewhere in the annals of history it is written that music cannot be…unless there is pain. Oh I had pain. It came in the shape of the mighty bulldog designed to look like the stepfather. He was an uncontrolled centrally located pain that drove the cheeks of my ass into several hours of shake rattle and roll. I constantly bit my fingernails knowing I was in trouble for something. I was nervous, edgy and uneven. My idea of making practice perfect failed due to a never-ending need to be somewhere he approved of. To properly bring life to the adventure meant lying to the roof builder. I created stories hoping he’d never locate the energy to perform a thorough follow up. Guess they call them white lies. Yet no one has ever written a song about it. Daddy, I ain’t comin home. The song we’ve tried to sing isn’t being played, the way it needs to be. It has no feeling… Daddy, make them harmonize. Stop putting me in such a bind. For the music of my dreams59 cannot be until I stop giving you white lies… Getting the chance to play the Shrine Auditorium was indeed the biggest thing to happen to Paradise. I’m willing to admit that I was probably the only one in the Hangout who felt we were being lied to. I really had a problem trusting people. Suddenly there was David. He was followed by Tony and Gary with major rumors of a new drummer not too far behind. How does a South Side garage band that turns practice into a candy-coated love affair become the main attraction? We were about to participate in a musical quickie? I honestly couldn’t tell if we were the fucker or the fucked. Since my ass wasn’t raised in the air the best thing to do was to continue pushing. As kids we called it fucking the wind. There was no friction to ignite our balls therefore we rabbit tested the air totally blowing out our throttles hoping any level of existence would become the climax. Maybe that’s why so many of us depended on the sweetness of homegrown flowers and street purchased tasty freezes? Melted dreams constantly tested by simple gut checks resembling steps taken forward. Hell, what the music couldn’t give us the Hangout found in other forms of travel. Which leads me back to the original statement, if swimming in street sweets allowed us to dive into the same feeling as gifted by being live on stage, where does the lying stop? To which I ask one more question: who becomes the one you trust? Thy self-guarantee is that of silence… We had each other, the original mainstay of hope and pride. It was the only form of trust handed to us by the great Rock n Roll Gods who lived on the southern horizon. “Be the best you little fuckers or break up!” The thunderous feedback pierced our inner ear. “You must take with you the words of AC/DC…it’s a long way to the top if you want to Rock n Roll.” Like lunch cards handed to the poor we reached for any nourishment given. Once within our grip each performer swiftly turned to view what had been received. Tiny print on invisible cards teased the imagination yet we understand the need to better read. Therefore we had only one choice and it was to forcefully shove the lessons deep into the back pocket of our over worn grass stained jeans. A bulge formed, but not in its proper place. They were tools to help hollow out the trunk of a tree while singing out of control in sugar beet fields decorated with migrant workers. They too had dreams but not to become musicians welcomed by all. Their choice was to work so that their families could one day afford a simple walk into a pawnshop, to brave the odds of looking upward at the wall. They too tasted a hidden tanginess enabling their fingers with the power to lay claim to the Straticastor copy barely hanging on to its own life. Somewhere in the middle though grew the constant interrogation, “How did we lose control? Big desires require faster fingers. Passion craves need. If we knew how to do one thing good, it was the ability to be up front and forward no matter what the price tag read. Unlike the dirty skin fielded on a hot summer’s day, our choice was to get better by thinking we were better. Yet none of us were willing to make the proper sacrifice. Rob’s tattered frame was doctored for three days. Once set free it took no time for his 60 feet to catch a nearby current. Life is filled with bricks and sticks just don’t allow them to dance in front of you or you’ll end up paying for it later. When we weren’t adding more calluses to our bony fingers Rob, Neal and I forged our way toward the gravel pits. Two rain-soaked holes in the earth perfectly set alongside the raging waters of the Yellowstone River. They say the city once depended on these craters to build streets and gravel driveways. Then without notice they became gravesites. Roof tops three feet down. Rusted out cars and pickups once owned by Montanan’s who assumed they knew best. Yeah right, once challenge became the keeper of the bank they threw it all away including the stolen merchandise, which also lined the river’s sanded shores. Remnants of mountain sized boulders now leveled to pebbles no larger than a needle’s eye. Must we forget the newspaper headlines tightly conformed for better reading the stories of young adults and wild teens? They lost their lives during a quick swim to cool off. After all, 103 degree days in the shade are very common during a typical summer’s day. Overlooking the moonlit waters the three of us never stopped joking about one day dying in the very location we sat. Blanketed with river trees that stretched upward but never out, we each spoke of escaping but never just picking up and running way. The hand shaken agreed upon mission of the summer was to rewrite all rules without ending up in jail. Little did we know how dangerous such a game could be, especially since we were totally ungoverned. Torn from the tight clutches of wicked parents our paths were basted with the very lessons pounced into their skulls by leaders of the same age. “Why do you always say someone is going to die here?” Neal sarcastically skipped back into the conversation. “When I come to the pits it’s to get away, not be fed things that scare the shit out of me.” “The lake fucks with me.” My reply came as if to be dotting the “I” and crossing the “T”. “The souls of forgotten people live out there. When we come here at night they’re out there sitting on sunken tree branches wondering what life would have been like if they hadn’t fucked up.” “What makes you think they fucked up?” A cautious Rob asked introducing a new angle to the already painted scene. “If you think drowning is a mistake you’re wrong.” “Something led to it.” I added. “People don’t go into pits knowing they’re going to die. Were they drunk? Did the Candy Man bite their ass? Did they swim right after eating?” “The witch got em.” Neal interrupted in a serious tone. “Look on the other side in the trees. She’s sitting there now. Tarby has convinced the old bag that her next sandwich will be filled with one of us.” “Shut up Neal!” I quickly fought back knowing he had just won the scare contest. Stare into any forest late and night and what you’ll see are the spirit keepers and guides who walk freely about the earth. Souls aren’t their priority. They need chance takers willing to be invited to greener paths that preachers speak of being paved with gold. The keepers and guides carry with them invitations of many colors and textures, whatever it’s going to take to convince you to swim the smooth currents of your final breath. Failing to heed all warnings plastered on signs surrounding the dirty water the three of us sat as close as we could to the rippled waterway. Solid black Chuck Taylors kept our feet from skinny-dipping. Fear of the witch silently told us in voices only we’d recognize to seize no opportunity of escape tonight. But how does one control unpredictable fantasy? “I’m going in.” Rob dared us to believe. “This fuckin witch bullshit is coming to an end 61 tonight. I hate you fuckers for always scaring me. If this bitch wants my balls then she can suck em tonight.” That was the only warning we got. Then man of speed whipped down his drawers, tore off his faded blue t-shirt and the next thing we saw was his naked white ass flinging through the air. Three steps out then down. I call it shallow shore diving. No cliffs to pike dive but deep enough to force the whitest of asses on earth to flee under the surface. “Witch is gonna get em.” Neal restlessly informed my now standing self. “The boy gets his ass kicked once and he thinks he can take on the rest of the world.” “Whewwwwww!” Rob chattered from twelve to fifteen out. “Mother fucker its cold out this far. Thank god squirrels don’t swim. My balls have already turned into an acorn.” “Get outta there!” Neal screamed out loud. A great deal of fear had taken over him. “Look man…”The shivers were heard returning to shore. “I ain’t gonna fuck ya until you kiss me Neal.” “I’m not joking around Rob! Get the fuck back here!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A tortured weak kneed friend. Did he honestly believe the witch existed? Would this be the mistake I spoke of? I really didn’t expect Rob to jump into the water yet there he was…or at least his incredibly white ass sat swaying within the once calm moonlit manmade lake. “Damn it Rob!” A scornful Neal temped to sway. “I am through asking. Get the fuck out of the water right now or I’m gone!” “Bye” came the response gently carried to us by crescent shaped ripples allowing no sneak preview of what laid beneath the surface. Neal knew he had to back up his warning. To stay meant Rob could turn vocal orders into hand held puppets. To see knotted to a stick governed by invisible strings then told when to laugh or smile was not within his self-created destination. I wanted to burst into hysterics. To watch Neal freak invited a side I had never seen. One doesn’t mess with the best because the best doesn’t mess. Yet, his brain was being picked like choke cherries gasping for the sun alongside Blue Creek. Such play could have easily turned violent taking not a life but damaging the soft velvet leaves of a re-budding friendship. Neal may have come across pissed and tangled but he had the right idea…get the hell out or spoil the kraut. Basically meaning, since it wasn’t his idea to make a big splash; do all you can to steal another man’s thunder. Neal took off. Unspoken and well hidden was a face we knew but saw no shadow to react to. Cheekbones muddied by river sand eyelids lined with mascara. If the plan was to view without being seen then it worked. All that seemed dark was. Rob, Neal nor I knew we were being watched. But we were. “Visitation rights are over…” A gurgle of words crept from the deep rose flavored lips of the hidden watcher. “Bye for now kids.” Few words shared from a well educated guess at what our next move would be. After all, the silent watcher had felt the need to cast a large stone into the even flow of moonlit lake. Unexplained was our reaction but I’m sure it was comical to watch. Had I been naked in the Pits, I too would have felt no need to cover my willie knowing the witch wanted it for breakfast. Lungs lapping for air like a puppy discovering chocolate I had no urge to dress Rob. Nor would I turn to look to see if he had been cut, stabbed, wounded or as breathless as I was. The 62 only confidence I had was to ask the most stupid question to date…“Was it Neal? “Yeah, right. You saw as well as I did that he didn’t leave us in that direction.” “I was just asking!” I angrily fought back hoping to get to Robs pickup before we were gutted and tossed into the witches stew. “What was it?” “Shut the fuck up, Tarb!” The steam spewed back in my direction. “If I had fuckin known what the hell it was I wouldn’t be running half naked with my balls slapping between my legs.” I stopped…Rob didn’t. Much quicker than I can blink I swung my arm around and hit him. I mean I hit him hard. It felt like my damn hand slammed into a sheet-rocked wall. Mother fuck almighty the pain shooting through my fingers caught me more off guard than actually hitting the son of a bitch. Rob stood there looking at me with a shit ass grin on his face. “So if I say fuck you does that mean you will hit me again?” “I don’t know Rob…test me.” "Whew!" Rob let loose. A scream that echoed the lake three fold. Today we’d call it “The Wave.” Connected to music like I was I felt proud to hear such natural reverb. Then it died, maybe in the middle. The deep richness helped me realize how much of a man Rob was becoming. This way I didn’t have to look down to compare notes. Instead of being the shallow childhood companion Rob’s vocals now featured authority. The hell if I was going to tell him. From this point every word shared would have been a conversation with the stepfather. I actually wanted him to cave his head into the junked out rusted 69 Ford pickup that had been resting on the bottom of the lake. How else do you make new friends without pissing off the old? It was if my private time away from the Hangout suddenly had purpose. While Neal catapulted the fences that took him home. I stood next to a nearly naked man who couldn’t decide to hit me back. What kind of fucking life was I leading? Life as a wanna be was growing old and I was barely 16. Three months ago we would have been sharing conversations about the old piece of shit pickup. "I'm gonna pull that damn thing out someday and turn it into a rod," Neal might have said while reminding us to pull off our shorts before jumping into the moonlit waters of freedom. He always took great pride in doing so because his package was his pride. Although the girls never danced with us beneath the mirrored image of the darkened forest, Neal revealing his all tickled them in no way I had ever heard a girl giggle. He dared to be noticed. It was his character to show how quickly manhood was setting in leaving behind the soft cheeks that made up his ass. We all laughed, which did nothing but invite the Hangout into a world of total nudity. I always compared it to our first natural experience with life. The open feeling of what it must have been like to be inside our mother’s womb. What’s the running joke? Little boys spend 9 months to get out of what they spend the rest of their lives trying to get back into. Boys are boys, especially growing boys who dream of being famous. Without notice my adventures back came to a halt. "Was she there?" Rob asked in a way that puzzled me. “My mom?” "You don't think she's really watching? He stuttered. 63 “Oh oh oh…” I sent back expressing an interest in his conversation. “Yeah, I think she was. Something splashed in the water and it wasn’t your fucking dick.” “Don’t scare me, Tarb. You threw the rock in didn’t you?” “No Rob I didn’t.” “Then Neal did. That son of a bitch.” I left it at that. I didn’t want him to know Neal didn’t throw the freakin rock or tree branch into the Pits. I’m sure it was because he was cold but to see his lip quiver added excitement to red puffiness of right cheek and I’m not talking about his ass. Truth is…I couldn’t really tell if somebody was there. A couple of time I felt two eyes had been locked onto our conversation but nothing penetrated the buttons that invite fear. You want fear? I’ll give you fear. No man can withstand the unstable powers enforced when meeting Tony, at his house, two hours late for practice. "Forget it man!" He raged in disappointment. Hell yes he was pissed. You could tell by the way he slammed his index finger into the black box controlling the electronic garage door. If I had been that finger, the next time he took a crap I would have made sure I was on strike. “You ain’t putting me in there buddy. Not until we agree on better terms outside this shitter palace.” What is it with kids from the Heights? What? Their Mom and Dad always teaching them that practice makes perfect and little boys like Tony and Gary better be on time or they’re grounded. Yeah? Well bite my ass. "Gary, Bart and I have already laid out what we’re supposed to do. If you guys really gave a rat’s ass about Halloween night, you would have been here." “Well lick me until the sweat don’t come no more.” I ran over and over inside my thought process. I wanted to fight back so bad. After all…I had kicked Rob’s sweet tush with one punch. I wanted to pounce on Tony like stink invading an outhouse. But! I couldn’t. The grip my teeth had on the inside of my mouth couldn’t be pried open. “Give me two fucking minutes Tony and we’ll be ready to play.” Neal jumped toward the opportunity to get his two cents worth in. “Hell…if you were my kid Tony I’d give you a medal for being so prompt and always erect.” Bart found no amusement within our grand park of adventures. After all, he had two jobs to complete. Get the band going and sell more street sweets. You can’t make the Candy Man a happy camper if three members of your Hangout are out spanking their puppies. What did it take us? Maybe 60 seconds to unlock, pull out and plug in. Mmmmm, baby…stop me! Such pictures can tarnish a Rock n Roller’s fantasy. Music is all about rituals. Performing it was never the chore. Getting the approval of the people you play with is like praying to an invisible God of acceptance. Our fire-breathing sphinx was Captain Perfectionist! Bart…after each song we’d spin around to his overweight body and give him that look. Oh…you know the look. The "Did that tickle your pickle?" eye-to-eye exam. After all…if he knew all the answers to our problems, why couldn’t he figure out the music as well? If his large head covered in long blonde hair nodded forward. That’s all we needed to nudge forward. Personally, taking a trip down the Missouri with Lewis and Clark probably would have been more eventful. But! Paradise braved its own odds. Every day was a new journey so horribly unpredictable, especially when all things that go up and down are jolted to a halt. 64 “Here we go again…” are the only attainable words to say. This time around Gary is having a difficult time peacefully moving his guitar chords through Neal’s imaginary space. Do you ever find yourself wondering if Eddie Van Halen picks a fight with Michael Anthony? “Yo! Asswipe! Keep your fucking strings on your side of the bedroom or I’m telling mom!” Gene Simmons and Ace? Jagger and Richards? Lennon and McCartney? For Gods sakes what about the freakin house band that plays in the basement of Sunset Bowl? Will someone please tell me if it’s perfectly natural for the second lead in the band to constantly drive all the attention to himself? Neal was often accused of being the Hangout’s love child. Once he caught wind of Gary’s attempt at being Jimmy Page and Robert Plant he’d throw his red wine flavored bass guitar back into its hard plastic case and take off. Yeah, walk totally away from the constant buzz of 100-watt amplifiers and sticky fingers making high pitched squeaky noises on barely out of tune strings. “I have to smoke some candy.” Gary would say inviting any one or all to his peace pipe. A blue tube that screwed securely to a silver bowl he constantly cleaned. Once filled then firmly pressed a Bic took him to his ultimate high. I never fully understood why people attempt to talk when their lungs have been forced to inhale only. Gary’s voice was more of a grunt rather than fully coated with natural tones. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that kid.” Grunt grunt grunt… “Hell…all I wanna do is have a little fun.” "We'll never make it," Tony literally screams while attempting to catapult into the smoldering conversation. "Jesus Christ, how are we gonna be this giant attraction if we can't get our damn act together?" “Looking at the smoke coming from this pipe Tony” Grunt grunt grunt… “I’d say we’re right on track.” Finally a damn joke! It was a gut buster of a comeback that forced you to pee. Was Tony laughing? Mr. Jack Kastle? Hell no. Golden Child number two found none of this entertaining. We knew he was right. A pretty fucked up right but who really cared at that present moment? I’ll say it again, “Tony was right!” We didn't have what it took to play at the Shrine on Halloween night. We weren’t musicians. Paradise was making a U-turn and headed straight for another street enhanced crash. This band would not become a working unit until the Great Gods of music passed the pipe to Gary and Neal. Even better…the time had come for the South Side to make a true commitment. “Gimme the knife.” Neal forcefully ordered Rob while entering the humming garage. “You don’t mess with the best because the best don’t mess.” Rob had no problem gliding the 6-inch blade from its sleeping quarters on the inside of his boot. Rusted with age and still caring a few gifts from past contract signings, Neal grabbed it from Robs hand and walked directly toward Gary. "I want your blood." “What the fuck are you talking about?” Hair bushy, flowing down his back barely touching his shoulder blades Gary stood with 65 his guitar wrapped around his body and his pipe in his hand. If this had been the old west Buffalo Cody would have wanted the smoke filled scene painted onto a covered wagon. “I hate your fucking guts Gary.” “Ok…so tell me something new.” Taking Gary's arm, Neal retrieved no fear from anyone but Tony. “The very moment I cut into your arm take the tip of this blade and write your name on my contract .” Neal firmly spoke in a whisper like tone. Still no fear… “I like scars. So much so I’ll name this one after you.” Gary pointed out. Without further delay-the blade skated across Gary’s arm. Revealed to innocent bystanders was a very small sample of the juices he had inside. In Neal’s eyes it wasn’t enough so he squeezed the wound. A dark red river meandered through his finger onto the tip of the blade. Gary laughed. Tony stepped back. Rob puffed on a cigarette taking occasional glances at his own scar. It served as his medal of honor. Family first then death--was his motto. I believed him. But would Gary stay true to history of such markings? The rose colored drops of blood impatiently waited on the edge of the knife. With blood you have to move quickly. Our hopes were to turn it into some sort of word formation. Signatures are never perfect when writing them out with a pen. Try doing it with a six-inch blade. General Custer would have turned his horse around and headed back to Washington. "The Paradise Blood Contract." It symbolized our first--real-step. With Gary’s name on the dotted line it meant sacrifice. From this moment forward he was a blood brother of the Hangout. Tony didn’t sign. The freak ass little punk talked us into believing he needed to be soured by the grapes of a good bush. He feared blood. You would too if you went through what he did four years earlier. A rock war broke out in the fields behind his house. Tony went down the hard way. A metal plate was screwed into place in the back of his head. Laughing out loud we asked if this meant the doctor was an honorary member of the band. Better yet-Bart wanted to know if he could use Tony’s plate to create feed back or new form of reverb? You bet Tony participated in the fun. The little creep just weaseled his way out of a proper baptizing. Once signed-the bloodied sheet of paper was sealed in a baggy then placed inside my Algebra notebook. Depending on weather conditions, blood either dries fast or slow. A smeared contract meant we’d have to do it again. Never once did I feel that regaining access to another drop or two would be a problem. Outsiders thought we were disciples of the devil. Do me a favor-the next time some kid totals his bike. Ask the fucker if he too prays to the demon below. He must. Why else did he get back on the bike? As gruesome as it may sound there was peace in the valley. That’s all it took to relax any personal discomforts. First we were late. Then a fight breaks out only to be quelled by a good six-inch blade. All things were agreed upon which meant Paradise was fully capable of forging its way toward Halloween 78. 66 Chapter two: Scene three Ted Williams The drive home in Rob’s pickup seemed long. We were caught within the wake of each other’s reminiscent ships. Occasionally a laugh was heard then immediately followed by long periods of silence. The end of summer meant fewer Hangout times. From this point on band practice would be short-lived. I still remember the wind blowing in my tired eyes. Crust had gathered in the corners damming any future watering. So it must have looked like I was crying. Boys being boys-I was quick to blame the two or three thin pieces of hair that kept tickling my face. “Poor, poor Tarby.” Bart whined. “Hey maybe you’ll be like Travolta and get ya a girl.” “I’d do Olivia in a heartbeat.” The snide remarks poured from the choir. I didn’t play along. No energy. No heart. Why fuck the wind? I kept thinking about Halloween. The show-just two months away. David said we were unique. Yet I couldn't convince the soul of my foundation to paint such an image. All I ever saw was ego. What we lacked was purpose. The first day of school: We were no different than most. It was a total waste of time. Yet there she stood, all three 3 red bricked stories. Like an old house she sits and smiles back never realizes you can count the wrinkles in her skin. I’d say she’s been added onto…four times. I introduce you to Billings Senior High-home of the Broncs. If you’re looking for a history lesson dial 411 and ask for their number. Drafting was the only class Tony and I shared. It proved to be the perfect place to recreate Rock n Roll logos. You can’t be famous if your album cover sucks. Look at Boston and tell me you don’t dig its cover. Rumors from Fleetwood Mac. Frampton comes alive. The Beatles White Album made a damn statement. "Do you think this is funny?" Mr. Anderson asked pointing his large hairy finger directly at the stretched out human face blistered onto a onetime white sheet of paper. Looking up to see his face-handle bar mustache-drooping alcohol enhanced eyes-I couldn't say anything. Not until I saw Tony in the corner of my eye. The fucker’s expression was bent with carefully guarded laughter. I had become his moment of humiliation. "My classes are not for your pleasure," Anderson warned me. "I had hoped you took this class to better your drafting skills. Lettering of this type will not be accepted. You have failed for the day." Fuck you, my look replied. “Fuck you.” My lips followed. Starting the school year off sitting in the Dean of Boys office left me hanging like a wet painting. I was the impatient artist waiting for a background to dry. My mouth located a new project; a 1000 word essay based on why students should learn proper communication skills. By day’s end David called an emergency meeting at Optimist Park. It seemed our power pole poster promotion selling the Halloween show went against city rules. If the posters weren't down in 24 hours Paradise faced a cancellation. It was one of those days when you wanted to say, “Fuck me for living.” "We need an image," I introduced my near six-foot frame hanging over the weathered 67 green picnic table. "Kiss has makeup. Van Halen’s got Diamond Dave. What do we have?" "Oh God." Gary sarcastically followed mimicking my way of speaking. "Paradise needs an image. “What the hell does that have to do with taking your lazy fat ass out there to rip down those posters?” came Rob’s reintroduction to reality. “You get image when you become famous.” “Yeah…” Tony added with a shit-faced laugh. “I can’t wait to blow up my first hotel room.” “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” A fierce roar came from David’s direction. “The first fuckin room you destroy comes out of whose pocket?” Teenaged smirks greeted his question but no words or complete sentences. “My pocket.” David continued. “Get this straight. You touch my life with petty as Aerosmith crap like that and I’ll go searching for better talent at West High.” “Tarb’s right.” Bart interacted—picking his nose then rubbing it on the bench below him. “The only image we’ve got is this North/ South Side thing. That’s not gonna get us noticed. Right, Rob? Isn’t that why you got your ass kicked?” Returning to the podium was David, “I say screw the music and take up fighting. That’s the only image you have right now.” "Wrong!" Neal finally fed himself into the picture. “First we have beer. Then we fight then fuck the chicks.” “Oh brilliant…” I rolled out onto the carpeted floor under the heated high fives and cheers. “Hey I know you guys. You drink beer and fuck chicks. Come on in!” Standing up-Neal brushed the yellowed late summer grass from this ripped Levis. Before he could speak Gary turned on a new thought. "Let’s play the Doors, Bachman Turner and Skynyrd. Maybe it’s time we do covers.” “You’d have to kill me first.” The disappointment bled from Neal. "Stop it," David ordered slapping Neal on the shoulder like a father attempting to teach his son a new lesson "Covers aren’t a bad thing but let’s end this shit about killing and dying. This shit’s getting old guys." David's serious outlook on death always left us chilled yet we never understood where the roots to his feelings were planted. Hell…we barely touched the subject and he took us down with one hit. Then again, talking about death wasn’t the real reason we gathered at Optimist Park. We had our orders: Pull down each handmade poster. It stole from our thunder while recreating steam. Then to hear the possibilities of doing covers killed me. A dull ache pulled acid from my stomach then shoved it into my bowels. Paradise was gifted. We had the talent to create our own sound. People liked us, but as David continuously pointed out, not enough paying people knew of us. So why should they spend Halloween night with six complete nobody’s? “You’re gonna practice at Frank’s Hole.” An excited David blew into my hidden thoughts. “I know Frank. He’s always looking for someone to step in. You’ll do your shows free cuz guys, it’s a long way to the top if you want to Rock n Roll.” You would think six fast growing kids could handle living such a free form late night lifestyle. We thought so—come on…who wouldn’t want to secretly play in a bowling alley bar 68 til dawn? It was any musician’s fantasy…for… about…a… week. Rob couldn't sleep. His nights were long-day light hours worse. One could only hope such problems were due to giggin. Girlfriend problems. Past relationships versus new found wonders. Beyond those bright blue yellow red and green stage lights sits one every night, a new flower to pull. She’s usually lost, confused and slightly older. Your basic cowgirl dressed in dark jeans, legs neatly tucked inside a chic pair of handmade boots purchased on a nearby farm. Toss in Rob’s rounded shoulders and cut biceps and you’ve got the makings of Life’s Been Good from Joe Walsh. Becky seemed interested in Rob. She was no Brenda. We wouldn’t find ourselves roughing up some father figure in the alley. Becky thought she could sing. Don’t they all? Getting to know Rob was her free ticket. Oh yeahhhh, when you’re getting the desert tray before the meal. It’s perfectly natural to tip the waitress. Do it before anyone else does. One problem though. Rob discreetly forgot to tell the rest of the Hangout about Rick. You know Rick! Most country songs are written about him: getting drunk, kicking the dog, wrecking the pickup, then chasing down the man sleeping with his biggest buddy in the whole wide world. People like Rick have one hell of a time trying to understand an 8th note has severed their bond. Which pretty much means the leather tip of a pair of Tony Lama’s was headed right for Rob’s incredible customer/client relations. And…you know it couldn’t happen at Franks Hole. I wanted to sing Me and Julio Down at the Schoolyard. I’m sure that’s not what Simon and Garfunkle intended to paint but I had a field day with it anyway. Rob and Rick. Double R’s meeting in the school hallway. The only R missing was, “R you ready to get your ass kicked?” As Elvis pointed out in My Way, “It’s time to face the final curtain.” Eyes pad locked to each other’s souls. Their open hands lay prepared. He who moved first didn’t win. Hell no! The unwritten rule states that such a move becomes the reason why I kicked your ass. You swung at me first. No word exchange only razor sharp glances. Like that of a mind tested game of mumbly peg. A well-taken care of knife cuts through any heart savoring the soul. A blood thirsty Becky never flinched. A mental bar brawl meant to harness the freak and the cowboy. No matter the outcome-she would walk away the winner. "You know Beck," Neal calmly called out from the opposite side of the gathered gawkers, his voice loud enough to echo. "There is…a better way to get into a band." Turning to look at him, their eyes met. The silent reply said, "O.K., I'm listening." "It's called talent," Neal lip-synced with a straight face. Nothing was said. Nor had a bad look been delivered. Empty reactions escaped Becky's inner self. Winter had come early. “Hail to the ice princess!” I said to myself knowing Neal would soon pay. Caught up in such bullshit, I missed Rob’s signature move. Realty shined its bright beautiful light the very second a human skull crashed into the high school locker. Aw yes…the 69 first major misunderstanding of the new school year. Well fuck me twice, I continued to speak but only to myself. Rob was not the first to be hit. He actually stood up for himself. Standing two inches taller than his counterpart was Rick who stood against the locker. Hell yes! This was a glorious moment! Except Houston we had a problem. Rick’s arms remained relaxed and those light blue things set inside that thick skull were directed one hundred percent straight into Rob’s next decision. It had become very clear that Rob had only peaked Rick’s interest. "Make a note of this," Rick sternly penetrated deep into our faces. "This is gonna cost you." Hands still clinched. Rob remained silent and fearless. "Tell me," Rick continued, "When you kiss Becky does she kiss you back? Don't hesitate little boy. Inquiring minds want to know who she's thinking or me?" I couldn’t help but break in. “Well I hate to tell you this Rick…when I’m fucking her she’s pretty much too busy figuring out how I got the big cock and you didn’t.” SLAM! OH YES! I SCORED! The fucker didn’t even turn to acknowledge me. I should have just whipped it out right there. Here! Look at this thing! Yes! I’m the gifted one! Before my hands could reach the zipper Rick’s closest friends had arrived. Rob’s stare down soon became Rick's act of coolness. Such a typical storyline, Rick felt the need to start throwing dry punches, an ability all young men are born with. It’s to convince the viewing audience of your worthiness. You are in control. Well, such antics failed to make contact with Rob. Was it that Rob had nothing to say? Had our hero’s refusal to reflect paint a true to life story of somebody shitting his pants? Before a conclusion could be determined, a fast moving arm wailing teacher who must have smelled Rob quickly dispersed the congregation of rubber necking Senior High Broncs. “Ouch!” I winced while Rob’s neck was grabbed-his body thrown into locker number 367. Rick seemed pleased. For his sparring partner just took the full impact of Mr. Gonzales. Not just any teacher but a 6 ft 3 inch 350 pound monster, the college wrestler type who farts on command while wiping his ass with a perfectly aged tumbleweed. I felt like shit…never once did I think, “Poor Rob.” I was too impressed with the way his blood streaked across the locker-then to hear him fight for air. What a predicament! Gonzales had Rob’s arms buckled high above his head. "You fight!" Mr. Gonzales bellowed, "You pay the price." Oh shit…it was time to get an autograph from the Dean of Boys, a monster much bigger than Gonzales. Not the man but the16 inch chunk of tree capable of sending anybody's ass into permanent numbification. I really wish I could have followed the troupe. Nope. Gifted to me was a bigger name on the other line. It took no time for Neal to catch his own private wind. Rick's typical ways and means had fueled an already lit flame. Always acting bigger than he was Neal stood next to Tony shaking with anger. He kept vowing that nothing would stand in his way of retaliation. "We can't put up with this anymore," Neal informed us while setting down a warm can of Coke. 70 Although he took from the communal drink Gary seemed drawn away. Every now and then he’d push himself back in, "So what do you expect to do? And…please keep in mind-while you plan Custer’s 2nd last stand the rest of us will be getting ready for a concert." Rapidly rising to his feet Neal felt it was time to let Gary know his true feelings. Reaching outward Neal's tight grip latched onto Gary's velour sweater. This caused no real commotion but it did send the can of Coke to the floor. The liquid fizz failed to bring glory to the band’s public relations department. Tony felt no urge to watch. Instead of trying to break up the war between the mentally challenged states he chose to walk away. Back turned. I could see that his hair was getting longer. Better not tell his Navy Seal father, the bastard will have that metal plate yanked and replaced. It was very clear that Neal was in control. He didn’t need Tony’s support but Gary might have. The guitar junkie from the Heights resembled a garbage bag dragged outside by an angered kid whose father had just blistered his ass for not doing his chores. Then came the hitting. Knuckles crushed into facial skin-a dull thud, scuffle then thud, thud and thud. Each hit promptly delivered to an attitude that Neal had to break. Gary was the colt whose back awaited the saddle--instead of leading this animal to water. Neal unleashed the bridal in the same exact area of the school hallway that Rob and Rick stood moments before. Guess who also returned to the scene? Mr. Gonzales… "What? You think this is the place to vent your differences?" Neal looked up at me with a shit-faced grin-a child’s calling out to his men of war. I read it to say, "I did it. I finally seized their king!” Of course I was wrong. What Neal really meant was, “Instead of standing around like a stupid puke reach for my hand and get me up off the ground." Like a brick hitting a glass window, a comedian sharing his final joke, I burst out in laughter. It was a classic moment. Tony didn’t protect his long time friend. Neal’s idol had already appeared on the fight card and the 6'3'' slave of the school system was refereeing another high school brawl. "Would you like me to call your mom?" I baby talked while looking over at Tony. The bastard had finally cracked a smile. Personally I thought it was a great come back. Who better not to play along then Gonzales? He found none of it to be funny, which might explain why the scene was introduced to sudden change. Breaking free of the teacher’s mighty arms Neal began to chase after me. Being the Tarb I am I quickly ducked into the first classroom I saw, laughing the entire way. It was a wild chase between several rows of long wooden tables. The only thing that made it difficult was the hearty laughing that fell out of my dry mouth onto the cluttered floor. My goals were to make a break for the hallway-to pull off a Starsky and Hutch disappearing act. Come on, the dude always gets away…at least until the last fifteen minutes of the show. “Slam!” The large wood door gleefully shouted. Mr. Gonzales had pulled off his own magic trick. I was cut off at the pass with Neal on my tail. Cruising at a high speed my mind could only think of the final outcome. If Gonzales didn’t move his huge frame was set to collide with a speck of dust. "I'm late," I shot out latching onto his attention, "I'm late for English." Able to move a little faster than your average over plump donkey on a good day Mr. 71 Gonzales released a satisfied smile. It tore me up. What the hell did such a look mean? Did he have me penned in? If so the look would have been more determined. I was headed straight for the hunk of walrus and he felt the need to cave in my determination with a stupid asinine smile. Then…he opened the door—yes…an open hallway to run out into like a fawn searching for cartoon characters named Thumper and Flower. My heart though came to an instant halt when he yelled out "Tarb, maybe you should think of using this kind of energy to get to my class on time." For a split second-not a full-not a quarter, but much shorter-the thrill of slamming an unforgettable homerun over the fence like Ted Williams had entered my body. I could hear all 25,000 hotdog eating, coke loving fans chanting out my name. It was that feeling I had hoped would someday guide the Hangout to many years of fame. After all, the path we walked on wasn’t a first base line. We were pawns recklessly set inside a very competitive world of music. Chapter three: Scene one Movement becomes the peace 2:37 am: Shaken by a frantic hand, maybe two. Each push immediately followed by a pull. The dream said, “Robs head is being slammed into a locker.” What again? The unconscious mind began to question. Left didn’t match right. Robs blood had turned purple then blue. Gonzales held a gun. Neal made out with Becky in the corner. Something was wrong… I opened my eyes. More shocking then the dream, my mother stood over the antique brass bed. How dare she enter my space? What if I had morning wood? My guess…Grandpa didn’t face such scrutiny before bringing the bed over from Germany. Mom’s unexpectedness totally failed to meet the requirements of being warm. She looked worried-filled with fear-in search of something other than dirty socks and underwear. I was quick to listen and extremely careful to react. "Where’s Neal?" The concerned motherly voice firmly asked. Quick to cover up my hairless chest, I pulled from the floor a black T-shirt covered with Kiss iron on patches. "His mother just called waking up your father." "Damn," I thought to myself. I don’t know about your house but here…one is instantly sentenced to the death penalty when accused of waking up the stepfather. Rule number 15 firmly states: Do not do anything that will wake up the man who keeps the roof over your head-if actions of such nature exist-expect punishment. But who had time to figure that puzzle out? Shaking my head, a cobweb or two still inside, my attempt was to clearly answer mom’s question. I had problems though. My eyes wouldn’t focus. They were hardened by green crud. It was difficult to understand the purpose behind the visit. "Do you know where Neal is," she asked again becoming more impatient with my desires to fake being out of touch. 72 "Look under my bed.” That’s all I could come up with-empty words that emerged from vocal cords I once trusted, "I put him under the bed." I literally felt my eyes roll back. How freakin stupid did I think she was? Hey, you can’t blame me for hoping, and pretty hard. Feeling unsuccessful at her attempt to get answers from me, Mom knelt to capture a glimpse of what was living under the bed. I was surprised at her reaction. It was one look then down the rugged old steps that separated my world from anything that lived below me. Each squeak and thud reminded me of how much I hated living within the four walls that surrounded me. My stepfather built this house. What a piece of crap. Why? Because he severely lacked the ability to finish any project. There’s an inspiration for you. Try and take that lesson in life to the top of Billboards charts. I could actually hear Casey say. “Here’s a song that sounds half done.” Once mom cleared the final step-my eyes popped open and the body shot up. I moved so fast a self-generated breeze recreated the Northern lights outside my bedroom window. Soaring clouds seemingly scraped the horizon. If anyone cared, such energies would have been tracked to my shoulders. Uncomfortably adjusting the pillow behind me, my nerves invited themselves into the lining of my stomach. I needed help! Required? Whatever that hidden something is that cushions powerful blows. It was hard! Severely puzzling! How do parents gain the know how? This unexplained ability to sniff out trouble. Ok…I admit it! I had just been with Neal. But to look into my mother’s face and say I knew…was wrong! I couldn’t find truth if it was staring me in the eyes. To release any information would lead to more questions. I didn’t want to hamper any type of situation. I will deny this night took place, a so-called confident self tried to reassure. Deny it took place, laughed the right side of my brain. Oh crap! I’m talking to myself again! The sudden stroke of fear haunted my ability. I wanted so bad to return to what most call the land of a thousand dreams. I was tired. I was confused. I held answers, which made me even more tired and confused. A cold sweat chilled the rare humid late summer morning. The wild fields of Montana had been victimized by a vicious storm hours earlier. But no storm could match what Mom had sent my way. Then again…if I were being honest-no storm could match my final moments with a best friend. My view was out the open window next to the bed. Its gift to me came in a pair. I felt the western breeze while gazing endlessly into any form of darkness-a resting place for an out of control imagination. The dimly lit clock radio harmlessly brought to me far away waves from KOMA in Oklahoma-I found it to be soothing to just sit and listen. Elton John’s Philadelphia Freedom followed by Taxi from Harry Chapin. I needed to create an alibi. I had to have the energy to look anyone in the face and tell bold face lies. My mind…it kept trying to piece together the entire night--over and over again. The longer I analyzed the situation the more convinced I became that no crime was committed. “How could there be?” I sharply pointed out-my face now buried in the pillow. Sporadic air hissed between my cheeks and pillow. To hold my breath would be suicide-to bare my face revealed a new self. Surprisingly…I never asked why? But that seemed pointless, almost accepting; inhumane. 73 Trying to hide inside a pillow sham only lasts so long. Next move, spinning the radio dial. I had become a child again-the clock radio, a toy. Gratification came in the form of counting the number of AM stations I could pick up. Fading in and out I compared each station to a live audience. It came in waves, scratchy, almost hard to distinguish but strong enough to become a number. This soon became boring. The hazy blue face read, “3:15 am.” I still remember my head being carefully positioned beside the edge of the window. The pillow was damp. I obviously had been crying. Maybe it was snot? The moistened atmosphere left behind from passing storms has always reflected its strength over me. Here kid…I can rain no more-I give you tears-no…a snotty nose. Rub it on your shirt, your pants, a pillow, whatever it takes to bring it more life. Dried nose droppings make great natural paintings. Be Picasso kid…etch me a masterpiece. I no longer trusted what my eyes brought to me. The center of this soul I carried grew heavier with unexpected fear. Unlike the falling star outside my window I would not be looked upon to make wishes come true. What I held was an answer. I had unmistakably made a guarantee to follow through and this would require pain, but for how long? Such pressure forced me to look deeper into the black of night. I could see why they call Montana the Big Sky Country-endless were the stars. They resembled paintbrush strokes beaming with color. "Of all nights," I quietly thought to myself. "Neal decides to pull a disappearing act and I honestly discover what I thought my imagination had created…the Northern Lights." There is no music when watching the sky dance. Movement becomes the peace. Chapter three: Scene two Lazy M The soft sounds of morning poured into my room without notice. Unseen were the pink and blue dragons that streak harmlessly upward as the sun starts to rise. Light sabers of hope are cast about like a Star Wars drama pitting night against day-darkness versus light-cow against bull or horny man needing more. “It’s 7:30!” Mom’s high-pitched voice echoed through the hallway. The entire house would soon rise. One bathroom. One staircase. Bottleneck traffic if time was wasted. Oh yeah…it was time to make a break. The antique bed was pushed away as if to bluntly say, “I’ll sleep with you but never should you call us friends. Get away you bitter enemy!” Is a growing man considered crazy if he’s capable of making himself laugh? On several occasions I actually believed I was…my best form of entertainment. Laughingly acting out the ritual, I paid no attention to what it must have looked like outside this boyhood frame, a puppet with no strings or person guiding the strings. “A new day has begun!” (Echo-echo-reverb) “In the light you have no ability to protect me! I, being the warrior of white underwear with black Kiss t-shirt, must face the long and tortured twenty-two step challenge!” Depending on how much water I drank the night before, trust me when I say, those 22 invisible footprints have countless times become what weakened me most. Girls don’t get it. A piss hard on is no joking matter. Once in front of the great white porcelain a man must somehow 74 bend his ass around to shoot the juice into its proper cup. Whoever came up with this plan to point the thingy upward first thing in the morning must have been punishing man for evil deeds done dirt cheap. Oh! And if there is a line waiting to get in…trying hiding the monster from all who pass by. Guess this would explain why so many men reach for the newspaper before heading in. The only thing harder than the bold print making up the headline is dear old Frank. The bastard gives me so much trouble I had to shatter his ego by giving him a fucked up name. I would have used Clarence but then I’d expect the little pecker to start roaring. Imagine catching me at the Metra or shrine talking to my playmate. Come on Frankie give daddy what he needs. No! No! It’s not time to wake up! Down! Down! Crap! No book to cover me. That’s it you little bastard…laugh all you want. No magazines for you for a month! That’s a lot to think about in the morning, especially when just three hours ago your heart stopped. Your mother was frantic. Memories of your close friend filtered through the mind shaft again and again. Surprisingly there was no mention of Neal at the bathroom door. Bitch Susan was living up to image and had no idea what had taken place. She either didn’t talk to Neal yesterday or Susan was fighting much harder than me not to bring it up. This is going to be a lot easier than I thought I remember saying to myself, a calming affect soothing the sound of the over beaten drum in my chest. Had I dreamed of my conversation with Neal? Yeah. A dream. Neal? I had no reason to hang with him last night. My parents would have kicked my ass-it was a school night. I could have easily stuck with that statement. It was no alibi but most kids my age make up stories to better the odds of winning. Lying is a beginners game-adults make it a sport. Prove I was with Neal. Can you physically show me evidence that we were together? Starting to tremble again, beads of fear dropped from the ceiling like last night’s late summer storm. God…I remember the rain. It was hard, sharp and extremely loud as it crashed into the gravel pits. Whoever shoved these pellets of water out the plane failed to give them parachutes. When those drops hit the earth, they dove into the surface like ground hogs running from bullets. There is no evidence, the voice kept saying; my voice, no lip movement, only the confident backing of he who would serve as my best friend. Slipping out of the Kiss t-shirt my luck swiftly changed. The mirrored image held enough physical evidence to call me guilty. The upper right arm-near the shoulder-where the bicep warmly greets the deltoid. A cut-not a scratch-a gash-skin ripped open by something unfavorably sharp. A knife? Thorny bushes? Barbed wire? Bruised, the blood still damp, my quickest reaction was to pick up the Kiss t-shirt and see if something had cut through it. Nothing… I know! The calming took hold again. I injured myself climbing up the clothes line pole then up the backside of the house to get through the window. Wow! I was almost ready to burst. I’m always getting bruises that way. You should see the marks left behind on my legs. When down there-looking up-you grab the pole then kick out then around. Two tugs then a simple stretching across cement below. The goal is to get to the makeshift shed below the window. It’s a four-foot reach-more like a leap. I have only fallen 75 twice. Once on my back-thought I was gonna die-the air wouldn’t come. The wheezing still haunts me. Did you fall last night? A more concerned self questioned. You have always bruised your legs. Never cut your shoulder. It couldn’t have been glass from a broken window. Where’s the mumbly peg knife? I must have gone into shock. I don’t remember peeing. I can’t even tell you if I took a bath or combed my hair. The cave was dark. I was cold. But was it that? Was I so laced with guilt my body shook from fear? Had I caught a cold from being out in the rain? The Kiss t-shirt, why didn’t it have a cut on the sleeve? Why wasn’t it bloodied but the wound? NEW SCENE? "Why didn't you tell Neal's parents you were with him last night?" Renee shot at me. One question I failed to prepare for. All this damn talking and I couldn’t think of anything to say but “Renee!” Holy crap it was Renee. Neal’s comrade of chapters so long and hard to explain that we might as well just call them friends. Not lovers but close enough to be brother and sister. The girl across the street you spend years watching but never feel the urge to go up her shirt or down her pants. There was no baseball on this field of dreams. “You know what the problem is with you Tarb?” She blazed forward. “You like yourself way too much.” "Oh…is that what it is?” Yep, that’s all I said. Wait! Don’t call me a wimp. The least you could do is stick around to see what I was thinking. Inside my mind I put her fat back up against the wall-her perfectly combed blonde bouffant magnetically sticking up-mysteriously gluing itself to the rugged brick surface. So bad-I just wanted to say, “Lick me.” God! She would have tumbled to her knees! The religious freak was a Clean Cut clone. The evidence is there. Who knows maybe Clean Cut and Renee were the same people? I never saw them together. She and Fat Steve could have been secretly dating. Or…should I say he and Fat Steve. Let me put it this way…Renee had what it took to seize the life from an innocent pigeon. Girls this age-Brenda, Becky, my bitch sister and Renee-they are freakin soap opera queens. Forget the climax-they’ve already figured it out. In this pukes eyes I was guilty! Then I calmly said, “I was home by 10:30. Neal's a big boy." "Was he angry?" The questions continued. Oh crap! A cynical self bled. Now she’s playing mother to him. Renee’s California blue eyes tried to melt my heathen soul. My concern was pure attitude...inside. Becoming nervous I chose to look around. There were 24 steps leading to the second floor of the school. The walls were still unpainted and cracked. How was I supposed to answer that question? I know…with questions of my own-such a guy thing to do right? "When isn't he angry and how did you know we met last night?" Ah ha! Who was the restless one now? I could see those pretty blue eyes searching really hard for a quick comeback. That’s right-she too knew there were 24 steps leading up to the 2nd floor. Fuck the wall being painted. Who looks up at school? 76 “Rick saw you together." “Rick saw Neal and me?” This told me one thing, the rumors were true. The Becky with Rob thing was a fact-finding mission. Becky sold answers to Rick about Rob and Renee kept close tabs on Neal, but why? Rick wasn’t musically inclined. What the hell did he want with the band? I swear to God I don’t remember him wanting to play with us. To this day I don’t think Renee knows how much our conversation changed my life. Somebody just made the biggest mistake of their life. My finger wanted to point. My imagination wanted to accuse. My heart fought to figure out why a stupid cowboy from Blue Creek needed to keep a firm grip on Rob and Neal? Yes…I was extremely worried. I always knew Neal was a runner. He had a taste for street sweets far worse than Rob and Bart combined. He loved the thrill of a good chase. To hunt down new stores then put them out of business. He was also a quitter. The typical torn away child who gets his butt kicked to gain attention. It's his way of dealing with the aimless pressures of reality. Neal was a painted face-someone who wears masks to all engagements. I wore only one. Tarby, Tarby, the Hangout’s sinless boy wonder. I am he who prefers to watch while others trip and stumble. An addiction? Not really-it just tells me pace out all decisions. Losing your only brother to suicide has this affect. Suddenly you stop laughing at the pranks. Everything changes, your cloths, cologne, music listened to. Blinded by the light from Manfred Mann went from being a two brother loud as you could harmony attack-straight into the very reason why KOOK radio is turned off. So why was I so nervous and scared? Neal’s decision to disappear reintroduced an unforgotten past. How can you throw something like this away? It was hard enough to deal with-I did the best I could. So yes…while Renee’s couch potato self mimicked Michelins tire man I continued to get lost inside my personal adventures with Perry Mason. A. How could a neighbor nark off a lasting friendship? B. Had Rick planted her like a seed or is she clueless? C. Band versus Cowboy…Street sweets take on horse manure. D. Candy Man Well fuck me twice then roll me over so you can take the top. This was easier then Algebra with Mr. Gonzales. One problem-shit fuck damn-the answer isn’t in the back of the book either. Bart knew the Candy Man. If Rick was who I assumed? Where’s Bart? “Hey Renee, do me a favor…” A cautious imagination threw out onto the playing field. “Go talk to Bart.” “Who’s Bart?” Extremely confused? So was I… I did find it to be amazing, two opposite worlds colliding in the school hallway. Each of our minds shot into overload. A situation I couldn’t change. 77 What made it tough on me was the burning little comment made about somebody seeing Neal and myself together. A. Was I being watched now? B. If not Renee, who would tell Rick about this meeting? C. Do I tell her the truth? D. Should I write in Candy Man like the last time? "We have a concert at the Shrine in less than a month.” I said changing the entire subject. “I'm sure Neal will be back and I’ll let him know you were looking for him." I shocked the holy piss out of myself. It was like a pee dream. You stand there peeing and peeing and can’t figure out why you are peeing until you wake up and realize you have to take a pee. Reaching to feel your drawers a sense of relief invades the body knowing you didn’t wet the bed. Renee wanted answers. I chose to give her questions. Purely mental-I had to do something. The left side of my brain was trying to create. Create every possible reason why Renee was part of Rob getting his ass kicked at the Family Fun Center. A NO TRESPASSING sign did not carry out the avenues of revenge. They were fed by an injustice. To endure this type of injury someone had to be let down, disappointed, and feared. Taft was perfectly ripened for the occasion. A Montana style hit man dressed in tastefully respectable cloths topped off with red tennis shoes. But then again, I’m only letting my wildest imaginations create. Taft had reason to strike back. His purpose though…came as an order. Who wanted him out? Someone tipped off Taft. Enemies don’t cross paths. A wolf plans his attack by standing patiently behind a tree. This war was self contained; therefore I believe the same person who talked with Taft also convinced Rob. Looking deeper into the well-rounded face highlighted by two pools of blue, I noticed a sense of innocence. While Renee spoke like a white-feathered bird laying eggs in a hen house I suddenly placed her outside the circle. A gossiping idiot was my newfound thought. If she were the only person alive she’d talk to the bricks in the wall. Rick politely asked if she’d retrieve an answer-volunteers are well loved for the need to be accepted is any teenagers dream. If Renee had something to do with the Candy Man, she didn’t know it. Then again…I could very easily be the bigger fool. And a fool such as I…didn’t need Ricks street flavored ways to paste sugar on my toes. Ever heard the phrase “saved by the bell?” Thank God for small miracles! What came from the conversation was confidence. I felt secure with the events that took place the night before. Rick obviously knew nothing. If he was my only witness then maybe…I could get away. Three steps from entering first period-my escape toward the realms of pre-morning daydream syndrome-the wind became cold; the wolf bowed his head slightly as if to squint from his eyes answers to a new puzzle. There, in the room-unexpectedly standing next to Dr. Ioane. Mr. Echler: The Dean of Boys. Yes…the frozen soul whose hand is strong, he who lashed out against Rob and Neal just 24 hours before. A stain he left behind. Shadows made of red now bruised-a paddling for doing 78 wrong yet someone believes such lessons in life are right. Why is that? A fight is a fight but no reason to torture young minds. Oh I couldn’t wait to grace the pages of this next chapter. For some reason I felt my name being scratched into paper and would be several times. What gave it away? The unedited expression found sitting on the surface of Echler’s face. It was yellowed as if to be highlighted-exposing enough wrinkles to hide the Titanic. "Mr. Echler would like to see you." A calm Mr. Ioane announced to me. I’m gonna be honest with you. Pee dreams and morning wood invite fear but nothing compared to what sat in my throat the moment I heard those words. I couldn’t swallow. My throat was rock hard, hands gripped tightly, and one time brown eyes now white and sticky were glued to Echler’s stern welcome. I said it. I had to. I didn’t mean to, but I said it. “Oh shit.” If it had been a movie the French horns would have been bellowing with the cellos. Sharp jabs of patriotic refuge tangled with an evil Empire attitude. I would have called the song The Escorting. A giant of a man, silent when he walked, a child next to him fighting off fear like a hive filled with wasps. Like a vision of Jimmy Carter, the President walking through the gardens at Camp David. He wanted peace in the Middle East. Echler still hadn’t explained. I kept trying to come up with an Incredible Hulk conclusion. I wanted to turn green-flip Echler on his back then toss him hard against the wall. Just as I started to believe the fantasy I caught a quick glimpse of my trembling eyelid. When the facial features start to twitch those questioning know you have something to hide. I couldn’t catch my breath. The footsteps were so loud they echoed inside my heart. Then…we entered his office. Ice cold chills shot through my spine. Sitting inside the light blue room decorated with football trophies and two abstracts on the wall was Neal's mother Patsy. I recognized her dark hair with a streak of gray-the left side. She sat quietly, almost emotionless but visibly afraid. I could tell she hadn't slept. My first attempt was to swallow. Then I bit my inner lip. You bet I had a goal. I was out to bring some sort of taste to my dry mouth. Fresh blood isn’t the best flavor but it would do. I looked at Patsy the entire way into Echler’s office. She looked right back at me. I needed toilet paper. A boy my age shouldn’t be crapping his pants. Before there were words our family picnic was visited by relatives. You know, the type you never get to meet until it’s too late to turn back. Two police officers entered the room. I wish I could say quietly but not these two. They were noise makers, keys clanging, big black shoes clomping, jaws so tight their butts squeaked. There I sat, food for the king and two ego driven blue suits in search of a good reason to hike my ass out of that school in front of the entire student body. Can someone make that two rolls of TP? Question one: Straight from Patsy. "Where's Neal?" I lifted my eyebrows as if to be shocked by such a question. I was expecting a warm welcome. Nope…not even an introduction. Plus, I’ve seen the movies; the person in question is always asked several questions. Then Slam! The fist is driven two inches into the giant wood table. These bastards were breaking the rules. I swear if Berretta knew this he’d be kickin some serious ass. It was quite obvious that my being in Echler’s office interrupted a private moment at 79 Duncan Donuts. You bet I sat there totally silent. This wasn’t the place to reveal what I knew. I hadn’t talked with Bart, David or even Rob. Which I think is the reason why they cornered me so quickly. “Get the little fucker before he changes his alibi.” My eye kept twitching. I sat there and rub it like a good crotch itch. Fuckin felt great! Then it hit me…this nervous action was in reaction-the sign above my head read, “I know but I’m not telling.” Guess what? I cracked. "Yes I was with Neal. He was pissed off at me for something that happened with the band.” Deeply saddened Patsy set free the hidden treasures. I wanted to cry with her. Until this moment I had never seen a parental figure bow at the knees. The tears slipped down the edge of her cheek then across a perfectly shaped square chin. I remember the tears being extremely clear; they glistened within the florescent-lit room. What I watched was a mother’s love fall from her eyes onto the bluish pink blouse below. Neal never said anything about his mother caring. He never stopped talking about the hatred and deceit. Her words were never from the heart but rather the cuff. He said it was because of him that his father brought unrest to their family. "Listen to me," she abruptly threw at me. Whoa! Mood change! The mind signaled all available forms of protection. Leaning toward my somewhat confident self Patsy tossed out a combination of anger and pain. "I know you Tarb! Wipe that cocky smile off your face and tell me where my son is." I swear to god someone put needles in my ass. I never moved so quickly. I went from slouching in the chair to full erection. I also did something extremely stupid. Attention all units! Attention all units! Each brain wave blared out near and far. Become defensive! I repeat…become disgustedly defensive! So I did. “What kind of bullshit masquerade are you trying to pull off here?” The sponge seeped from my lungs. It had to be a sponge. Those damn tears Patsy was crying dried up real damn fast. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” Echler interrupted with a stern fingertip grip on my neck. I sat there looking into her soul. I wanted an answer. She owed it to me. I needed it to head off the posse preparing to hang me. “I think it’s a runaway.” One half of the men in blue said while rolling his lips upward then back in. “I’m not trying to defend Tarb’s awkwardness but Patsy I think your son has just taken off for a couple of days…the longest a week.” "Look!" I interrupted. “We have a concert on Halloween night. I would do nothing to jeopardize Neal's chances of performing with us. We need him to play bass. He’s all we’ve got." How’s that for serious ass kissing? Re-adjusting her limp body in the hard wood chair, Patsy’s well-watched reply was, “OK I'm listening." Although I knew better, a glow of hope rose above tortured valley. A small fragile smile touched the corners of her cheeks. Her breathing was long and accented. I took it as my cue. Wrap up this show with a big explosion. Send these suckers out into the real world knowing the 80 next time you came to town they better be first to purchase tickets. My fuel came with a burst but not a boom. "The person you need to talk to is Rick. He's the dude that picked that fight with Rob yesterday. He swore he’d get us one at a time. Renee said this morning he was spying on Neal and me last night at the Pits. Then check out Taft over at Lewis and Clark. He kicked Rob’s butt so bad he landed him in the hospital." “Neal never told me that!” Patsy blurted-her eyes the size of twin moons. “There’s a lot Neal probably hasn’t told you.” The officers harmoniously said, “The latest, being the real reason why he’s decided to run away from home.” I felt like the author of a children’s book; and so this is how the meeting went. See Dick runaway. Jane points finger. Poor Spot…he always gets the blame. The big bad blue men had a hunch but not a bunch because it was little Sally who knew the secret. Oh no! What were they going to do? I know! Let’s beat it out of poor fuzzy wuzzy Spot. The damn dog must have seen something. What the fuck good is the dog if he can’t protect his freaked out fucked up friend? Guess what? Spot did know. Sally knew nothing. Dick was dead and Jane had every reason to point the finger. But I liked what the cops said, “Neal was a runaway.” It bought me more time. Never being somebody who depended on street sweets to gain new levels of flight, I wanted so badly to locate the lack of integrity to enjoy a peaceful ending. If faced with the same challenges Rob and Neal would have pulled out the pipe, poured fresh water into a bong and hit up the Qwik Way for a bottle of watered down wine. But this is how I was. Had I known what I knew-my guarantee would have been a promise-therefore meaning I could be manly and break it. My ambitions were landing rather than taking off. Depression set in. I was cold, lonely, and invisible yet people could see me. I went from being a lost nobody band member to the front of the line. Tarby was the new cool guy at school who had been pulled over by two cops and a scared mother. I was famous for doing nothing. My new name was there he is. At times they called me Do you think he knows? Plus the ever-popular name that really stuck out: Druggie. I kept pushing forward. The echo of desire burned a hole in my sock. Without intuition the world I created became invaded. No longer would it be six strings and a song to sing. What I felt was the fierce anger of a medium built young man taking over. Silence? How could there be? I couldn’t stop screaming at myself-words of distrust-outbursts of foolish behavior. My eyes were open yet my sight was blanketed. I had little strength. I kept a vigil with the tall purple and blue mountains some sixty miles away. “Return Tarby! Runaway!” Red Lodges Lazy M ski trail called out to me. My entire life she played with my boyhood dreams. I studied her curves, her lips-she kept well hid. Visions from the crowded cornfield-Kings Avenue and South Billings Blvd. During the dog days of July and August she’d smile at me. That Lazy M…my heart would sing. “Lay naked inside my forest. Be with me tonight.” The whisper was heard. Serenity built a brick at a time. Fantasy held together by hope. 81 Boyhood temptations held inside. To hold her once-to kiss her goodnight. But only after I felt her touch one raindrop at a time. Not one fence but several kept me away. Blame it on the tassels resembling long hair. I called them my fans-they begged to hear more. From the center of a well-groomed acre or two they’d chant. My girl-My Lazy M-so true are the words and rumors. My passions lay more with corn and not with squiggly lines racing down a hill. Unfilled without understanding, I generated action from reaction. Imagine holding that kind of power at this age. Screw it! Most kid’s start at two. Maybe that’s it. I’m in the midst of my terrible teens-the second level of human growth. I no longer fight for the best part of the worm. My wings are spread and I’m flying. I ran into the field. Boy am I ever behind! I may be the king of the castle-keeper of the cornfield but how does one prepare to deliver the answers I hold? The added weight of Neal’s disappearance touched up with a guarantee to keep quiet has turned me into a Biblical hypocritical heroic coward. I can’t just walk up to Rob and say, “Hey man! What’s up?” They must know by now. Maybe they’re looking for Neal? David would never ignore a situation like this. That’s why I haven’t heard from them. Bart pulled the Hangout together and they’re searching for Neal. I can hear Bart saying, “We can’t invite Tarb. He’s being watched. Don’t make any contact with him until Neal is located.” My chest is trembling. Ever felt your heart shake? There’s no way I’m coming out of this cornfield. I feel safe. Oh, I’m sure Patsy has talked to everybody. There’s probably a major manhunt-taking place. Cops from 22 counties lined up along the back roads leading to Canada. You’re wasting your time… A thought comes to my lips then bolts like a deer spotted by hunters. From the Quaking Asp I still see its mule deer ears. Call back the troupes! He’s not going to be found! Tell them Tarb. Tell them what took place last night. My toes tingled, throat ached from being dry-the tall tasseled corn guaranteed me protection but not from a wild imagination. My attempts were to focus on someone else breaking the silence. This way I’m not to blame. But you are, the thought returns to my crouched self. You just had to run over to the Pits last night didn’t you? You just had to be there! You’re such a stupid fuck! How could I argue? The limitations of true friendships don’t require what I’m putting myself through. The longer I stay away the more I’m to blame. Why isn’t someone else talking? Susan! Where is she? She had to have been faking it this morning. She knew…she had to. How can a girl screw a man and not know what he’s thinking? The voice of the silent wolf started to growl. The chill of knowing you are not alone raged below my muddied skin. The wind whispers through a cornfield. People push to retrieve. Each long petal sprouting from the center of a corn stalk seeks out sound then passes it along. Two thumps my heart stops-my breath held. “Fuck!” The frightened expression fed to my held back self. 82 I couldn’t see who it was. I only heard the ruffling. The farmer never visits. The Hangout knows nothing about my secret garden. Kids? Maybe others who enjoy playing here too? I can’t be the only one who loves to run through a constant maze. I was light headed and panting, incapable of moving. I couldn’t! If I heard them they could hear me. I laid flat in the irrigation channel. I looked for feet, boots, tennis shoes, whatever it would take to identify the visitors. In the movies the actor prayed. In reality I found no words to say. Felt was numbness and fear. Whoever was in the cornfield with me wasn’t looking for fun. Their footsteps were too pronounced. I looked upward. What if they stood over me? I was not prepared to fight. I don’t know how. Popping Rob was has been my only battle. Such luck doesn’t run twice in my family. Bad news became gloom delivery. You know, they drive black trucks that resemble UPS but reek of sour milk. The mind was made up. I would run but where? The fear left cigarette burns in my memory. The sight of seared skin boiling handed me the scent of dead monkeys and pigeon poop. Where the hell are you going to run? I was more than a mile from home. The cornfield wasn’t my neighborhood. I treaded the waters of Newman/West High territory. The Bears and Broncs; one incredible reason to go to war. Here I laid without an army to back me up. The cornfield was nestled in front of two rows of cookie cutter housing I-90 to my south. Taking the highway would lead me to the Gravel Pits. I wasn’t going back. South Billings Blvd put me in the center of industrialism. Bear fans…alumni willing to kick ass in the name of school spirit. I could not see Lazy M. I only caught the calm tassels sitting silently. So were the voices and clomping steps. Maybe they had stopped to wipe their feet. Montana mud is like no other. Once firmly attached to your clothes or shoes it holds up invitations for others to climb on board. Within seconds your body is weighted becoming difficult to move. It has a taste of its own-a rich fertile flavor often consumed when digging up potatoes. Cornfields are no different. Ever strip an ear from a live stalk? Now do it a thousand times keeping a count of those you ripped open to take a bite of the action. Performing the ritual would not save my ass. Shoulders dug into the soil I begged to be invisible or least so muddy the whites of my ears were shit colored. It was show time. The opening act had arrived in a pair of dark brown waffle stomper’s three rows to the left sporting barely enough mud to piss off a mother. The bastard who coined the idea of not finding a needle in a haystack? Why didn’t he say cornfield? This was too fucking easy! Six steps from being caught and I still didn’t have a plan. Breathe? Would you? My eyes were so wide-open the crows spoke of two bad moons rising. Still no prayer-for mighty man mud eater was up a shit creek without his paddle. "You ass!" He yelled out. “Rick!" My lips trembled. Not a quiver but a jerking motion, lighting strikes of uncontrolled muscle spasms. I felt pain. It shot through my right cheek sending shock waves toward my neck. It felt like I was tied up. I was unable to move. I had become a cornfield prisoner. A tiny troll trapped within a square circle. The strong sturdy stalks with long brown tassels were solid bars. I begged not to drop the soap in the shower. This man wanted my ass and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. "So. So. Have you. You seen Neal?" I bumped out hoping he wouldn’t notice my nervousness. “I’ll make you a deal. Let me go and I won't tell anybody you killed Neal."83 It was a joke! Holy crap! I tried to make light of a very serious subject. “That’s what I like about you, Tarb.” I heard his sarcasm bleed on me. “You’ll sell out a friend before he can count to ten.” Ouch! I thought to myself-one point for him, one for me. Shit the game was tied. The first sign of the rules being changed is unpredictability. A natural reaction would have been to grip my jacket then deliver more harm than good. I kept waiting for Rick to take full advantage of my unprotected legs. Nope! Not a move. Just a quick come back. Dear God in Heaven please forgive me for what I am about to do. The thoughts continued to silently pour from my shaken soul. If I had been a can of pop the fizz would have died six weeks earlier. It was that silent. Raising pigeons teaches you many tricks. If you wanna hold their tiny blue and gray bodies, the first step must be perfectly untraced. I didn’t leap. Nor did I jump or shoot from a cannon. What was required couldn’t be measured in time. To catch Rick off guard meant flight. Latching onto a fist full of hair, the angry invader’s unshaven face was introduced to the canyon my ass created in the mud. My hands were rammed deep into his body. More than inches, it felt like a mile. Because my reaction to his non-action was unforeseen Rick’s body was forced to accept the final outcome without protection. He fell fast and hard, so hard the nearest forest of trees searched for their latest losses. Looking toward their roots not a creature moved not even a mouse. Relieved of worry and stress, the forest took note; the crash of thunder was not relation. The trees started to mumble “If not them, then who? Who took the fury of written chapters held back?” They couldn’t see Rick laying in the irrigation channel-six or seven shattered cornstalks autographing the sight. Not one person fell witness to Rick slowly turning over. His red plaid hunting jacket filled with memories of something that shouldn’t have taken place. “If you ever sneak up on me again you mother fucker!” My lungs delivered without stopping to rest. “Nobody fucks with me! Nobody!” I kicked him. Not once but five times. Six, seven, I can’t remember. I didn’t feel anything. I was numb. I never once questioned how Neal’s disappearance had created a monster. But I remember Rick laughing. It was like he wasn’t there. Maybe he wasn’t. The blood resembled a painter’s nightmare. No beautiful trees and flowers. It was thrown like rice at a wedding. Here. There. Everywhere I looked Rick’s thick way of living blistered my hiding place. The mountains, Lazy M, Red Lodge, he took them all away from me. He kept asking, “What were you and Neal fighting about? Why did you come? He would have been fine if you hadn’t come.” “Fuck you!” I raged forward. Sixteen maybe seventeen kicks. I don’t remember. Rick didn’t get up. He stopped talking. There was barely enough air for two. I stood over him panting like a bear. He laid still. The heat fell from me singeing the soles of our shoes. A possum never turns blue. He sleeps until the intruder leaves. Misty and damp, I felt like running-but couldn’t. I felt pain. I hurt more than Rick. My knuckles, feet, legs numb, but aching. I wanted to lie down. Laugh about the battle. Giggle like two kids wrestling in the park. Rick lay motionless. “Come on man.” I playfully nudged not a breath to be caught. “I’m through fighting. Open your eyes and let’s talk about this.” A blow to my forehead deadened any decision to forge forward. I had endured a sharp 84 puncture. Brought to my knees I winced. I leaked sweat and cow waste that tasted like salt. There was no scent, my nose no longer worked. The inner alarm shrieked a mother’s cry. I had become careless-forgetting the hand is quicker than the eye. I was watching! The temper pushed toward common sense. I did not look away. How did he move so quickly then return to sleep? The questions played over and over. Fast then slow. I could not see. My mask would not dry. The mind received but did not react. If only I had tried harder. The evidence clearly shows the attack came from behind. I assumed Rick moved. But I hadn’t the energy to turn. I couldn’t fight. Winded by an explosion of caught up anger, I laid there just as lifeless as my sparring partner. My mouth sucked in ground up dirt and broken corn. I wept from an empty heart. My stupidity had caught up to me. My music had just become the landing pad for a pair steel toed size eleven boots. I couldn’t say anything. I only listened. “Rick wake up.” The voice coaxed. “Rick…” A voice I recognized. Oh yeah. I knew who it was. My attempts were to watch. But it was my turn to play possum. To wipe the bloody sweat from my left eyebrow would have cost me. So I didn’t see Rick get up. For that matter, I didn’t hear him mumble, moan or stumble away. Did I kill him? Yes. Earth being scraped away by hand was the picture I drew. Deeper than a scratch, the irrigation ditch was soft enough to throw. I assumed by morning my reckless behavior would be erased by migrant workers paid to mine the field of corn. Two forms of hope-golden corn for cattle meant better living quarters for the travelers. He who slept forever kept with him what Neal and I spoke of the night before. Chapter three: Scene three There’s only one challenge in life. That’s life itself. Once you give up. There are no second chances to the game of life. Radio personality KOOK radio/Billings, Montana Was Neal dead? The mirror never answered. Yet the person stood looking back at me. Denial? If I knew nothing about Neal, then Rick didn't know. More importantly neither did Patsy, Neal's mother. Therefore, I was in the clear…right? The challenge: Try washing the damp night air off my body two days later. Every turn, each lifting of the arm, any move made forward, the Gravel pits walked with me. Making 85 matters worse, were the chunks of mud I kept spitting up from the cornfield. I became a prisoner. My house. My room. My mirror. Not my image. “I don’t own you anymore.” If only I could scream it. I feared the worse. Why did the Candy Man let me go? Was Rick really gone? I can’t say yes. I refuse to say no. Why didn’t I open my eyes? Maybe the silent watcher buried other things. You know, street sweets and caramel surprises. It was the Candy Man wasn’t it? Did our candied friend spend the night at the Gravel pits? Did he see me with Neal? What if he did? I have nothing to hide…right? I didn’t kill Rick. I just wouldn’t open my eyes. It’s a game. No way. I saw his blood though. Try and get that past the denial. Pictures of my night with Neal won’t leave me alone. The weather is to blame. It rained. It really rained hard. The gutted out dirt road was beyond muddy. It was a lake within a lake; a frog’s paradise. My breathing was extremely heavy. Montana mud sticks to you like superglue. I remember silently joking about stealing the dirt. If all things were this easy to borrow life would be sweeter. But what would I steal first? A guitar? Better grades? The struggled walk tripped me several times. Tossing the mud from my laughter, I soon became disgusted. Each step added more clumps of crud and more weight. My drenched canvas tennis shoes were a mother’s worst nightmare. I had made a trail that any man could follow. And they did…directly into Neal’s shadow. His urges to run free were not new. He always took off. We were used to it. I know it’s a cliché…but this time was different. I held the proof. His words were shaky. Each thought, a long drawn out sentence. Pauses were invisible. The pain could spread ink several inches. Neal didn’t tell me where he camped out. I found the son of a bitch. Hiding places are family kept secrets, the Gravel pits being ours. Sheltered by ancient riverside trees and shrubs, it was incredibly easy to live off the land. Wild rhubarb blanketed the trails, the pond banks featured asparagus and choke cherries. Throw salt onto a damp knife blade and you have rabbit in the morning. The Pits were silent. The perfect dwelling to extinguish self manufactured resentment and out of tune fairytales carelessly introduced by band members failing to see eye to eye. The only cure was teenage sex, masturbation or flat out getting away. There were no circle jerks so we ran far as we could. Over the highway into the trees to let go then laugh alone then kick a tree only to bitch about it later. The screams. God, I… I can still hear his words screaming at me. My fingertips ache from the pressure. He wasn’t torn. His decision to share with me was. Clinched into my fist it became my vow to stop being the buddy. Neal didn’t need someone. He needed something. Was I supposed to listen? Was he reaching inward or out? Had I crossed the line by ignoring the demands? I wasn’t his friend. True friends let people go. I couldn’t and still can’t. My wayward thinking forced the walk to continue. Feet sloshing, slurps of unhappiness leaked into the air. Why would mud want to hold onto me? Who was I? Its cries were shattering. One-time tire tracks bellowed like a straw fighting to free a slice of peach from a milkshake. Through murky puddles my feet waddled. The faded raindrops lay sleeping. My knock was a grunt then I’d duck, dodge or sharply swing out to miss a leafless branch pleading to scratch my forehead. They hung toward the ground like raw skeleton fingers. If this had been a cemetery heart stoppage at the age of sixteen would proceed as expected. 86 I kept telling myself "Ignore the fears. Locate the friend. The bastard has got to be here," I wanted to scream out his name. No…I wanted to stand on a damp tree stump and yell as loud as I could. Every dirty word handed to me since birth would have been delivered in perfect pitch, volume and tone. To be so careless would have cost me. The free tree-to-tree telephone call would have warned him of my uninvited arrival. The meeting? Neal had no idea I was coming. Yep, I was trying to be the hero. Unlike a doctor I made a cold call. So cold it froze to my conscience. So cold my tongue felt like it had touched a metal pipe on a forty below zero morning. So cold… Looking back I think Neal knew I was there. The freakin mud gave me away. It sucked my ten toes like a porno flick playing at Studio One. To be silent meant taking a crash course with the Marines. As unannounced as I wanted to be, this meeting was meant to be. There were to be no outside interruptions. A non come-to-Jesus presentation delivered the best way I could. Not in the name of victory. When the best is being messed with, his partner becomes the net. Neal needed presence not acceptance, empathy more than sympathy. My back would break trying to lift him not toward being happy, only heard. Shaded by darkness and covered by low clouds of moist untamed air, the Pits played an unfair game with my imagination. Purpose filled, the clouds laughed at me. They danced about changing shapes, doing all they could to fool the nonbeliever. Tree stumps looked like black bears-their paws pointed upward begging for peanut butter. The Ponderosa pines were prowling bobcats. One wrong step and my white naked kneecaps became wild rabbits. I was convinced, anything that was real, wasn’t. Try and have that argument with yourself sometime. Each thought was another ticket sold. With no authority, I couldn’t demand things to change. Knowing this, the mysterious lurking clouds played between the trees. Invisible for a moment then they’d reappear quickly. They stopped once or twice long enough to surround my next breath only to call it one of their own. Neal was close by. I could hear the pulse singing from his slim wrist-see the beads of sweat slowly rolling down his face dropping silently to the grassy area below. Bewilderment blanketed my steps. I didn’t feel lost. Nor was I uncomfortable. The nametag read: Here walks the man who stole from our silence. This alone fed the torture. Mental anguish haunted by waste high weeds and snake grass. The combination of sticky saturated Montana muck and left over winds blasted my efforts. Stumbles were hard to pick up. I was cold. My favorite KISS t-shirt had been ripped. The inner cavity of my lungs refused to expand. I wanted to cry. Is any person worth this much? The words tore into my conscience. Why Neal? Why was I sacrificing all to locate Neal? I can’t imagine what the step father figure is going to do if he finds out I’m not in bed. No cross-country running team could take the impact. The surface changes battle attitude like a war on mosquitoes and flies. I went from tearing down a gravel road to hard pavement, an open field near the highway then river forest. There were no paths, only waterways made famous during downpours. My skin had been cut by jagged branches introduced to uncontrollable sweat. I wanted to rest. My legs forgot about growing tired. They crept near death. They were numb, unable to properly move, cramps that were unbearable to describe. To stop meant I wouldn’t reach Neal. To turn back spelled out missed opportunity. I 87 begged to seize a second chance. I craved the taste of second chance. I could not go on. Inside I cried loud heavy tears. Try wiping your ears. Sometimes what you feel doesn’t exist. Emotion has more power than the sun. Looking upward I could see three stars. It told me the sky was starting to clear. Even more revealing was a teaspoon of moonlight. The early morning chill scraped across the two hidden lakes outlining the riffraff sleeping on the floor. Tiny white clouds filled with moisture danced in front of me-most of them created by my uncaught breath. I sat in the mud, alone. There were no fresh tracks on the roadway. The evil demented witch blessed branches stood still but I could hear them laughing. I looked at them with a South Side glare. Although they were painted with untouched moist memories of storms past I gave them an added coat of disgust and humiliation. How dare you keep me from my friend! I whispered sternly. And you think you would never do the same? I bet if you started to fall you would immediately signal the others to catch you. You bastards! How fucking dare you do this to me! "TARB!" came a deep resonant voice. Swiftly spinning. I saw nothing. Like the rain, the sweat stopped pouring. I became frozen. Motionless. I recognized the voice but it didn’t belong to Neal. My eyes scanned the nearby woods. Nothing… The voice sat there. It boiled in a can of soup waiting to be digested in my gut. One problem, there was no second calling. It was silent. No air shooting from the nostrils of a nervous bull. Not jagged red eyes staring me down calling me breakfast. I had walked into unprotected territory with no South Side back up plan. Sharp quick glances into the tall grass sparked my imagination. I saw chickens with fangs, bats with giant eagle wings, frogs frothing at the mouth, everything but the origin of the voice. The inner alarm howled, look for a soft place to land! I needed a roll out plan. Hit the ground then leap back to my feet. A dangerous mission if confronted by unseen trees. At that very moment, it hit me harder than my sister slapping my ego. This was the reason why I jumped off our two-story shack of a house. It prepared me for unexpected forest friends out to kick my ass. Take the first whack and hope to God you have enough strength to get back up. Then, you either run or you climb the ladder and do it again. Butterflies caked my vision. Clogged and drained of energy. Not a good sign. Especially when partnered with uncontrollable jolts of fear. I shook! It was extremely difficult to hide the reaction. I had become a Close-n-Play record player on a dirt road filled with washboards. I might as well have been saying, “DDDDDDDDDDDDon’t eat me bbbbbbbbig bad wwwwwwwwolf!” “Tarb!” The voice harnessed my attention again. This time it came filled with authority. Boss-like. Demanding. Ever been with a girl on a date but didn’t follow up? You didn’t call, write or send up smoke signals. Mystery of what is said is great energy. Then you hear she couldn’t give a rat’s ass. That’s how I felt right now. The intruder? The sudden impact of fright night 101? Gone. Flashbacks to figure things out are incredible. They’re often interrupted by enormously 88 loud bangs that catapult you right back to the present. It was he, the one they call Stepfather. The keeper of the key was calling out my Hangout name. How dare the mighty one of the round kitchen table attempt to pull off a stunt that would make him look cool. "TARB!" He rang out a third time. If I didn’t move he would. Up the rugged old steps he would go, into my pleasure palace of worn out records and half naked chicks on the wall. He rarely made such a trip. Thank God for small favors. Bringing pain to the journey was an injured leg. His left kneecap was shattered. The accident took place while rebuilding an irrigation system in Northern Wyoming. It slowed him way down. Pissed him off. Our Christmas that year came in the shape of Salvation Army delivered toys and a free turkey from the neighbors. Earth to reality! Earth to reality! Try traveling sometime with your eyes open. Then come back quickly. Eighty percent of who you are becomes frozen somewhere in the middle. So what do we do? We shake our head. Cartoon figures do it all the time. If they get out of it unharmed, by God, so will I. Humans pay for it, usually putting the blame on sleeping wrong. Yep, Rob would tell you take in more street sweets or ask your stewardess for a seat that lies back. To hear the 235-pound stumbles of a stepfather inching closer to your hiding place spelled trouble. This dude meant business. The bomp, bomp creak bomp wasn’t casual. Once on the staircase landing I’d hear crash, crash squeak, thunk, squish and squish through shag carpeting then sudden silence. A closed door sent signals to all body parts. Prepare for the unexpected! It wasn't going to be sweet nor would it be shared with the family. “I know…I’ll meet him half way. It’ll knock him off balance. This way I become the first to score unexpected points.” Hell yes! I made the move. I flew to the door that separated my world from those who dreamed of entering. The first thing I noticed was the color of his eyes. Dark brown. No lines in the middle. No pupils. He had been sitting a long time in the dark. They held the shape of anger-powerful emotion that backed me up. The stereo played softly in the fully lit bedroom. Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs followed by New Kid In Town from the Eagles. It affected him. The sound of music kept him from sharing his true intent. He just stood there. Every so often he’d step near the closet then turn and look around the room. Snooping, possibly sniffing the air. I wanted to read his mind. Better yet, I erase the 666 from his forehead. Kicked out of school for fighting and Neal is missing, I said to myself creating the conversation. Sit on the bed. Protect yourself from possible wild swings or grabbing. The very second I sat down. Daddy number two moved into action. He stood over me like the Rockies towering the foothills surrounding Billings. His large shadow came with no fear. It billowed out having no problem generating energy. I started to laugh. I was nervous and completely intrigued. A rare occurrence this meeting was. It was as if he had latched onto a flashback of his own. After all, the wanna be carpenters first intent was to complete the room for his eldest son. Nope, he moved out and got married. Joe…let’s call the stepfather Joe. He found my posters on the wall to be incredibly 89 fascinating. He rolled his eyes. The group Kiss looked backed. Robert Plant kept his arms and hairy chest exposed-as did the half naked women. Joe was pissed all right. How dare I put staples in his walls! He would have to spend two maybe three weekends repainting the room. With puppy dog eyes I looked up. I couldn’t help it. Unfolded was my warm welcome smile. “Pretty cool things to look at aren’t they?” I confidently said hoping to end the war of silence. "Two things," he quickly returned-a large stern voice-vocals that firmly plant roots in your ears. Roots connected to a finger pointed in my face. “Fighting in school." "I know I know." I interrupted bending the fake smile into a cowardly frown "And where's Neal?" "I don't give a damn about Neal!" He returned in his self-made personalized way. Then without a skip, a fresh clean 45-the real message sang out like Barbara and Donna on No more tears, “No concert on Halloween night." “What? You can’t do that!” “Oh yes I can…and I did.” Shocked! My temper-over loaded with anger! Fingertips shoved between my lips. No hangnails available to gnaw. Revert to plan B. Slam closed fist into pillows. Hit walls. Throw magazines or books as hard you can onto the floor. Do not kick the metal bedpost with bare foot! Numbness. Hatred. The uninvited bastard had just taken away my only freedom. Where in the fuckin constitution does it say Joe had the right to silence my passion to perform? He did nothing. He stood there. Victory stamped into his name. Play music? Not me. No tears. I wanted to though. No! For the first time, the only time, I was living with what Neal spoke of; these freak ass parental figures and their jealousy. “You’re afraid I’m going become famous aren’t you? Outperform your real kids. Show them up. Make them live in tiny houses on shit row.” Not one word added. No slapping of the face. Not even an attempt to change the subject. Joe escaped my plot of privacy unscathed. “I hate you! You’re a fucking failure Joe! You are a Goddamn piece of shit sitting in a toilet for a week! Come on you fat bastard. Get back here and take me on. You think you’re so fuckin tough! Hand me the rules like a death sentence then walk away. I hate you! I hate your fucking guts!” I could kill Rick but I couldn’t touch Joe. Was it out of respect? Then again, I did say some pretty bad shit. The anger burned blue flames. My underwear smoked. I was so hot my brown eyes screamed at a rainbow walking by. Then I performed the most stupid stunt to date. My Alvarez. It sat staring at me. I didn’t want to be looked at. I had just made an ass out of myself. Who the fuck wants to be looked at when you’re red faced and shamed? The guitar called out to me like a woman craving love. Murder victim number two. Prove I did it though. I don’t remember picking up the Alvarez. Therefore it didn’t happen…right? Yet her fate lay deep in the paneled walls of an angry teenager’s bedroom. The turntable, the Eagles record, a few Lego’s set aside. Victims of rage. Innocent bystanders invited to a fit. Sadly, they wouldn’t survive. I threw myself onto the bed. Three days of mindless tantrums and this is how it would end. Pulling a feather pillow to my face I cried. Large tears. My snot canals flooded that cotton 90 pillowcase like a wet dream. Oh yeah, big scream. I released a ton of pain. The pillow was so tight against my face nothing was heard two feet from the bed. I had lost a war, maybe three-the biggest being an opportunity to play on Halloween night. There’s nothing worse than an ill-fated shouting match in a pillow. Right in the middle of a big ass mofo letting go, the metal arm holding the diamond needle on the turntable picked itself up. Click…zzzzz…krrrrrrssshhhhhhh. The freakin delivery boy of music stood before me. He was bent, broken and fuckin confused. Obviously someone felt I needed a tune. The only proof I need when it comes to the subject of life after death. The K-mart purchased silver lined two-speed record player grabbed me by the balls and yanked. My expression looked like a bad trip. Face smooshed in a pillow balling my eyes out. Then boom! Click…zzzzz…krrrrsssshhhh. I’m a free man! I heard the rushing sound of intellect kicking my brain into gear. The great music gods have lifted my sins and pierced my soul with new blood! The chill had bitten the air-a frozen sickness. I saw the musical portrait of a young good-hearted killer saved. Beautiful blessings gave permission for deserved value to step forward and succeed. There were no bright lights, jagged bolts of lightning or endless roars of thunder--just an assumed dead chuck of record player. And I didn’t even have to apologize for kicking its ass. The perfect timing opened a door. The gate swung so hard it knocked the latch completely off. I had sipped from a cup of silence. Images caught between frightful tears squeezed from an improper introduction. Till that time I had never met such creations. I was dating loneliness without a tear to cry. Joe’s decision to take the concert away physically imprisoned my needs to electrify the stage. Sitting alone drew out the plans of escape to mentally grasp freedom. It was a torture chamber. The padlocked thought process kept my arms tied while each foot danced loosely on the carpeted floor. Churches would call this process of planning a demonic game of chance. I was determined to locate the weak versus the strong. Weapon of choice? Peacemaker. Admitting the truth. Seeking friendship. The worst mistake I could make was asking for the identity of the keys keeper. I had to regain the confidence and trust of the wicked old man, which hopefully would invite him into believing I was the safe hiding place. These were lessons taught to me by my brother Terry. The big brother: an icon willing to show off his self spun ropes. He had street smarts, fast cars, women, bar fights and mystery meetings he rarely talked about. He had the know how to cruise quickly without being spotted. Cops knew his name but never once did he visit their holding tanks. "Terry" I whispered to myself. “Sometimes it's the best thing." I remember him telling me. I thought he was changing his clothes. I gave him privacy by standing outside the almost closed door. His voice was incredibly clear. Scared but strong. Cracked…but it held its firm shape. This was the night he let me inside. I felt it. I was trustworthy enough to grow with him. I was impressed with his presence, so incredibly sure of himself. The right decision was to be made. What I didn’t catch in the corner of the mirror was the lost Kodak moment of him stuffing three metal objects into a pipe. It took guts and determination to face his fears. Too bad he linked the answers to a loaded gun. “Loyalty is very important.” Terry continued. “Once sold out, it becomes your responsibility to handle everything that follows.” 91 Because I couldn’t see him, Terry sounded strong. Looking back his actions proved to be the weakness. He was out of breath. His words were wrongly spaced. He kept talking about how he never forgave Mom for marrying Joe. We were not a mystical team. When combined, Terry's talents were conversation. His wittiness and charm unlocked any situation, good or bad, anger and hate, fear and shame. Each was a song carefully crafted on a dark cherry wood six string. The son of a bitch woke me several nights howling about what lies within the love lost between a biological father and his son. He wanted to reach out and search for the hand that gave him life. That dream died in 1977. As did the strength it takes to cross the fine line between fantasy and fiction. Then I caught him look at the clock radio near his bed. He slowly turned to see the tiny red numbers read 11:05. The secret could no longer hide. Bonded to a promise I swore I'd keep, the lyrics of his final song started to play. Terry traded what little life he had for a seven-foot case with velvet interior. I guess that old guitar still works. I did all I could to make sure he was holding it before they set him inside the frozen depths of heaven or hell. There were a lot of things I wanted to be that Halloween 78. One of them wasn’t Terry. He held his secrets so tight the influence of letting all things go slipped by me. Although I did understand there had to be a better way to search for a guarantee rather than a promise. I left my room and walked down the stairs. Joe sat in the living room alone. He was drinking RC Cola, the ice poking its edges above the perspiring glass. Without pride in my voice I blurted out everything that made me Terry. “Joe…” The name tumbled from my trembling lip. “I killed Rick.” Remembering my brother’s suicide took me to the enemy. It was the missing key. A sliver of hope hand made by a mirror staring fool who stumbled into more trouble than a dictionary can create definitions for. The wave of guilt melted quickly. I could feel tingles flowing from my shoes. Joe’s face was blank. Not white. Nor pale. Empty. Painfully dry. There was no emotion. Again, the children he vowed to protect spun without control. He saw his own failure and I was the newest creator. Just like my brother I had to escape the shame of my mother. My decision wasn’t to take another life. I wanted to plant my feet deep into a field full of Montana mud and walk until I located harmony. The climb was to begin immediately. It became my guarantee to never turn back. Everything was left behind. Joe’s final warning was to stay completely away from David Brown and the Hangout. To meet with them invited harm. They would become accomplices in a crime they didn’t commit. Him knowing the truth, made him visible to the law. “Do not!” Joe warned me in his most famous stern habitual way. “Don’t lead people into believing Neal’s disappearance has something to do with Rick’s death. They are two separate incidents with one thing in common.” With that thought…Joe shoved that mighty finger straight through my chest. So it began. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.92 Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. -Henry David Thoreau- Chapter four: Scene one: Two people, the same one lifetime No matter how you got there, discovering a newfound freedom is like stopping to watch an egg hatch. Hard kicks, pressure from the beak, a growing child inside. Eggshell doesn’t just fall part. Ever fry one? How many whacks does it take to get to the center of this tootsie pop? I was no different than that bird. Humans tend to forget we never leave our mother’s womb. Not until the back is turned and footsteps are heard. The hard substance surrounding me came from the comforts of a homemade nest, a pigeon taking care of a canary. My wings still damp, feathers ruffled, a new world I set out to locate. I envisioned a tough guy. A real go getting super hero type. One has to think like this. I put blame on the nearest branch. It looked extremely close. I could touch it. Well almost. Somewhere in mid-flight is when you discover circles become squares. Bird toes start zooming past your head. Holy crap! The fright fills my dreams. Those are my feet! I’m falling! Flap, flap, flap-a slide whistle is heard. Flap, flap, ffllllaaaap! The spiraling effect of impossibility shakes hands with reality. The frozen fall air added weight to my tail feathers. A pocket full of pennies, nickels and dimes and a $2 bill finished the job. What I really wanted was Terry’s guitar. That six string piece of ass could have lasted a thousand years. My mind was clogged with images of making sweet love to its unforgotten curves. “Go…dig…the…guitar…up.” The angelic voices sang sweetly into my cold wandering self. “It’s…only…a…few…feet…in…the…earth.” Grave robbing is illegal. Right? Wrong! If it’s illegal why was King Tut’s cradle robbed? Who dug out the caverns beneath and within the Pyramids? The Indian caves outside of Billings. The entire history of the dig is printed on wooden fixtures near the painted walls. Government money was used to locate priceless treasures. That’s all the permission I needed to fulfill my guarding angels wishes. Without that instrument I was nothing. Besides, my Alvarez suffered a Pete Townsend mishap. I couldn’t survive without a guitar. I didn’t need a guitar. I craved Terry’s six strings. Hell yes I’d get them. Own them. Search for any chunk of heaven or hell bleeding slowly from its neck. What must it be like to lay your hands on the frets after it’s been next to a dead man for a year? I was excited. I was horrified. I was fuckin sick! What the hell was I thinking? In Detroit the devil worshipers burn down city blocks. In Billings, Tarb steals from his brother’s casket. Decayed body parts swimming near the keys. Fingernails so long they reached to play any note. Hair like Greg Allman, face sucked in like a dried apple but cool enough to be called Rock n Roll. The self-delivered pact was made. I would prove my innocence. Then go on tour! 93 Somebody please explain reality to me… Musical instruments take over lives. Musicians, only touch them. Hendrix was brilliant! Dylan knows how to write. Even Manilow has sketched out a good tune or two. Take Copacabana, he writes the songs the whole world sings and dances to. The piano. I’m telling you. It’s the piano that made him who he is. That’s how I feel about Terry’s guitar. No matter how much he hated Joe. He took all that pain and shoved it into a carefully crafted sheet of plywood. Terry would talk. The guitar gave him a reply. The foot would begin to tap. Strings were stretched, high notes uncluttered the soul’s gutters. The heat raging from his fingertips pressed sweat into the guitars skin. For the fan, that’s where inspiration is found. The musician calls it their daily journal. Show me a picture. A live stage shot of any act-Frampton, Kiss Alive One, Stones, Pablo Cruise. The first thing fans stare at is the spaceship that took these lost creative star chasers to their supreme destination. The Electric Light Orchestra wins because their entire stage appearance is a spaceship. I’ve got to get that guitar! It was no longer about pretending. Fed by images created by Jackson Brown’s The Load Out/Stay; these became the first steps toward something I dreamed of. I wanted to breathe life into the road, to walk with mystery while eating field mice for breakfast. Stay up late into the next day. Grab Terry’s guitar then write about it. 94 Here we go again, times haven’t changed. Nor have the ways we used to play. Here we go again, diamonds in the rough. Stones made of dried leaves mixed with tea and me. Here we go again, arms reaching wide. Time keeps taking me away. Here we go again, smoke in my eyes. Rusted beer cans stacked ten feet high. Here we go again, Eddies playin loud. Cops on our tail again tonight. Here we go again, Simmons spurting blood. Music in my heart when I’m inside. Don’t you know, you were born to the highway. Don’t you know that talkin and tossin won’t get you a quarter for the bus ride. Don’t you know you were born to the highway. Don’t you know you can never go, go back home…leave it all behind you. Here we go again, times haven’t changed. Nor have the ways we use to play. Here we go again, diamonds in the rough. Stones made of dried leaves mixed with tea and me. Here we go again, dreams still on fire. I keep writing your storyline. Here we go again, words you’ve always said. Except this time, we’re gonna do it right. Here we go again, several chapters later. My heartstrings still on fire. Here we go again, still kid with pride. Music in my heart when I’m inside -The poet M’e-95 Living in Billings spelled out close community. Small town fever, everybody knows your business. Wherever I walked paths would be followed. Like a river, all things fed into me. One tributary I didn’t want was a flooded out cop with an attitude. If Rick was dead, a missing persons report required answers. a. Who last saw him? b. Was he alone? c. Was Rob involved? d. Was he the second teen inside seven days to runaway? I wanted no part of it. The Plan: Spend the first night getting the guitar. Once in my possession take the instrument back to the Pits. I would sleep near the area Neal and I shared our final words. By morning, hitchhike to Red Lodge. It would be cold up there. Possibly snow. Locate the DJ and find out where I can lay low. Easier said than done. I had no shovel. Don’t they put caskets in cement enclosures? If I made it down that far, am I strong enough to lift the tomb? Could I look at Terry? Fuck! So this is what life’s about? Question after question. I’m the flooded cop of my own personality! Something so simple, grab the guitar and run. It’s not like digging up pigeons to collect feathers. You throw the bird in the ground and cover him up. To pick Terry’s feather forced me to break Joe’s only rule. I would call David. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” The apprehensive over tones puked through the pay phone. “You can’t have that guitar! If you break into that casket no lawyer on earth will protect you from God.” “I’m going to the cemetery.” “Tarb!” The faithful pressed forward. “Don’t fuck with death. Cancel the concert. Leave the band. Continue running from your stepfather but don’t fuck with death. Anyone who opens that casket with you will die an evil death.” Retracing the trail, I felt no change of heart. David’s warning was mimicked crap. Things you hear in Hollywood. My wings spread I soared through the Yellowstone Valley. Fate couldn’t stop me. God would forgive me. Ask any Catholic or Baptist. The God of the New Testament is a forgiving God. “Anyone who opens that casket with you will die an evil death.” David’s words continued to play. New plan: Locate someone who isn’t afraid to die. I’d ask my sister but losing her would be the blessing in disguise. Bart was too close to Neal. Tony and Gary lived in the Heights. Rob couldn’t be trusted. “Clean Cut and Fat Steve.” Thought said, turning into lip movement. “They owe me. This is the price you pay when you kill another man’s pigeons.” Melody Love met me at the door. “Crap! I didn’t expect this.” Haloed by the outside light connected to the trailer house was the girl capable of beating out Brenda for most popular girl on the block. The Hangout called her Melody Love. Her real name was Debbie. We picked out her name. The girl could sing! Belt out a tune far better than anyone I know. She doesn’t need a band. She’s a living, breathing angel, a white winged warrior who should’ve closed her window one night. 96 While relieving the Myers family of face cramping incredibly tart rhubarb, Neal and I cut through Fat Steve’s yard. Three steps onto the property and we heard it: long, loud melodic rhythms with tiny pauses of soft breathing. It was if someone was dancing while listening to Me and Mrs. Jones. Captured like a picture, the wind drifted into song. I thought my first love scene would be with Dan Hill’s Sometimes When We Touch. What I heard was Stevie Nicks chanting Rhiannon. Long wavy silk scarves flowing freely, her arms exposing just enough to tease rather than perform. Magazines don’t come with sound. Skin flicks were on film. Who had a projector? Until that moment, I had no idea what to expect. Melody Love changed my life. She was my Stevie Nicks. Thirty seconds into our unexpected reacquainting. I was forced to get out of her long dark brown hair and talk. I couldn’t. She was given a set of dark brown eyes at birth. Shades of blue purchased at Osco Drug highlighted the tips. “I’m…a…so where’s Fat…I mean…Steve.” “No…you mean Fat Steve.” She corrected. “I know what you guys call him. It’s mean but everybody has to have a nickname.” She shouldn’t have said that. I wanted to spill my guts on the spot. My balls were talking. I no longer had control. My eyes never left her. She wanted me. Earth to balls! Earth to Ball! Knock it off. Get the guitar! “He’s screwing around with his music.” Debbie politely explained. Keep in mind, the way she said screwing has never left my imagination. Whew! Where did this girl learn to speak so perfectly in tune? “Come innnn.” Fat Steve’s room was in the back of the trailer. A homemade double wide, one side gutted out by fire then rebuilt. I knew how to get down that hall quicker then anyone. Before there was a Hangout, Fat Steve and I were very close. There was no way he knew I was coming down the hall. Rock solid hard on for his sister between my legs then THUMP! I’m telling you…thump! Had I known what I’d see when I threw open his door, I would have never entered. My bright bushy ass smile glowing like a full moon fell into a pool of ocean soot. “Tarb!” Fat Steve screamed in horror. His round body rolling like a black number eight ball around the room to hide what he held. “Don’t you know how to knock?” Had I knocked my eyes would have never known the truth. If I had taken the time to rat a tat tat tat on that trailer house thin as shit bedroom door I would have been lost in a dry desert forever, shovel in my hand, cement tombstone on my big toe. It was much too heavy to lift. You know what they forget to tell you at funeral homes. They really don’t bury you with everything your family slips inside. Not a word bled from my skin covered lower lip. Hot torched tears made of blood skated from my eyes to my chin. Even if Melody Love had been naked before me, I wouldn’t have noticed. I didn’t run from the trailer house. I felt like a Star Trek extra energized back to the street headed south. My feet couldn’t move fast enough. I’d run. I’d walk. I’d run. I’d walk fast. Then stop to cross to the other side. I’d run. The mental entanglement failed to resemble the peaceful easy feeling experienced earlier. I was spoon-fed poison. I would open Terry’s casket. I would die an evil death. Inspired 97 change had stepped over influence. I was never more lost. Fat Steve…deceit til death do us part, the incarnation of fresh footsteps leading to a crusty, iced over, year old snow bank. You’ve walked by it a hundred times. Know the exact shape of every boot or shoe. Then something new appears. The feet are pointed out. Bowlegged. Not pigeon toed. I was completely covered with blankets of mystery without reason. Two worlds. He played. I scientifically plotted. Someone swiped. I only wanted to borrow. It was an episode of Night Gallery, Joan Crawford’s voice playing the role of Terry’s blonde faced Hummingbird guitar. I should have known Steve had the guitar, or at least been told. Terry had a thing for Fat Steve. He had a bigger thing for Melody Love. He kept her well oiled and beautifully tuned. No puppy spanking in this department. Swallowing hard I felt fire. A garbage infested punch taste painted my open mouth. I was riding the rails of an unexpected acid trip. Lunch from twelve hours earlier steamed in the grumbles of my vocal cords. Clearing my throat couldn’t free up the damned. “Hey, asshole!” A page from hell shot from behind a battered silver trash cash in the graveled alley between Murphy Street and Hollowell. “Ever kiss a dead man before he says his prayers?” “Rick!” “A message from the Candy Man.” His split lip slurred. He was slow but to the point. “Tell anyone about the cornfield and you’ll be buried.” “But you…” “I’m not, Tarb. Don’t let anyone think otherwise.” “I’m lost.” “We all are.” “Neal?” “You know what happened. I’m proud of you for keeping still.” I had doubts. Being played for a fool hurt. Rick was no different than the Hangout. Pick a fight and make it look bad. He knew I’d turn. My own mother couldn’t figure me out. I was a puppet. Neal was right. The Candy Man had me pegged. “When you look down at the ground like that.” Rick slipped in, with an almost friendly tone like nothing I had heard from him before. “You’re a thinker, Tarb. A planner. Never a mistake, but you are predictable.” I could barely see but I could tell by listening, the weak voice stumbled to get up. “I wanted you to kick my ass Tarb. Did you have to do it so good?” “You’re lucky I don’t come over there and finish it.” “Open this casket Tarb and you’ll die and evil death.” “No!” My silent self screamed out in horror. “He knew! No two people on earth offer the same warning. He knew I told David. He must have been there!” Rick quickly picked up that I was freaked. Of course he did! He was a palm reader who easily recognized the cast of many characters. He wanted to run. but ended up leaping with a hop, skip and trip. How wise is a man who allows himself to be beaten? 98 The unveiling of spoiled truth must have been hard to digest. After such an attack its best you move to a new table. If this had been Thanksgiving, Rick would end up on the floor. The adults didn’t want him. Now the kid’s banished him. There are four corners to every cardboard table. Invade the eldest son’s ambition. Pay for it later. The price? Pride. Playing tough, I wanted to chase him. Bowl him down. Pick up his pin shaped way of speaking and kick his ass…again. Neal would have. Maybe Rob. I didn’t know Bart that well. To play dead haunted me with hatred. To be dead allowed me to mourn. Wishing I were dead seemed like a better way to go. David had dumped salt on the heavily flavored turkey. My musical mentor had sold me out, left me in the oven to long. Poured ketchup on the dark meat peeled from the leg, then ate his mashed potatoes with a knife. Never once did I stop to ask why David seemed calm. His un-goofy smirks were hidden laughter. A character I didn’t recognize. Life is funny that way. If I could walk backwards, wouldn’t it be better? This way I could piece together David’s attempt at adult flavored laughter. I was his joke! I held true to myself. My hand being the only object I could trust. I depended on it to help me climb into the image of a mirror. I was tortured by incomplete answers. Two in one night—delivered unexpectedly. To survive, I had to let go but not until I located the eyes watching me. Do you go home Tarb? I wondered. Sitting on the corner of walk and don’t walk is no place to hide. Through closed eyes I could see my forty-five minutes of freedom cluttered with remnants of wars lost. Nobody ever talks about this. The moment you threaten to run away questions about who’s going to buy your electricity are thrown out. What about HBO? “That costs money!” Joe said to me. “Do you really think being alone out there is getting a free ride?” “I know a lot of people” came the confident reply. “Hello! Where are these people now? Hello! “ The night I lost Terry, Neal crossed the line, the invisible trench that separates friendship from brotherhood. It wasn’t his outlook on life that drew us extremely close. Nor did I believe all kids should get the opportunity to pick out their own family. I was bonded to Neal. Before the Hangout, nothing sooner, I looked across a picnic table hoping to relieve the pressures of life itself. His face bloodied by the backhand of a man three times his size. Neal sat doped up on street sweets believing he could fly. I knew he couldn’t. I raised pigeons for many years. You bet I tried! Giant black barrels and rooftops were my perch. I’d leap out…then straight down. Therefore, let it be known. Humans can’t fly. I didn’t want to prove it. It would have hurt him more. “Tell you what I’m going to do.” A well trained self glided toward Neal. “Not only will I teach you to soar with the wind. I’m going to let you inside the coop to be trained by the very best there is.” I found this to be an awkward way to tell a lie but I had his attention. His grin was misshaped but inquisitive. His look more determined and not as lost. He had located someone who took the time to listen. I guess I could say the same. “My guarantee is this.” The whisper soothed his high. “If you learn to caress the cooing of the freshly hatched naked babies, they keep for you the tiny feathers it takes to fly. They can’t 99 hand them to you. It’s a pigeons secret. Not every day, but every other, maybe a week a part. When you walk, feathers will stare up at you from the ground. Only you can see them. They call out to you in a language heard at the moment of birth. Pick up the feather. No matter what color it is. No matter how badly it’s been treated. Pick it up. Place it in a box. In time, you will have enough feathers to fly.” Being a former little brother taught me a lesson or two. What you don’t receive? Give it away. Pour it out like sugar from a beet. Be there! Never make up an excuse or attempt to runaway. There’s nothing wrong with hand-me-downs. Bright red corduroys, turtleneck sweaters, black leather boots with six-inch platforms. Take it all! Every bit of the crap your brother debuted last year. Any style is better than no style. These were the 70’s…inches away from the Me decade. Even if you’re a year behind, you still carry unique individuality. Besides, it beats what the farm kids from Blue Creek are wearing. Levi’s with pattern shirts, belt buckles to match. The only thing you don’t want is your brother’s Jr. High football jersey. That large black number burnt into those fibers acts like an autograph. No matter how good the season, you’re instantly branded the chest of drawers robber. That’s right, the little brother with big football dreams but no dick to back it up. You have swiped from the glory. Once across I-90, the unpleasant smell of the Gravel Pits greeted me like a grandmother in heat. The mighty welcome mat had been laid. Stale Montana mud mixed with unfiltered water then topped with dead grass and colorful fall leaves. Soup made for the devil, and then slowly stirred by underground springs. I shivered. It was cold. My body shook. Then I realized it was because I was holding back from puking. The stomach roared. The head spun. A light headache combined with heat flashes. It sure wasn’t reflections of the rich and famous. I was heaving chunks from the difficulties that come with wearing masks. Three weeks from Halloween and I was in full garb. I went as myself--a scared traveler whose feet had re-entered the remnants of the riverbeds past. Stones so large you could pee behind them. The Pits were guilty without a trial. The odd shapes this forest took at night horrified me to the point of shoving fingers into its face. Just like Neal once joked, witches evolved its presence into something new every night. I stood three quarters of a mile from the manmade lakes. Once there, I would sleep inside the rock jungle. Its forest floor made of pebbles. I looked forward to viewing the big sky. Exciting is when you spot the big and little dipper hugging after midnight. I didn’t move. I only watched. The closed in area where the Pits lay mesmerized my imagination. I counted the low hanging branches. They teased me. I admit, more than a Hefner pet. Such passions go unannounced. Not this time. I declared the Pits my own. They were my paradise. Witch or old woman, fact or fantasy, fear could not be my guide tonight. Looking upward, I searched for bats. Maybe black crows. I knew the Meadowlarks wouldn’t sing until sunrise. I didn’t want to enter the forest without knowing who to expect. But fear would not be my guide. The heavily traveled I-90 froze for me the full view of the rolling south hills. Although they helped shape the valley, the steep cliffs were the exact opposite of the sandstone formations called the Rims. Both stood five hundred feet or more. Yet their unwritten chapters couldn’t be 100 compared. I’ve been told it was an ocean that crafted the Rims. The nasty dirt mounds south of the tracks are the reflection of water’s greed. Two thousand year old erosion that one day will make Billings an underground city. The south hills were carved out centuries before Lewis and Clark accepted Thomas Jefferson’s challenge. They too must have seen what I saw this night; the lightly decorated frightened hilltop. To be king but only for a moment! After every rainstorm a new leader rises! The old, now a school of pebbles floating down the Yellowstone. I became haunted. To think someone who had died may have stood in this very place creeps me out. All attempts to write it off as being connected to Halloween forced me to believe that its observance was a season rather than just one night. The silence was razor sharp. I was its creator. It was a wooden stake driven through one ear then out the other. I could do nothing but stare into the dark evilness outlined within the moonlit shadows of the south hills. Heartbeats--my own. They called out. I was reminded that this was no place to hide. Rick may have been beaten but his eyes weren’t closed. If I feared anything, it was his resurrection. Had I known, what I now knew. Where would I be? Playing Come Sail Away on my undefeated turntable? Joe was not my friend. I couldn’t return. He’d see me as a coward--the artist who painted a lie about Rick. In his eyes, I had successfully become the typical teen. Just like Rob and Neal, I was the bender of truth. Whatever it takes to better the existence. Move forward Tarb, I lip-synched. There was no way I meant it. To move forward meant taking on my fear. Terry would do it. Tears. A new river taking a short stroll down each puffy pout filled cheek. Where are the girls to see this? Such an appearance goes great with puppy dog eyes. The current state made me a sex symbol. The only thing lacking were Leif Garrett’s long blonde locks. God! There it went! Gone was my only chance to be seen in Tiger Beat. I felt no anger. It had dissipated into nothing. A past thought. Hidden emotion shot to life. Stretched were the colorful beams of light, moods of many, enough to create a thousand foot rainbow. Maybe someone would wake up. Look out the window and see that I was the pot of gold at the end. Fear creates dreams. Saying goodbye seemed easy until now. The darkness of that cool September night became the obvious. My true place was back at home. "Neeeeeeaaaal" I cried out loud, so loud the echo returned from the south hills, so painful my heart dropped to its knees. The vision of seeing his pale white face, eyes gently closed with no breath to share crowned the season. No witches or warlocks. Not a pumpkin in sight. Yet the chill of fright fed my taste buds with something other than chocolate. I stood alone inside the bowels of Halloween. Tony and Gary would have run. I chose to bleed. Oh God! I continued to cry. The streaks of salt stained my upper lip. I couldn't look away nor bring it upon myself to wash away the evil. Peace was not to be had. Not until I had entered the soul of Neal’s killer. Each unfocused thought created a free tour through assumed carelessness and harm. Any image of portrayed fear weakened with the sudden rush of passing cars. A black pickup, two red Mustangs, a yellow Javelin and I bet my life on the next one being green. It wasn’t. Guess my 101 future didn’t look bright. The air bit my spine—a billion bee stings without the buzzing. It would later come. Your body rages out in anger as it warms. It was a greeting party I didn’t want to sit across from. I wasn’t playful any more. Neither were my cold toes. They protested inside a pair of somewhat new black and white Chuck Taylor’s. Mom thought they were perfect for the new school year. I should have known not to wear the canvas boy wonders. They have no arch. Not even fake fur or wool from sheep. I wore them one other time--a game of Hangout basketball at Optimist Park. The shirts took on the skins. Neal being the most proud of the body he was growing into. The rest of us were thin bones or rolling hills of thunder nicknamed Fat Steve. Like night and day. That’s the only way I can explain this way of reckless calming. One minute I’m seeing stars. The next, I’m blinded by uncontrollable anger. I’d kick the tiny highway pebbles as hard as I could. The bastards were so tiny a simple brain fart was strong enough to knock them off course. One or two found a new home just outside the grassy center median. I never thought about what I must have looked like to a car moving 70 mph. Tarby was a stupid runaway--a homeless kid. He was fresh to the streets. His jacket wasn’t torn. His hands weren’t covered with boot stained socks whose soles had been cut out to warm the palms more than the fingers. An airplane the size of a needles eye caught my attention. I followed it as it circled the eastern side of the Rims. It looked as if it could barely squeeze through the radio antennas near the Indian caves. Once through, the journey wouldn’t be complete until it safely landed at Logan International an entire valley away. For some unmistakable reason the short flight from east to north seemed incredibly real to me. Real. Peaceful. A long blue light, then white. I was hypnotized by two becoming one. Then three. The airplane. Four. The airport. Four completely different objects with one thing in common. The power generated through association then fed through human emotion. You’re fucking going crazy. The thought interrupted my speech based on theory. One thing you aren’t, buddy boy, is Albert Einstein. For that matter, even if I tried my entire life, no kid from Bumfuck Montana was headed toward Casey Kasum’s American Top 40. The association was simple. Billings was a farm town gone banking. It was village versus Los Angeles, New York or Nashville Tennessee. What were the chances? Without an image, we were nothing. Gene Simmons spotted David Lee Roth and claims he put him in his first pair of leather pants. I wear corduroy. Bart, Rob and Gary sport jeans with black leather belts. We weren’t cowboy looking. Bathed in street sweets and musical dreams we had no place to go but someone’s empty garage. If Simmons happen to drive by…he’d stop. Laugh. Then continue down the road looking for long blonde haired punk kids whose parents fail to control their starvation for attention. We were pawn shoppers. It was the best Hangout could buy. We had an incredible look of South Side mystic. The value? Nothing but a cool fad, but it was more then what the Bay City Rollers strutted around. Then the image leaked from the corner of my frozen lip. “Come clean. Tell all. Admit what you know. Make up the rest. Murder for fame.” Rick and I knew where Neal was. Neither of us talked about it. But we knew. This 102 would serve as a gate. If Neal happened to stroll back into the picture, I would explain. But what were the chances that he’d be upset? I expected a full pat on the back. Anything less and I’d send him back. This is what watching TV does to a kid. Tuesday night murder mystery movies on CBS were my best friend. Hell, you might as well toss in the FBI, Kojak, The Night Stalker and Charlie’s Angels. Television shows, Columbo with Peter Falk, Starsky and Hutch, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys with Sean Cassidy and Parker Stevens. It was a small price to pay. Make it look like I knocked off Neal to gain national fame. The Gazette would eat this shit up. Nobody would be found. I’m let off hook. The only time I’d do is maybe a few months, a year or so in a home for screwed up kids. It happens all the time. Was I confused or fucked up? Maybe this is why Neal, Bart and Rob dove face first into their individual piles of street sweets. Confusion wasn’t my weakness. Fucking me up was the slow paced nibbling cold. My nipples were so hard I felt like Farrah Faucet. What you don’t think about won’t hurt you, I kept telling myself. It was a major attempt to clog up my mind with things that quickly burn. Rick and David with their backstabbing ways kept me quite toasty. But such a subject gets old. I knew Rick had a connection with the Candy Man. David on the other hand, surprised me. How did they mastermind Neal’s disappearance? Why? Boring! The loudness cut through the air hitting the south hills. This time it didn’t return. Oh crap! There’s nothing worse than a good idea gone wrong. This silent night was anything but holy. When sound is blocked something bigger is close by. Had I invited danger? Outside my sister I did own the mouth of the west. Shouting is nothing but a backstage pass to your party. Hesitation recess was over. It was time to walk faster, get into the trees. I needed to move as fast as I could. Returning to the Pits was the only thing I wanted to do right. Once inside the forest, the paths would take me to the river. If someone stood near me, they’d get lost on the way. All I could think about was facing the facts, and then twisting them. “Naked women. Naked women. Naked women.” My heart putted out. Think Tarby! Think! Boobs, music, not Rick, not David, no need to be worried tonight. Sunshine on my shoulders, makes me happy. Who the hell was watching me now? Was I being reintroduced to Rick? Had I walked into another cornfield? Would the wounds dare the odds? The questions poured from me faster than Heinz catsup. Stab the bastard who didn’t toss in an order of fries. The Gravel Pits were a mile from the highway. I had to cross a barbwire fence then tear down the frontage road toward the barely lit trailer park. Footsteps greeted my every thought. I found it almost amusing. Scared body movement harmonizing with an unknown follower. My fast paced walk grew into a run. Shuffles outnumbered the long strides. It was a man. Someone my age doesn’t leap. Our steps are still baby. A woman can’t hide her heavy breathing. A man. Not Rick. I watched him stumble away. I was the shuffler, not the man. A regular sized frame. His strides were long, one beat to my two. He wore a windbreaker. I could hear his arms pivoting back and forth. Not a track star. I knew only one and he wouldn’t waste his time chasing a fool without gold. Did someone on the highway stop to help? Was it a chance I could take? The mind 103 never stops does it? Who gave it the right to think? Shut up! You’re scaring me. My size eight in half feet were extremely cold. My body was numb, tired, I hurt. Sweat poured from my ears, down my back then into my shorts. Why wouldn’t the bastard yell out to me? There goes my mind again. Someone who knew me would say my fucking name. My only answer was located three mailboxes away--the trailer park. Thirty long decade old homes fully furnished and manufactured for your total comfort. These people hated me. I borrowed their streets all too often. Nobody liked a pack of teens. We were worse than dogs. The back road will lead you into the north side of the Pits. My scared ass mind told the rest of those in attendance. Hang with me now and I guarantee you will see a state championship trophy in the main lobby. I needed to make contact with someone...other then myself. The new goal was printed out on invisible paper and then sent down a shoot to my feet. Leap the chain link fence. Pretend you are home. Walk up to the door. Open it. Do the explaining later. Throw trust into their trailer park like I was the owner. Be willing to talk. Use eye movement to bellow out your fear. Why wouldn’t this night end? More mind-speak. Making matters worse, my lungs didn’t answer. They chose to stop working. Down I went—face, then knees, a quick spin to the right, then sliiiiide. I’ll give the roll out a ten for near perfect landing. I wish I had a mirror, a new taste in my mouth, blood. I was twenty-five feet from the chain link fence, thirty-five feet from the wooden steps. I needed to get to through that metal fucking trailer house door. Not another drop of air left. My body was over heating causing me to cough up the freshly swallowed blood. My irrigation system was fucked up and out of use. Once out of air the body folds. The mind attempted to explain. Shut up! I screamed as loud as I could. To the rest of the world it sounded like a dog in heat. I had no voice and all I could do was wheeze. Shut up! You talk way too much. You have gotten me into some deep shit here! Shut the fuck up!” What everrrrrrr, came the mind’s only reply. I fell so hard I dented my brain. I fell so hard the entire planet skipped a rotation. Record players from here to Seattle dropped their entire stack of wax onto the diamond tip needle creating a universal scratch. “Hello Hong Kong! This is Tokyo. Stand back Soviet citizens. Stalin is not rolling over in his grave. Elvis is really dead.” I had no reason to count the infamous Big Sky Country stars. This injured street warrior had his own light show. They were everywhere! Flashy white twinkles made of concrete blocks. They had to be. What went up instantly came down. They’d zoom from the depths of pain then whoof! Out of sight. Wait a minute, I continued to talk to the self I just met. Forget the stars! Look to see who was running five paces to your ten. “I’d ask if you were ok but you seem to be locked inside a world of comedy.” The female voice almost whispered. “I saw you on the highway.” God, did I ever fuck up. Instead of a heavy weight-boxing champion with Harley Race and Nick Botwinkle wrestling skills, the fallen clown felt an extreme need to hide behind the paint flowing from his nose. It was a girl and a weird one at that. It was too dark to notice her entire features. But the crescent moons shadow did offer a flavor. 104 First thought? Free fuck. “I know. I know. You’re gonna ask who am I?” She pushed forward. “They always do. Then they wanna fuck. I end up doing it but not without a fight.” “The thought never crossed my mind.” I handed back. “I’m very much uninterested. So much so I think I’ll pick my lazy fat ass up and continue walking.” “I’m joking!” She laughed a real laugh, one with character. Soft, sweet and made of silk even after being dipped in chocolate. “Please, don’t believe the fucking part. It’s a great word to say but I’m not really into it…yet.” More laughter. I know what happened. I died in the fall. The man chasing me cut off my head then tossed it over the chain link fence. The neighborhood dog has located it and refuses to stop licking my eye sockets. Of all the ways to go, a car accident or shooting would have been nice. Something heroic. “Just tell me you’re ok and I’ll let you get back to your walk.” The angel of peace warmly delivered, like hot homemade bread sitting next to a plate of mash potatoes and gravy. “Have I died and gone to heaven?” “Oh God. You really do want to fuck me.” “No! No!” “Stop it! What did I say? Don’t believe everything I say.” Problem is…she was right. If love soars at first sight, the doves were cooing softly tonight. I couldn’t tell if it was butterflies in my stomach or the heart was erratically playing Fooled Around and Fell in Love by Elvin Bishop. No! I Write the Songs from Barry Manilow. Hold it! Kiss an Angel Good Morning from Charlie Pride. Her pale white hand wiped the blood from my chin. I wouldn’t have thought to do it. Only my mother had done something like this. Except there were never any chills. Please don’t get a hard on. I forced into my deepest caverns. Not now. Please don’t embarrass me. “If you find you need help.” Her motherly tones rest inside my soul. “The nearest pay phone is on South Billings Blvd. It’s in front of Daddy’s place, the junkyard, which is about five or six miles that way.” “Wanna know what I’m thinkin?” I manly pressed forward. I hoped she would accept the invitation to stay longer. No such luck. The nameless highway chaser wasn’t interested. Her back turned, my question landed on her little girl shoulders. She was fourteen, maybe younger. Conversationally she was thirty-one, but not a day over. The puffiness in her upper cheeks gave it away. A slight pinch of baby fat rounded her eyes. She attempted to cover it by colorizing her hair. Multitudes of crayons poured slowly down each side. At the bottom they gathered only to be whacked off the next time she stood in front of the mirror. For the moment, I called her Misty Insights. The name best described her reasons behind chasing me. Unlike most girls her age, Misty wasn’t dreamy but determined. Instead of chasing the next poster to hang on the wall, she chose to run after the real thing. Tonight it happened to be a crybaby kid in search of his best friend. Himself. And what about Misty’s claim that all men wanna fuck her? I think that’s where I fell in love. I wanted to take the hurt from her. Hell yes she was in pain. Slinging the fuck word around like it’s a Frisbee is the first sign of neglect. Neal told me. He too felt the world was out 105 to fuck him. Every girl he met wanted only one thing. So he’d fuck em. Some guys see that as being a trophy to hang on the wall. Not me. I made myself a guarantee. Bruised chin, blood stained nose, legs that felt broken…I would not fuck my Misty Insights. For that matter, I didn’t expect to see her again. Twenty five feet from her last touch and I lay on the gravel road forgetting about what condition my condition was in. You gotta love Country music. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Before the next teardrop falls I will stare at these four walls. You were always on my mind. Breaker, Breaker one nine, this here’s the Rubber duck. “Is this how you want our love story to end?” I yelled out. The echo kissed the south hills and her shapeless butt. No wiggle or perfect sway. It was a butt. There must be a God. Misty Insights stopped. She didn’t turn and flash me a smile. Nor did any words flow from the lungs that beat the hell out of me ten minutes earlier. Misty stood on the trailer park road looking upward, outward, then to the trees that were waiting for me to enter. Do you believe in ghosts? I didn’t until she looked toward the Pits. She knew. I swear to you, she knew. My mind must have gotten lost in the very trees she was peering into. By the time I re-located reality, Misty was gone. The dogs were barking. The stars were shining. Sharp stabs of pain scraped my childlike wonder. Jokingly I felt as if I had been introduced to the person who would replace Neal. I didn’t realize reincarnation happened so quickly. A giggle here--a giggle there. What are the chances you meet two people the same in one lifetime? Chapter four: Scene two You tell me… A thousand voices can be heard within my fingerprints. Ten thousand more wait patiently for tomorrow. My mood changes may be that of many colors. Greet them as you would a brand new neighbor. -poet m’e- How many times does a stop sign have to appear before you recognize the importance of its purpose? The entire three hour long walk through six blocks of south Billings was nothing but stop signs. California driving is when you touch and go a street corner. What do you call it when walking? After sticking several things into my eye, tripping over assumed dead bodies, then finally jamming a new set of brake pads into the soles of my Chuck Taylors, I decided not to spend the night at the Gravel Pits. I couldn’t! I was afraid. My heart was convinced that Montana’s big open night sky wasn’t blessed with dreams come true. All kids fantasize about catch a falling star. Once inside the palm of your hand a wish is quickly made. No such luck this night. 106 But if I had spotted one, I would have wished for many things. Who wouldn’t want a new beginning? I would have loved it if my friend returned and the band reached national fame. My eyes tightly closed I would have wished hard for answers. At my age I should have been asking why my dick was blanketed with hair. Why the breasts of a woman are so perfectly rounded yet mine are are flat? How is it a girl’s cheek can warm me faster than a swig of 180 proof Everclear? These are important to a sixteen year old. Thinking longer about the subject, the fun and childlike play wept from the body that took me there. What I required was the knowledge of lost sheep. Our times as Hangout members seemed fun. But were they really? I couldn’t help it! I loved watching Rob kiss Brenda in the alley. What about the way we took over the pawnshops on Montana Avenue? Any member who didn’t experience buckled knee syndrome at the sight of a Stratacaster copy or a Gibson Les Paul was kicked out. We played softball, football, sucked from the taps of freshly filled kegs. The Hangout was a classic mixture of high school misfits. No one had great looking hair, a nicely shaped ass or swelling in the crotch capable of enticing a young doe. If this were a movie we wouldn’t even be the freaks set to take on the jocks. We weren’t cool enough. No one slapped us in the back of the head, pulled our trunks down in gym class or forced us to do geek stunts. Thanks to Neal’s over exaggerated way of expressing personal desires, the Hangout ruled its own kingdom of doom. But who was left standing? I only assumed Rob was still alive. I hadn’t talk to him. Nor was a connection made with Bart, Gary and Tony. Magician Harry Blackstone would have been proud of Neal’s magic trick. Gone in sixty seconds. The entire dream to play music in front of ten thousand screaming sex starved fans. Sometimes we sit in places where the valley once sat. Places where decisions were made. Places where your life changed. Looking back, you notice one thing…you didn’t change. Yet, the trees grew. From where I sat, I could envision all that was my city. I could hear the cars, the horns. The tires. From where I sat I saw only trees. From where I paint, I could once feel her song. A welcome guest, a meadowlark, its echo still inside. From where I paint, I saw only trees. From where I wrote, I could see her all. I could listen-to the wind, to the growing of a storm. From where I wrote, I could see only trees. From where I sat I could taste the colors. The colors of my cities streams, I could sample her words savor her thoughts. From where I sat In front of a hundred trees. -poet M’e-107 From where I sat, the sharp edged street gravel bit through my jeans. Talk about getting pricked! My ass ached. Ever have a stone invade your privacy? Stick to girls. The night air was cold with loneliness. A gallon of wet snotty blood was halted during its trail of tears toward my deeply stained t-shirt. My eyes felt frozen. Even my tongue hurt. I was completely fucked up with nothing and no one to rescue me. From where I sat, I could no longer hear my city. Yep, this was my town. I was tomorrow’s leader. I didn’t want to be mayor. I sat in Billings, Montana hoping to be Mozart. The almost never talked about peaceful village located somewhere on I-90 between Indianapolis and Spokane would forever be my eagle’s nest. I actually believed that. The silence changed me. What I held was a secret ready to be screamed out to the rest of the country. Ok, maybe northern Wyoming would give a shit. Eastern Montana? My neighbor? Then came the new visions of the girl. Rainbow colored hair and an attitude. Crap! She was my true paradise. Misty Insights threw me into a gift giver’s tunnel. Two unwrapped delights were left behind. It wasn’t even Christmas! What was most potent was her ability to walk away. Ready, aim and tackle. Make them bleed, suck in hot moist air, then screw with their mind before turning. Heartless? Possibly. Control freak? When it’s her idea. Retracing the angle of our jog down I-90, through the barbed wire fence then up the frontage road, my wildest imagination was greeted by unexpected answers. This was no Match Game 78. Mean Gene wasn’t anywhere in sight. Charles Nelson Riley was forced to stay home yet I had somehow won the grand prize, a long, fairly large black box. From where I sat…no clues were given. I was Sherlock Holmes without Watson. No! I took on the shape of Batman going solo. Then again, fuck it! I now knew what the Eagles felt when Randy Meisner took off. Before me sat a giant gaping hole. Look! What’s that? The Cracker Jack man left behind a tiny toy surprise. It was Terry’s guitar. The case, strap and picks included without extra charge. Several chapters later I learned that Misty Insights was sitting comfortably in the bathroom when I busted through Fat Steve’s wide world of music. Because I was the owner of a one way ticket to hell I took one glance at the burning roof and raced toward the exit. Isn’t it odd? The way things play out. The very place where an echo refused to grow, a girl stood willing to plant new seeds. She was stern, bitchy, freaky and beautiful all in the same first impression. There’s got to be a way to market this. It was at that positive point I began to turn. Determination was my weakness. Instead of attempting to prove a point, I would make an impression. I didn’t return to the Pits that cold October night. I set up camp inside a rusted weed filled, totally trashed bright yellow 77 AMX Hornet. I was junk-yardin baby! Living life to its fullest. I had the absolute best in sleeping comfort. The only thing I had to do was push away part of the seven-foot sheet metal fence surrounding such paradise. Then, right before my lion colored eyes, I was given the power of choice. Misty wasn’t the only one who could get away with this shit. Wow! Sleep in a Caddy? How about the window crashed in, back end burned up Ford Pinto? Yeah but check out that sleek fender bending El Camino. The dark blue Datsan looked great too! But it featured no legroom. The AMX did though! It was located three rows down then three cars up, off the ground. 108 A condo of choices! I hollered in my typical silent Tarby way. Son! You’re on South Billings Blvd and you’re about to become famous. Ok, so it wasn’t L.A.’s Ventura Blvd or New York’s Fifth Avenue. I’d go as far to say that South Billings Blvd wasn’t Main Street Seattle, Trade and Tryon in Charlotte or the Navy Pier in Chicago. This chunk of Americana was dumpier then the city’s trash collection three miles deep into the south hills. Up there, kids played in paper sacks and glass bottles. Kicked grass clippings and old newspapers. We searched for pictures of art. Nakedness of women stapled to pages being the main attraction. While some people saw this as reckless behavior waiting for a disease to happen, the rest of us found treasures in other people’s trash. Here I was again. Except this time, I was alone. Whatever I found was mine. No sharing. No caring. Not even a silent plan to steal fearing I’d get caught. These steering wheel driven metal mamas had my name written all over them. I was out to collect fuzzy dice, cassette tapes, quarters, nickels and dimes. But first! I’d lay my head down in the backseat of that yellow AMX. It sat on the top bunk. It was so high off the ground, if I farted only I’d catch the whiff. One can only hope the rumble from it would cause the cars to fall. A bug of some sort looked unharmed on the caved in hood. A Hornet. It had to be. The dashboard boldly said AMC/AMX/Hornet. Talk about having a difficult time making up your mind. Instead of fighting it out like the Hangout would the creators of this masterpiece agreed to using all three. Is that fucking harmony or what? Inside you could see the high back bucket seats. If properly used it gifted my long leggedness room to dance. Too bad I didn’t discover this car earlier. I couldn’t imagine sitting at a drive in movie in this thing. To score proper points we’d have to escape to the backseat for the fireworks display. The crunchy backseat connected to a never-ending un-oiled hatchback. All I had to do was pull the lever and the night sky opened to a world of dreams. Pieced together would be every question requiring answers. Hell, I might as well invent new ones. The positive surge of bullshit was that strong. It ran through my veins like lava in a lamp. Who better to know than the captain of this AMX? As fucked up as this car was, the carpet was jet black, perfectly vacuumed, not a mud stain in sight. This undercover agent felt the car hadn’t been there long, which fed the left side of my wandering but creative imagination. Who died? Were they struggling to survive at St. Vincent’s Hospital? Was it only one? Two? An entire family who had traded their Honda motorcycles in for a roof. No dried blood droppings in the buckets. The spider webbed windshield echoed head injury. It could have been a rock. Possibly a bowling ball left to roll around the backseat. The driver ducked in time. OH! Imagine searching for something warm to cover up with and you discover un-removed brain chunks still living under the cushions. Shut up! The battery operated convincing mechanism kicked in. Mellow the thoughts or fucking turn yourself in. We all knew how I felt about that reaching my senses. To be a man, one must spend more than four hours out on the road. Hypothetically speaking, if I was to return, would Joe respect me or laugh at me? Stepfathers have the legal right to make the choice. The odds were against me. I had to stay. 109 Dreaming is controlled by passion. Toss in a pinch of lust, a few sprinkles of personal wants and needs and the only thing you’re left with is a silent prayer. The two eyes looking back at you belong to the soul of the original unanswered question. Why then, do we spend so much time dreaming? I wanted to be famous. Not necessarily rich. Just famous! Inside my closed eyes I could see it taking place. As swift as a dust devil swirling aimlessly, a sidetracked dare to continue is lifted to the path. Accept the challenge or walk away knowing you lost it all. Be the hero or be Jimmy Carter. Who? But Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion charged me up more. To embrace the inner strength, look the champ in the eye and bust his guts wide open. The loud drawn out chants call out to you like a lost puppy’s whine. Each time someone screams out your name, a pointed finger acknowledges your gratitude. It’s as if you’ve shaken their hand. “I’ll be back.” Your innocent look delivers to their front door. “Thank you for coming tonight. Because you were there for me, I’ll do all I can to make my way back.” I wanted this! I craved it! To hold in the palm of my hand the creative spirit of music, then share it with anyone willing to listen. To keep it to myself was illegal. I was born to give it away. The air I took in would be released like white doves during the Super bowl. This can’t be conceit. If so, then what did the world think of Moses? “Get some sleep.” the runaway rock star said to the innocent child looking in the rearview mirror using the same vocal tones of his mother. “Close your thoughts for now. They’ll be back in the morning.” Whoever invented sleep knew of its power. It would become a true gift shared with anyone willing to sneak up on it. I’ve always looked at sleep as being connected to a light switch on the wall. Once it’s been turned to the off position, let the free movie begin. Dreams are where the journey is fed. Not this night. I didn’t sleep. I blinked. Not a long blink, maybe a twitch in the eye. An eyelash, dust, dirt, something caused me to blink. I didn’t sleep. There was no time to dream. Not one picture of the band. Not even Misty Insights. The night was gone. Dreamland was located somewhere between Disney and Rims. The rising sun woke me. Combined with nearby clanking and bangs, reality soaked up the sweat created by nervous fear. My heavy metal bedroom suite, complete with assumed cleanliness had in fact been changed. Did I walk in the middle of the night? Where was I? It resembled the yellow AMX stacked three layers high. Its full view in daylight was horribly creepy. There was no radio in the dashboard, the glove compartment completely gone. The speedometer was crushed sitting next to the driver’s side mirror. The AMX had been hit extremely hard on the left side. No wonder I was cold, there weren’t any windows above me. All that didn’t swim away on the street slept next to me on the damp carpeted floor. What was I thinking? Had I been dreaming the night before? Someone must of switched cars with me. I couldn’t have been that blind. No matter how much light is available a wrecked car is easily detected. How did I go wrong? I couldn’t have been that tired. It wasn’t that late. I didn’t sleep. I blinked. I must be dreaming right now. The constant slamming of hammers French kissing metal interrupted the bewildered interrogation. What little sleep was available I couldn’t keep. For the first time since my decision to walk from Joe’s invented family I felt lost and hungry. 110 "It's about time you wake up." A sickening soft voice was heard while I thrust my long awaited morning stretch into submission. Peeking into the world officially declared the most unsuitable place on earth were two blue eyes shaded by a grease covered Billings Mustang’s farm team baseball cap. Underneath the rust laced mess glowed several waves of a rainbow. The very echo of peace I had been introduced to before going deep into my blinking escapade. There ain’t no way in hell I went to sleep. I felt like a chunk of dog shit that had been crapped, stepped on, smeared through the grass then tracked into someone’s house. "Come on get up!" The woman ordered but in a playful determined way. "If Dad finds you out here he's gonna call the cops." “Misty…” I mumbled through the soot living on the brim of my teeth. “My name isn’t Misty. The guys around here including my dad call me Sam.” “I like Misty better. I came up with it last night when you walked away. You were Misty Insights all night.” “You are fucked up. Anyone who thinks about me all night is a hard up, fucked up, strange piece of ass. In your case, I’ll toss in homeless and really ugly when you wake up.” “Oh great, just what I need, another fucking sister.” The Sam bio was difficult to read. A know it all actress who did it all and wasn’t willing to change. Street sweets were her specialty and she could down a twelve pack of Vitamin R in one sitting. Then she boldly admitted to sucking down an entire keg in the very car we sat the week before. Made me want to pee. Especially when she vowed to one day teach her secrets. I could have pinched the head of my dick off right on the spot. But I drew back on the offer. My kidneys were pissed. But not pissed on. Imagine what they must have been saying when Sam told me she was eighteen. “Attention bowels! Attention! We’ve got a bullshitter on our hands.” Eighteen? I knew better. Try fourteen or younger. She had bloopy boobs. I swear Sam was wearing a training bra. It wasn’t one of those fancy ones you see in the Montgomery Ward catalog. Don’t those come with snaps or buttons on the back? This was like a t-shirt for girls. I couldn’t predict the future but Sam’s tiny molehills would one day smooth out and fill up with the stuff that drives grown men crazy. I figure it’s all that perfume they dump on their chest. The high priced junk moms get them for Christmas. Even at the age of sixteen, I knew that older women carried themselves better then Sam’s presentation. The entire body becomes the artwork rather than the several shades of baby blue painted over her eyes, then darkened by brushes and funky sticks with a curve on the tip. Sam didn’t wear lipstick. She did though pack on the gloss. The glittery cherry scented stuff Sam wore came in a tube. The shit must have dried quickly. Every five minutes Sam kept dumping it on her lips. Who the hell was she kissing? I swear to God I didn’t see anybody sneak up on us. “I love your blue eyes.” I tried to express with morning wood standing by. “They aren’t blue!” Sam laughed. “My eyes are smoky gray. When I walk into clubs that’s the first thing the guys compliment. My smoky gray eyes.” “What do they say about your butt?” A shy grin grew slowly on her gloss stained lips. The morning sun captured her smoky gray blue eyes in a tiny cage. I was the first to grab it then instantly transfer them to my heart. I wanted so bad to kiss Sam. But I couldn’t get up the urge. Her reputation was a whore. I didn’t 111 feel so loose in her presence. Therefore I sat grinning back. What I needed was a bathroom not a pinch of toilet paper enhanced boobies. You’re only sixteen once. If Sam really was eighteen, why waste my first time sitting inside a piece of shit whacked out AMX? This girl needed a field full of dandelions and sweet corn. Not a fuel injected rabbit’s ass pouring his warm soul into her vase of flowers. My lips would think of only her while my fingertips paged slowly through each chapter. Eyes locked onto each other’s beads of sweat, we as one would taste the roots of a sugar beet before stuffing everything into a sack. As horny as any kid could be, I felt no urge to fuck or be fucked. The tingles that consumed my chest and legs weren’t body parts falling back to sleep. I did in fact feel love, first love. I wasn’t going to waste it. Sam was her nickname. She called it a hand me down. I didn’t want to know which man it fell from. But it stuck shortly after turning three. Maybe it came from her junkyard dog father. “A stepfather.” The calmness flowed from her finger while they reached out to brush the hair from my waking eyes. “So that means we have something in common.” I found her story hard to believe. Sam fit inside my storyline way too well. At times I felt we were the same person. To borrow a line from Dan Fogelberg, “We were twins from different mothers.” Kids from broken families don’t grow up hating. We’re bothered by the sudden presence of someone new. We lose part of the bedroom. The younger kids often share beds. But to grow up physically hating is a Hollywood rich people description. Then it happens. The father figure dies. The greed held back creeps from the closet. The old man’s will is read. If Christmas still arrives on the 25th of December you were meant to be a family. Anything earlier, later or nothing at all spells out trouble. At sixteen, I wanted to hold what the other parent wasn’t sharing. Sam didn’t give off that vibration even though she hid behind her Osco Drug makeup counter of colors. She failed to relate with the common, yours mine and ours approach to rebuilding families. “My…real father…is…dead.” The truth skipped between my teeth. I had never admitted this to anyone. Not even the Hangout. What did this girl have over me? Was she an angel? Had I died and this was God’s giant list of questions? “Are you kidding me?” “He was killed in a truck accident somewhere in Wisconsin. Last year. 1977.” I kept waiting for her to say, “Mine too.” “Wow…a year.” Her whisper lightly swept my constant drive to prove her innocently wrong. “Were you close to your real dad?” “Not really. The whole world hated him. Said he couldn’t be trusted. The fucker didn’t even come to my brother’s funeral.” “How do you know he didn’t? Do you know what he looked like?” “I figured he looked like one of us. I kept searching the crowd for an older version of me.” “I bet he was there. Dads never lose touch. They only pretend not to care.” Then I did it. I had to pop the question. “So, where’s your real father?” Do you believe in half grins? It’s when your face is extremely sad on one side and playful on the other. It’s as if the truth barely squeezes by the censors. A battle between self and self, a grayish blue eye turned down while the other searches the soul of reasoning. 112 “My real dad…” Sam started to say. Then she stopped. “He’s not dead is he?” “No…” I knew I had treaded onto thin ice. The cracking so loud my heart fell into the icy stream. I didn’t have the bullshit gusto to pull it from Sam. Neal would have. He would have ripped that hook right out of her mouth. The steam slowly rising to greet the rising sun, dangling on the other side would have been intestine, lungs and stomach juices. I automatically assumed that her real father was the reason why she wore a rainbow in her hair. Every step Sam took was all the reason she needed to remain hidden. Working in a junkyard had toughened her skin, especially on 28-degree Montana mornings. “My real dad…hates me. I don’t even live with my real mom. They dumped me here when I was eleven.” “Holy fuck! Whatta ya mean they dumped you? Shit girl, you sure in the hell aren’t an old rusted out AMX. How do they dump a good lookin girl like you in a hell hole like this?” “They didn’t want me.” She replied in her silk softened way. Almost too soft, I could barely hear her. “You’ve got to tell me why they did this.” “One day I’ll let you in. But not now, I don’t trust you.” “Trust me? Holy fuck Sam!” “Have you ever had a holy fuck?” She giggled. “I mean, that’s all you say. Holy fuck this. Holy fuck that. You say it so much; I’m convinced a holy fuck must be something incredible.” “What does Sam stand for? Samantha? Is it your first initials glued together?” “My real name is Sam.” She shot back quickly. “I’m a guy. Not a girl. The long hair and makeup is my thing. I play it out. Sam means Sam. There you have the holy fuckin truth.” I didn’t believe her. Him! Her! I had never seen a guy dressed up like this. There was nothing to compare it to. Except that Sam resembled a small cone of soft vanilla ice cream--the melt in your mouth type. A soothing swirl of mystery perfectly layered until brought to a curling point. I didn’t bother asking for chocolate toppings or candy sprinkles. It would have spoiled the perfume she wore-aged car grease salted with Chloe’, a sweet fruity flavor that took me inside her body without having sex. Yet at times, the crusted air left behind a child like permission to think we did. If Sam had been a guy, where did he learn to turn dirt into red carnations? To live inside the puking bowels of wasted metal, an uncaring musk taps you on the shoulder ten steps away. Pictures of Joe took shape--my stepfather’s garage. Tools ripened for any project but never neatly hung like those displayed inside a Sears catalog. Joe escaped to his self-built wooden shack to break free from reality. Upon his return, our twisted noses ignited the gasoline odors that often made us dizzy. He being there meant one thing—dinnertime. The typical family gathering blessed with boiled eggs, hotdogs and sugarcoated coffee. Desert was crud stained fingernails laminated with a grown man’s dream to succeed. Sam’s junkyard history should have carried this very scent. But it didn’t. Nor did I see scars from bicycle accidents, dirt clod fights or tree climbing excursions. Hell, the subject in 113 question didn’t even walk with a limp. You know, the misfit skip created when your balls are crushed during an unexpected flight toward that stupid bar found only on boy’s bikes. Missing were the sharp edged desires to break every rule then blame it on somebody who wasn’t there. Instead, Sam was honest, up front, knew exactly what you were thinking and beat you to the punch line. Guys don’t do this. Girls do. It’s their way of trying to be one of the boys. The little dog that does all it can to keep up with the bully on the block. “Are you bothered by my wishes to look like a girl?” Sam questioned interrupting my Sherlock holms tainted thoughts. “Don’t you ever hate being handsome? I’m really happy when I feel beautiful.” I couldn’t say anything. My heart stopped. As did my dreams of holding Sam’s hand. Was it because I didn’t understand what was said? Handsome versus beautiful—clean faces with hair combed all the way back taking on white dresses and flowered beginners bras and panties. “My mother hated me.” Sam continued but not in a way to make up for lost friendship. “You got to run away. I was tossed out like a used toy. But I wasn’t broken. I could still hum a song. I knew how to love them back. I picked dandelions and gave them to her. She would nod as if to tell me to get away.” “Do you hate your mom?” “No…” “But they…treated you like shit.” “It didn’t matter. I was happy.” “About what?” “I don’t know…” “I am so lost Sam.” “Not as much as I am.” “Why were you at Fat Steve’s?” “He’s the only one who accepts me for me.” “He knows?” “No…” “Has he tried to kiss you?” “No…he’s way too sweet for that. He gets a hard on just thinking about me.” “As a girl.” “Yes…” “Do you love him? I mean can guys like guys?” “You tell me.” They think I’m weird. The hair is long. The way I talk. They say my mind is always out there. I’m out of place. Dreams too big. Arms too small. Steps filled with unperfected harmony. But that’s ok, because I don’t expect God to look at me through your eyes. -Poet M’e-114 Chapter four: scene three Set free… It’s hard to forget how deep I stared into Sam’s facial expressions. I knew she was lying. The Punk rock movement had made its American debut but there was no inspiration. Not yet. The Sex Pistols were only headlines not songs played on KOOK or Y-93. MTV was still a cum bubble. Boy George and Annie Lennox were six years ahead. By the time Duran Duran would hit the shores of New York, Sam would be nearing her twenties. Not even David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust made an impact in Montana. We had the hots for Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and Shawn Cassidy. No particular hair color, dark brown, black over blonde with streaks of light to deep red, organic orange, beauty school dropout pink with a shade of Donny Osmond purple. I’m talking brighter than a peacock, more jubilant then Liberace. It was quite obvious Sam was having a field day being different. You can’t fake such the look. Nor can you hide evolving breasts. I’m not a girl but somewhere along this path of imperfections you learn socks and Kleenex attain a ruffled flowered look beneath any shirt or blouse. Sam orange hunting jacket revealed a lot at the unzipped neckline. "What made you run away?" she interrogated while continuing to lightly spray her attractive essence into the frozen air. No matter where we walked, she had this way of filling the scene. Not a solid black line creating a border. Sam was the flower, the bridge, the view where all points marry. “I killed someone who really wasn’t dead.” I giggled while walking toward the front gate of the junkyard. We were headed out. I was warned about the man controlling her life, he didn’t snuggle up to the homeless. They urinated in his cars. Tore the seats up while swiping car parts they could easily sell at local pawnshops. “Wait…” The laugh was returned. “I am really lost now. I returned your brothers guitar to a young kid who killed a man who wasn’t dead? How often do people kill the dead?” “Notice how I’m not laughing.” “You need to color your hair and remove the lump in your K-mart brand jeans. I’ve never heard of such a bullshit line in my life.” "No! I’m serious." I quickly defended myself almost choking on the scent of recently burned oil. The walk toward our exit cast large shadows into my hollow stomach. I’d never seen chunks of motors tossed about. It reminded me of body parts that had been donated to the sick and weary. In one pile I fell witness to water pumps, manifolds and radiators. In front of us laid freshly gutted engines. They were painted blue. I assumed it was to help eliminate rust from its 115 growing story. “Do you make up stories? Sam laughingly jested. “What are you, the Tuesday night movie of the week?” "I'm a musician and you've just stepped on my highway of success." “Now on with the countdown…right? Stranger things happened. Attempting to brush my hair into place, I noticed for the first time how hard the cold was biting. An open hand screeching across my forehead instantly notified anyone sleeping inside. The chill tore into my dreams. Tiny shreds of hope and coolness vanished. You stupid fuck! Desire hollered into my non-listening ear. Go home where you were fucking warm! Guess what you don’t think about won’t hurt you. My fingers were fine...until I fed the addiction to push back the hair strands that weakened my vision. I tingled, which grew into a shiver, shake, grunt or two then shiver. Going solo seemed like a brilliant idea. I would be free! No more parental irritations. Not one worry in the world. As long as I didn’t drop out of school I would be looked upon as being the Survivor. Where the fuck was the heat? Hell! I just started this trip. I could no longer hear Sam. My head was full of clutter. Beyond the chattering teeth lay a billion inner people begging for attention. Their empty expressions told me to give up. Toss in the towel. Feed the bears. Let them eat you. You’ll be warm inside the hairy bastard. Like a rope tossed into a sympathy hole…I saw a beautiful smile. Being incredibly shy, I quickly turned away. What if Sam was a guy? I didn’t want to hold hands with a dude. I had only heard of circle jerks. I would never participate. While turning to look at the path we created—a stroll through the morning frost. The picture painted slept forever inside the roots of my lost soul: Here walks confusion. Separate lives equal adventures. Footprints pointed in opposite directions. Yet we were headed out. Two snake skins blowing with the wind. The Wild West at sunrise, decorated with pink, blue and white clouds. Lined up with a place to go. Eastbound. Carolina I am told. Not a tumbleweed in sight to block them. Confusion. -The Poet M’e- The only person I trusted was David. But…how does one forgive? Dug deep into my wrists of survival was last night’s telephone conversation. I was no different than any other runaway brat. My view was the important thing here. It only created more sounds. Echo’s haunted the halls of second chance. No light was left on for me to see. Every 116 thought hatched sat alone. Motherless. Although Sam walked beside me—fear crept between the heavily weathered origins of this dream. It was time to give in. Let go. I was not the man I pretended to be. I was only acting out anger. “Are you ok?” I remember Sam asking. “You’re so quiet.” “If you only you knew what I was thinking…” “I knew it! You do what to fuck me.” I didn’t laugh. The white leather ball with bright red stitches had been pitched. The booth announcers spoke nothing. It was if they anticipated another strike out. Impatiently they watched—the pitcher the same. A fastballer named Sam; quick with a changeup but fully incapable of blocking a fake bunt. My heart typed out tomorrow’s headlines: Local batter with a ninety-nine hitting average wins game. Who in the stands imagined it? Not a popcorn popper anywhere in Yellowstone County stopped until they heard the crack of the bat. A snapping of air is the best way to describe it. A swat is a dull sound. Splats are connected to bugs hitting windshields. Tinks belong to the aluminum family. A thud is made when your friends fall face first off their bikes. The crack of a bat is a snap--a tree making eye connection with a cow. Millions of miles an hour that ball was thrown and I had finally met up with my destiny. Up over the fastballer’s reach the white and red meteor flew. It shot like a comet. The way it wrestled with the cold Montana morning air I knew this would be a clincher. My iced over fingertips went right up Sam’s shirt. Instinct told me to feel what was written inside the assumed training bra. I stood at the plate hearing nothing but my heart race. Afraid to look into her eyes, the bold snapper lightly squeezed what was…a female breast. Incredibly soft—a feather, the nipple erect from the cold. The caressed roundedness invited flowers rather than fireworks. I stopped smelling burnt oil. It had vaporized into an open vile of Chloe’. My first breast moment was better than anything, including my trip to Seattle at ten. Opening my eyes to apologize, I noticed Sam was incredibly shocked. Not necessarily by the attempt but by last night’s freezing temperatures. Blue fingers and works of art aren’t neighbors on the coloring wheel. The unspoiled air was met with my lips touching hers. No mother on earth could teach a child to send shivers down a growing boys dream. Sam’s fingers painted my neck. She took hair strands and tipped them over to tickle me closer. I kept a boyish grip on that breast. If I let it go, any chance of it returning would become a preacher’s miracle sermon. “Please don’t fuck me here.” The music flowed through each page of her un-orchestrated performance. “Make me feel special.” Special? I rapidly thought to myself. “If you get to know me, I’ll make sure we make love every day.” Special? I continued to think. I knew where I could get Vitamin R and a bottle of Mad Dog. That’s what she meant, right? “We have to get out of here though.” came the words I didn’t want to hear. “If we get caught, you’ll never see me again.” Flashbacks of Rob and Brenda festered my lifted jeans. I remembered how Rob was consumed by a need to wrap himself inside her arms. He felt it was important enough to battle the warlords and dungeon keepers. Little did he know they carried with them bags of witchcraft 117 and saltpeter. “Teach me how to make you feel special” were my only thoughts set free. Chapter four: Scene four Poetry in motion… Before the bat touched the dust, the vampire had already bitten. I would live forever. It cost me a soul. Whose soul? It wasn’t discussed. Nor did I recognize the invisible buyer. I learned a long time ago we come into this world chubby and stupid. If the game isn’t played right—we leave unevenly proportioned and more stupid then before. My call to David was short. No beads of sweat formed on my frozen forehead. Forgiveness is a religious word and if not spoken time heals all wounds. It was my choice to act as if nothing had happened. I would be the greatest actor he ever met. David was a musical instrument, my new guitar. At the present he was no better than a pawnshop special; a beat up, unloved three stringer hanging from the cigarette smoke stained wall. Although each cheaply made guitar has uniqueness—a common bond they share. They need for human foreplay. A guitar can’t play itself. David was silent without me. To feed his Candy Man orders he required information to keep the watcher at bay. Neal’s disappearance was no mystery to me, nor was his whereabouts. The Candy Man’s vow was to add more sugar. Without Neal, he faced competition. David knew that I knew. But what I really knew he didn’t know. A dense Tarb wouldn’t be difficult. Neal and Rob were my chess partners. You see, little boys never stop playing war games. Every breath taken forces the saliva through the corners of your mouth—without a tongue we’d all look chubby and stupid. My goal: To continue collecting ammo. The stack of dirt clods and tiny rocks hidden in nearby ditches wasn’t enough. Once news of Neal’s act of courage made it to the Gazette, every cop in the city would sniff out the Hangout making us wish we were dead. A chess game—if a player slowly slides a rook across the board, it echoes concentration. Quick jabs tell no tale. The object of winning is to plan out their moves before a decision is made. Keep in mind…they’re doing the same. While David's light blue El Camino raced toward Sam and me. The air was made light due in part to a need to quickly forget. I sat next to a liar. A colorful spring breeze that easily convinced me she was a guy. My reaction was rape. I hated myself for it. But I wouldn’t be satisfied until my darkest question was answered. Was she a he? The kiss felt genuine. Sam’s desire to feel special inspired Peter Max to spread painted rainbows through my next song. What I couldn’t deal with was the mouth I bathed within. Less than twenty-four hours old our relationship had already graduated to a breasting. What if she hadn’t said, “I knew it! You do want to fuck me.” Allowing that word to seep from underground springs lure all growing boys to the water. Pictures of lying naked next to a woman with breasts and hair on her body are what magazines teach us to lust over. Masturbating under blankets or out in the open convinces body lotions to tumble from heads you can’t kiss. Yet it feels so good to dream. To hold tightly the dimly lit room with a fireplace in the background. In front of the red brick formation she sits shivering. Both breasts lightly teased by 118 the silk robe gliding across her body. Her glossy lips of love soothe the fears of temptation. Staring into her made up eyes, lashes as long winter wheat at harvest, I was allowed to walk the steps leading toward her heaven. Her breathing is what pulls me closer, a voice whose guide takes my lips to her neck. I can’t help but notice the curvature of the hidden world. The invisible line that gently connects the lower part of her ear to her evenly spread lips. I kiss her taking long breaths as if I were diving into a sea of blue salted water. Our bodies know the song we sing. Each formation invites me closer to her deepest secrets. Her breathing showers my imagination with a million tingles. It is that thought that brings emptiness to a conclusion. For her body holds what was once a part of me. A song about love and warm walks through the mountains on cool September nights. Chapter five: Scene one: Newborn tingles Shoved into the paper box, the Billings Gazette was unusually thin. It barely filled the silver tube. My guess? The big Halloween rush was two weeks off. Thanksgiving? Yeah right… Teachers buy cardboard cutouts not growing minds. Maybe Jimmy Carter was loafing? The mayor’s job is part time. No common crooks in jail being readied for trial. Oddly enough, I remember how thin the local rag seemed. All I could think about were the poor innocent tree’s who sacrificed their lives and land to become this… Saturday morning jargon isn’t based on communal views. The Gazette saves the he said she said for the heavy as shit Sunday edition. There’s so much crap stuffed into Sabbath day, if flushed, it would plug the septic tank until spring. Flavorful bread and cookie recipes sprinkled with ads from Safeway and Albertson take up Wednesday. Cine 3, the World Theater, Babcock, Stage Four and Big Sky drive in heat up fall temperatures on Friday. Movie time! Billings has to be the only town in America where theaters brag about how long Saturday Night Fever and Grease had stayed within their grip. Giant black letters streamed across the miniature posters, “Now in its record breaking 18th week!” I usually don’t look at the front page. I go straight to the comics—Family Circus, Beatle Bailey and every so often Peanuts. If those snotty ass kids lived near the Hangout we’d kick Lucy’s ass for being so mean to Charlie Brown. Linus would give up the blanket for street sweets and Mr. Echler would rip the fuckin marbles from the teacher’s mouth. Snoopy can stay. He’d make a great lead singer. The fuckers cute and can wrap a chick around his white paw better then Rob. I’d turn his doghouse upside down though. Blame that attitude on NASA. Until you’ve planted your ass inside a rolled over snoopy condominium you will never know what it’s like to crawl out of an Apollo mission. I used to spread fresh horseshit all over the back yard to give the earth a rustic appeal. Both rubber boots were snapped tightly. Not the one size fits all type. I’m talking the big black mothers that had six buckles with three holes each. If you wanted these mud monsters tight, you pulled those freakin buckles straight out then over. Click. Thank God jock straps didn’t come this way. But! This space suit was not complete until I wore the dark blue parka with fuzzy shit on the front. It was zipped to a tube. Then my head was crushed into an odd very uncomfortable 119 shape by a faded red and white football helmet. Joe picked this up one day at the city dump. He thought I needed it. You fuckin rights I did! In space! I’d fly out the backdoor down the boarded path right into the backyard. Waiting for me? The old doghouse built for four turned upside down. I never put my toys away. Besides, how can you predict when such exploration will take over your next step? Seeing the front door up on top excited the engines. “NASA…I’m prepared to enter the capsule” “Screech…ten four good buddy. Be careful on the approach. Cats have been seen in the area. No need for you to sit in the wet stuff.” “I hear ya. I’m glad the rabbits are locked up. My luck I’d get their droppings mixed with the tube food you’re sending with me.” Screeeeech…”Save the jokes Astronaut Tarb. Your mind should be set on getting off this planet. Not the next comedy zone.” The reenacted NASA space mission was in full motion. Very slow motion. Arms barely moving—legs pissed off because they didn’t want to play. My fat head pretending like it was Alan Shepard. Without one tree in the backyard, the entire world could see me. I didn’t care. NASA was sending a Tarb into space. I was out to collect moon rocks. To hell with those trying to figure out what I was doing. Hell, if I got real lucky I'd snatch a couple of those furry little moon rabbits. I heard they tasted like chicken. Whack! The explosion rang out. No! It was bigger than an explosion. I was deafened it was so loud. The sky acted as if it had been torn open. Sheets of darkness instantly cooled by dry ice. Yet…I didn’t see steam rising from the doghouse. “NASA! This Tarb.” A spiraling effect had taken over. The forces ripped open my stomach. “NASA! Will someone speak to me?” Whack! The sound came again. It couldn’t be thunder. Maybe in August, possibly in September but not October. I had no windows to look out. I could only feel reality sinking through one side then flashing like bolts of lightning through the other. TEEN MISSING… the unannounced voice said to me. I’d never heard it before. Strong—like bold print. Heavy. Taking up a full page. How did it get inside my fantasy ship to the moon? Mind travel takes us places. Anywhere you wanna go. Anytime you’re willing to blow away. Like the wind, a strong gust, but does anyone wonder where it goes? Does it succeed in its origin of purpose, my fateful journey through space a good example? A flashback. Mental struggle. Day dreaming. Fantasizing. Wet dream. I’ve heard your mind is like a computer and it dumps what it no longer wants to keep. “Please not my space memories…” I plead. “Allow me to keep them forever.” Any other time, I would have slowly climbed through the square heavily weathered hole above me. Once out, my feet firmly planted in fresh horse manure. I would have walked away from the upside down doghouse. Never sharing a promise to return…always a maybe, only a maybe. TEEN MISSING: Billings Gazette headline. That’s it? Two fucking words? The misguided harmony bellowed within the ice caverns. 120 A few strands of true color shaded with disappointment. My first such display in front of Sam. I was afraid to look at her for being so open. The headline was proof my story wasn’t as screwed up as she assumed. We sat nearly nestled on the cracked sidewalk. Perfection was not the idea. It was a really bad walkway; evidence of an earthquake without having one. It resembled a dried up ancient riverbed. Maybe when it rains, the hidden children come out to race their handmade paper sailboats. The concrete slabs turned boulders bordered the junkyard’s main office. I saw them as being actors. Each jagged sword vowed to protect the neatly painted office two steps beyond their post. Unlike the sidewalk, the office was fancy, almost artful, just enough to grab your attention. A junkyard must appear rugged and mean. It has to feed any man’s imagination. From the do-it-yourselfer to the parts mechanic at Bob Smith Lincoln Mercury near Rimrock mall. This junkyard was built for men, their cars and pet egos. I was impressed by the presentation and inspired by the creator’s need to express in a proper way. Unlike the band, the junkyard captured what people expected. I had finally located a comparison to my argument. Without an image we wouldn’t be noticed—we’d always be compared. Interestingly enough—the Gazette headline cracked our yellow brick road. Stuck between my numb index finger and thumb were two words that heated my passion to perform. The Stones weren’t labeled the bad boys of rock n roll because Jagger came from neatly weeded gardens and perfectly shaved lawns. TEEN MISSING gave us attitude, a place to hang our guitars--new reasons to write better songs. Sam had a difficult time trying to reach inside me. Instead of swimming upstream, patience kept her afloat. A warm hand next to lifeless arm reflects no beam of light unless it is followed with a lightly salted kiss next to my ear. Her voice was a spring breeze just seconds after it has rained, “This is none of my business but I'll trade you a chocolate chip cookie for a clue on what's happening here." I chose not to reply. I couldn’t. So I slowly pulled away. I didn’t want her to witness the tiny wet seed mysteriously planted in the pink lining of my left eye. It would invite the simplest of sounds which would only carry hidden and unspoken explanation. It was then that I questioned all things near us, “Why bare the soul when your heart still hasn’t learned to trust?” “Because I have finally located someone who thinks I’m weird, so I don’t have to prove it.” Sam angelically presented. The white tissue taken from her pocket symbolized the birth of first love. Woven between our separate attitudes and discontent laid the unperfected paths torn from a tree striving to survive. Sam's reaction to my action harnessed a complete understanding. Revealed were the ingredients to bake safe distance, incredible travel and peace between two growing rivers of change. "I…I…I." The stuttering trickled. They were short to the point sounds generated by my body rather than my soul. "I've…I’ve lost my best friend." "What a coincidence!" Sam followed. Holy crap! She’s still trying to keep up with the Jones? I thought to myself. My finger wanted to dig into the ice-cubed mud near my lifeless toes. I felt the need to locate protection. 121 Sam seemed very serious about her coincidence. So much so, she displayed a new smile, a lifting of the lips that didn’t come from a girl pretending to be a guy. I kept looking down at her chest though. I saw nothing but shirt and a down filled winter coat. Therefore I had to rely on instinct. Sam was an expert actor. Me? The only nice smiles I stood witness to were magazine covers with half naked dream dates. But! It was observed through the eyes of science. That’s it! I’m a scientist! I label the smile genuine. Easily convincing the heart was Sam’s firm grip. Others would see it as a hug. She did it! Right there on the sidewalk for the entire world to see. The tingles that raced to my penis moved quicker than a swig of Vitamin R. I was hard and did nothing to hide it. “You lost a friend too?” The confident unsatisfied question fell from my frozen lips. “No…” Sam’s whisper heated the juices boiling in the bottom of my crusted jeans. “I just found one." David's El Camino thundered down South Billings Blvd at the wrong moment in black and white movie history. What is it about sound? The very second you recognize something familiar all things in motion are instantly cooled. “No!” I screamed within. While my imagination soaked up the perfectly tuned engine, particular parts of my male anatomy begged to be pleased. What girls never understand is how a young man’s piston works. It never needs gas or a key. The slightest bump in the road will kick start it into action. Yet, anything outside a bonded circle has the power to shrinky dink the one-eyed wooly monster. "Get in!" David yelled. His arms pumped red, his eyes the same. The search and rescue was inches from being a front-page success story. David took no time to reach over to unlock the passenger door. His anger could be seen but not heard. Total control. His well planned actions and stern voice convinced me to carry out the order. I made the move to get into the sky blue El Camino. I always thought of them as being gay cars. El Camino’s have no idea what they want to be. A car? A pickup? Whatever the choice, it was perfectly ok with me. Just let me know when you make up your freakin mind. “If you move any slower the fucking cold will kill you quicker than me!” David growled which embarrassed the crap out of me. He had to be Mr. Tough Guy for what reason? Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to give him a call. Sam was far better company then King Daddy Band Maker. David was dressed to the hilt in Montana winter wear, light brown flannel long sleeve shirt with rabbit fur gloves. No coat. A pair of leather waffle stompers still muddied by a recent hunting trip in the Snowy’s and under the shirt, long johns, which he bravely displayed by exposing the upper neck. Personally I would have done all I could to cover his aging body. Then again, Montana men aren’t afraid to gain in years. Each scar is a new chapter written. That’s why we wear our hair back. Its Montana manly to showcase bar wars left on the forehead. As for the cheap dark shades barely gripping his tight face? Osco Drug purchased, probably in a rush. They seemed to highlight David’s tough approach. They reached out to Sam and said, "I mean business, just ask me." “Fuck you.” The glance replied. The thought of these two getting along disappeared before it began. Almost like the trickle of water in search of an ocean. Before falling from the sky millions of raindrops gathered 122 in harmony. Knowing their dreams were much too big for one they agreed to form a union of flow. Yet not one Thunder God warned of hidden danger. The mission to reach the ocean would be cut off by an incredibly dry earth. “If you travel through me, you’ll reach the ocean quicker.” “Dudes! Do you know what this means?” The cheers were loud, the music the same. How could it be so easy? Why walk a thousand miles? Short cuts were invented to better the odds, to achieve success, to bring sunlight to an underdog’s cloudy day. The tiny raindrops were convinced! They would realize their dream. Then without properly thinking…”Let us flow! Let us flow!” They chanted like a church choir, their innocence purer then a newborn kitten. In they went…right into the incredibly dry, horribly hungry earth. To never be seen again. Well, sort of. Images of individual raindrops appeared on the faces of flowers. Some made it to the top of Ponderosa Pine. One or two nestled up to a worm only to be completely swallowed by a fisherman grasping onto bate. Sam was my fellow raindrop. David? I didn’t know. Polite? Yes…only to follow it with war paint recently dug up near Custer’s last stand. I failed to recognize the look he shot out to a nervous Sam. But somehow I knew they had met before. It’s a vibration that quickly tilts quarter notes to the left, which forces them to cry out in the shape of sad songs. His lyrics would have sung out, “Sweet loveable Sam…your nakedness becomes my willingness. If the Big Sky is the limit…then darling let’s try one more time.” I’m glad David didn’t tell me. But I learned several chapters later he had drowned my fellow raindrop. Not once. Not twice. The number was much too large to count which in Montana is anything over what your emotions can handle. Sam and David had built a trading sex for drugs post. Above the front door was an invisible sign that boldly read: Free street sweets for satisfied hunger. Yeah, I still wonder. I can’t help but think about who was hungrier? Was it the desire to fly or a need to die? I came up with two answers: small town mayhem and Montana mud. It sure wasn’t a cow pie. I’ve wallowed in it and never came out smelling like I did when I learned of Sam and David. Before climbing into the roaring out of tune machine, I took note of how my heart skipped two times to the engines one. Musically inclined dreamers notice this crap. Any noise is music or on its way of becoming. That day, the inspiration was the clanking of six oil-starved pistons. “Kunk kunk, tink kunk rrrrrrr kunk kunk…idle idle, spit kunk kunk.” I felt my fingertips to jump. They jolted like a dead animal. All at once! Ten teenaged fingers gathered in their mucked up clutches hoping to steal one last gulp of air. I heard the guitar play. Six notes maybe seven. Lyrics basted my lungs. The words painted the innocence of a girl I barely knew. I blame the rough edged swords of man versus machine on Montana’s incredibly cold winters and sweltering summers. Mid January: -42. Mid August: 103. If you aren’t plugging your car in to warm up the oil you best be changing the shit every three thousand miles or lose an engine. No week walks by without a neighbor or friend throwing the hood up on their car. Mechanics are fuck up’s. Every one of the bastards! They know we can’t afford to plunge 123 deeper into debt. Instead of lowering their price--we fix the noise buckets! There’s only one rule to follow. Crank up the radio. If you can’t hear the noise—keep moving forward. Do not touch the car until it’s stalled or you fail to recognize England Dan and John Ford Coley. Who cares if people hear you coming three blocks away? Those are the best damn headers money can buy. “Get your ass in here pretty boy.” David’s voice thundered. It threw my entire thought process into confused, fucked and destroy. “Your God damn stepfather has been calling all fucking morning.” “Oh great.” I thought to myself. “He allows me to leave. Then decides in the middle of the night that I was wrong for doing so.” “Did you see today’s fucking paper?” The anger continued to blow its mighty torch. “Your stupid shit friend Neal has gotten the press he wanted.” “Yeah guess so…” I tried to toss in. Not a smooth move. It seemed to piss him off to the point of an open fire hydrant. “Then!” David raged forward. “Just when I closed my eyes the fucking cops knocked on my goddamn door. Who in the fuck do you think they were looking for?” I didn’t say one word. Forget about looking toward Sam. I was the icicle that clings to the corner of your house believing it will one day touch the ground. “Captain Stephenson has a warrant out of your arrest. You Tarb! You!” The smart ass in me wanted to bite the finger being pointed. But would it break off like a Cheeto? What would I do with it? The blood would stain my cloths like Cheeto droppings. “So guess where the fuck we’re going?” David screamed. I sure wish I could have turned up the radio. It was time to do a Montana test on this man’s motor. Whew! One more blast like that and I’d have his eyeballs in my freakin lap. That’s all I needed. Cheeto stains that look like blood with two bright white eyeballs lost somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t my day. “Let me suggest one thing Tarb.” The tones hurried from the great one. The one blessed with morning breath--he who chose to offer a free motivational speech. “Clear this shit up fast! Tell em where your fucking friend is and let’s get this band on stage Halloween night.” “Oops…wrong thing to say.” I instantly tossed into each vein of my extremely frozen body. His sudden change of personalities created a hook. The mindset sent me back twenty-four hours to the phone call. It clung to me like wet toilet paper. Two separate chapters the same warning…word for word. “Open the casket and die an evil death.” I realize David had to play strong and caring. How else did he weasel into the Hangout’s territory? If I brought up Rick’s name one of us would pay a price. Him? For cuddling up to cops. Me? For breaking an alley way guarantee? No matter what was taking place all fingers not only pointed to David but also protected him. I had to think fast. Create a new game. In order to win, I couldn’t get caught locating the answers to three questions: Was he angry because of the newspaper story? Was David pissed off because I knew something about Neal that he didn’t? Was it possible to appease his front pocket appetite? The truth is David wouldn’t make a pinch of quarters if the band canceled. I felt horrible because the thought of missing our performance never crossed my mind. That’s right! I too was 124 a victim of the dreaded give me attention disease. I was guilty of selling out! I had pulled a Neal. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about Neal.” I sarcastically shattered the growing silence. Right away, the air tightened, as did David’s fist. His sharp edged glance visibly told me the next step would be him snapping my nose. I fought hard to look away. I stared at Sam hoping it would gain me her support or protection. It didn’t. The words that fell from my mouth went totally against the blood contract. Until proven dead no one person in Paradise would halt his or her brotherly love. We would die for each other while embracing all things be it evil, good or untrusting. The “so help me God” part was left out because Gary and Rob didn’t believe. In its place we swore to the almighty Gene Simmons of KISS. Therefore I say, “Welcome to my personalized segment of disgust!” From this point forward every story shared was nothing but a lie. All lies became deeper stories. I lived in the shadows of hell believing one day a giant white angel would swiftly scoop me up by the balls and return whatever’s left to ground zero. Our date with Sam ended with a roar of El Camino’s coughing engine. David being his true self, the Hangout’s professional playboy shoved a card into Sam’s face. It read: Paradise The Rock band from today. Call 406-252-4682 I remember the way Sam held the band’s business card. It was if she touched it before. Her reaction was unlike a lover’s traced outline of your body. Once naked, the warrior’s hunt is over. Without notice, a corner is bent then folded before being stuffed away. If Sam had caught me watching her through the rear view mirror jealousy might not have grown. But it did. I was extremely jealous, a smudge of hurt, the rest total uneasiness. Guys grow up believing they’ll reach the rainbow. Somehow, someway mixtures and breeds formulate in territories not already spoken for. What I didn’t know was Sam’s true story. She was thirteen and David a grown man. They’ve done this before, I kept saying to myself. Of course they have! Sam didn’t think twice about kissing me back. Shattered soul sat in empty pieces on David’s car seat. My look of love was to be a kept secret. It had to be! Judging by the way the morning started, it would be suicidal to openly discuss what I guessed was true; a total dumb man’s choice of conversation. Instead of dealing with it, I gave permission to my mind to travel. Fact is fact. The closest I would get to rub my tongue between Sam’s colorful feathers was purely a molted fantasy. Therefore I had to tap into such a dream. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t my way. So I kept starring at Sam in the mirror. “Alright! Let’s get your ass downtown!” David commanded the vision. “The sooner we get this shit over. The more sleep I can get.” I said nothing to Sam as we drove away. My heart had been stapled, taped and laid inside a fast drying blanket of Elmers glue. Yep…I was the punk teen Johnny in Grease, man enough to wear my street cloths but filled with way too much pride to protect my song. "Romeo! Romeo!” David hollered in pure joy. “Forget trying to land her Tarb. Sam is 125 jail bait. Get the pussy off your mind and back onto what’s important!” “How many times have you fucked her?” Silence… Where in the hell was his radio? I needed more than silence. His fucking 8-track player didn’t work, careless feet muddied most of his goddamn tapes. I needed music! Sound! My own heart had stopped ten minutes ago. “Guess a grown man like yourself David would never lick the pussy of an unripe apple.” “Oh that’s fucking it!” Hand to fist. Closed tightly. A successful connection under my left eye—the old backhand punch. The type taught to mothers worldwide. They never have enough time to pull over and whip the shit out of their screaming kids but damn if these specially trained loved ones don’t have the ability to whack the mole right off your face “Piss me off again Tarb and you’ll be in the backseat of a fucking cop car!” For some reason I believed him. When you’re young, energetic, rule breaking and musically inclined—your tendencies are to ignore the world. Not all kids, but most, dream of one day looking into the eye of a President while wearing an anti-war T-shirt. David’s fevered face and reddened right hand reintroduced me to common decency. The anti-war climatic conclusion favored him. For one lousy second being part of the Hangout didn’t matter. Although my travels had barely lasted twenty-four hours--clumsiness, carelessness and pure teen attitude had led me straight into the arms of a father figure. But why the fuck did it have to be David? Of all the damn people to offer a cup of sugar, it had to be a street-craving bump on a log that drives a really bad car? So bad my inner voice refused to talk to me. It screamed out questions about David and Sam. David and Neal. David and Bart, Rob, and Gary. Somebody kicked the crap out of Rob at the Family fun center. Someone was financing the band’s incredibly cool and up to date equipment. First there was Bart. Then came David. Gary and Tony enter the picture. Neal disappears. Rick becomes my assumed victim. Then he tells me that people are proud of the way I keep to myself. Fat Steve has Terry’s guitar. Some chick I had never met brings me the guitar on I-90. I end up sleeping in her stepfather’s junkyard. By morning, the Gazette prints a story about Neal the missing teen. I’m in a crusty old El Camino with David headed downtown because the cops want to talk to me. What the fuck does David have to worry about? Echo, echo, echo heard only inside the shell of my horribly hungry stomach. I’m the one living this damn life! What did he mean piss him off one more time? Holy crap! I’m the one that should be pissed here. David didn’t hear a thing. That’s why I talk to myself. I can say whatever I want, anytime I want, to whom ever I want and still keep the roundedness of my left cheek. Fuck you David for hitting me!” My body tingles without moving my lips. “You’re so fucking ugly there’s rumors of that fat face becoming the new home of motorcycle bike climbing! No man will make it to your forehead because your goddamn nose looks like a buzzard’s beak after it’s been dead two months! When did I say I was a comedian? Ok! Don’t judge me on my jokes. My flash and flair are within the elements of the music I create. I’d sing to myself but it would pour from my ears, arms and mouth forcing David to believe I was taking life way to lightly. That might stiffen his snot catching disease trap, which would then be blown all over my runaway cloths. 126 “Just tell if you’re fucking Sam.” The statement escaped sending the wrong chills toward the creative flow I had become lost in. “I mean. I mean.” David held nothing back. “Sam is a woman not a girl. She grew up North Side but loves to play south of the tracks. Thirteen? Try sixteen. A baby faced liar whose natural father drives a truck for anyone willing to hire an alcoholic. She’s always blamed him for a fatal trucking accident in 1976. The father lived. Her mother/hero died.” Sam was at Fat Steve’s house visiting Melody Love, aka, Debbie. One could easily assume the two are very good friends. In reality, the friendship is based solely on Debbie’s willingness to help drug addicted, alcohol fortified teens get back on their feet. As for any rhyme or reason as to why Sam chased me down with the guitar? She knew I was hurt. She didn’t ask Steve to give it up. Sam forced the situation into play knowing what it’s like to face death and the belongings left behind. Yes, David boinked Sam, but not in a putting the move on sort of way. Street sweets were the trade off. David sternly ordered me not to hold it against Sam. I was not to hate her for something she couldn’t control. His faults were wrong. He admitted it while making sure that I fully understood his reasons for not bringing shame to Sam’s form of survival. Because I had never been this far in personal debt, my judgment was to be kept. I couldn’t compare my life with what Sam craved. David’s decision to help me was his best offer of making sure I didn’t know what Sam had been fighting. That’s why he slammed his anger into play. Cut the crap off early. Gain my attention before I stole from him any respect he may have had for me as a musician. My reaction was to not react. Only listen. I faced something that was carefully guarded. To bring opinion was out of the question. So I sat in the El Camino swiftly rubbing together what was left of my frozen hands. It gave me something to do while my mind sorted things out. I couldn’t feel the heat pouring from the hot car engine. To dig any deeper into my palms would cause blisters. I remember calling it my crystallized fall--a leap of faith into a pool of depression. Instead of looking into the soul of Ponderosa Pines and Lodge Poles my surroundings were frozen tundra on a stick. Which I’m sure was somebody’s unexplained ecstasy. I tried to force myself to remember anything Sam shared with me. I couldn't. There was too much friction between David and me. We were two dried layers of skin slammed together. One of us would fall but not without a proper fight. Honestly? It would have been the best thing. I was cold and needed something to ignite any fire available. So I did what I do best. I pretended a reenactment of our departure. It was if nothing had taken place, an instant replay but without the Denver Broncos. The quick glance I stole from the rearview mirror was my final picture of Sam. That image fed the vibration of lust leaping from my drawers. I held it close to my weathered wooden stage doing all I could to make sure David kept his eyes on the road. My heart was locked into first love. A sick lost feeling strong enough to buckle your knees while raising hope of there being a better tomorrow. This had to be what Rob felt while with Brenda. If so, I could never sit in the trees again pretending his lips were mine and it was I copping the feel. Such feelings demanded respect. Sam’s reflection told me she’d be waiting. Or so I pretended. Her sluggish walk back into the metal jungle of junk pursued my heart like a Casey Kasum long distance dedication. She 127 was lost. I would find her. I would be the South Side desperado who’d whisk her from such harsh ways of living. The Eagles would be proud of me. It would be a peaceful easy feeling. I’d take it to the limit--freedom from the hotel California. Joe Walsh would become president and I’d be named the new kid in town! Fantasy is fun but my luck ran more along the lines of the Bay City Rollers. Instead of S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Night! I was in T R O U B L E! What else can I say? Sam’s tiny grin made my fear invisible, a kid in love. Newborn tingles. I’m sure they’ll disappear—we were headed for the police station. Chapter five: Scene two The thought of Sam lit my unwarmed face. Such brief encounters echo well written heart songs: Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s the Night, Dan Hill Sometimes When We Touch and Rick Dees with Disco Duck. Hey, it takes two to dance, so why not include a bird? Humming was the only thing I could hold on to. David had me trapped in his path—I was headed toward truth, justice and lipless locks on untold confessions. Although the two of us were very good friends, the atmosphere filling the car was expectedly uncomfortable. I chose to run, to mentally dive into a pool of duck poop left on the dance floor. Did we shoot up the road toward city center? Tuning out is a wonderful thing, especially when words aren’t shared. His reaction convinced me early that he had been in touch with those governing the home. I knew I was dead. You can’t ignore the father figure’s pointing. My choice was to run—be a man, face the penalties accepted in all states except Alaska, Mississippi and the left hand corner of the District of Columbia. Billings isn’t known for having a wonderful skyline. What paints the beautiful portrait are the five hundred foot layers of sandstone that snuggle her northern border. Without the Rims, we’d be just another town resembling something you’d find struggling on a Wyoming prairie. One of the Yellowstone Valley’s highest points is the overpass connecting I-90 with Montana Ave. Once on top you can see for miles but don’t look down! The drop creates mustard puke in the pits of your tough guy stomach. Even thinking about the overpass haunts me. If the fucker were a bridge to fame I’d walk away! I can’t be the only Montanan who hates this quick getaway! If it rains or snows, somebody hits the wall leaving behind an autograph made of inch thick automobile paint. Guess that’s why those of us living south of the tracks have nick named the overpass Graffiti hill. "So what do ya think David? Would it be best if we drive off the edge?" I fearlessly asked hoping to crank down the ice storm. "It’s no secret. You’re cooked because the band’s fucked up." In my entire life, nobody moved faster than he did. The moment my words reached his inner soul the freak discovered he had Fred Flintstone’s callused brake foot. David pushed his foot so far into the brake pedal, the metal floorboard screamed, “Fuck you!” The El Camino turned sharply! David swung his arms hard to the right! Everything, including my asshole flew into the invisible window that separated our ego driven, piss headed worlds. My heart pounded! Both eyes glued to the jagged edge of Graffiti hill. Of all the damn 128 days to gift the highway with a signature! We were living the life of Dolly Parton’s song Coat of Many Colors. If a lifetime equals many years, then decades grew in the 7 1/2 seconds it took to creatively come to an Olympic gold medal winning complete stop. Hell yes! I could see the yellowing grass below! I counted the flung out beer cans while mysteriously realizing that I had reached David's melting point. Well fuck me twice… "This, Tarb!” David screamed, “This is the end!" His high pitch felt like arms latching to my body. I’d been shoved deep into the passenger seat by the mere sounds of anger—only to catch whiff of David’s left hand gripping what little shoulders I had left. Thrusting my attitude into the window, the weathered armrest failed to survive the initial shock of changed events. "I took the time to help this fucking band! You screwed up! It affects my life, Tony’s life! Now Neal’s Life! You called, I ran to you! You felt it was appropriate to whore your loser ass self out to a slut fuck fashion disaster!" "Oh, you know the plan don’t you?" I shot back trying to ignite my own engines while re-adjust both bodies and facial expressions. "You, Tarb!” David’s finger pointed out. “You’re the prime suspect in Neal's disappearance!" I didn’t breathe… David continued, "I’ve spent the last two fucking days trying to puzzle piece every step, every move, every damn decision made! And you just sealed your fate!" "David!" I tried to interrupt. No such luck. His anger wasn’t a falsely accused portrait hanging above the stalled El Camino mantle. David’s choice was to reflect a little honesty by making me eat real feelings. Crow is an after five desert unless you can prove legal guardianship. Then, the Montana meatpackers association will just give it to you. "Get out!" came David’s order. "If you think you can deal with this on your own, then get out!" David’s hair flavored my rescue. It hung over the rim of I assumed was an extremely red face. You know the type, bloodshot eyes, snotty nose, pointy warlock chin and fingers whiter than a fresh coat of Montana snow. I know! I know! Like a child, I sat in my own spit and decided to spin off mental games of protection. David couldn't have been more serious. I was the man responsible for Neal's disappearance. It stuck to me and refused to pee. How can an under aged kid score in a bar if daddy won’t leave the mature babe who’s dying to fuck me? It’s only rock n roll and I like it! Sitting still for long periods of time on Graffiti hill caught the attention of passerby’s. Yep, because of me—we were still the center of all attention. I’m telling you, it was more fun than being a two year old again. Traffic slowly passed letting all who wished to peek inside. They captured the view of superglue ending its guaranteed bond. Velcro doesn’t even last forever. I was the first to bend at the knees. Tears! I fucking cried! The type you can’t hold back. The salty bastards flooded the heart connection devices attached to the strings David was pulling. I didn’t have any problems understanding every word shared. The more I thought about it, the better it was for me to slip out the door and climb off the overpass. I had to run! I had to 129 release David! He couldn’t be my P.L.P Public leaning post. The pain was corrupting what little friendship was left. Even baking soda couldn’t dissolve this piece of shit cable system. My final question, "What about the cops? You said they’ve got more questions, if I get out they'll think I killed Neal." "Is he dead Tarb? How’re you connected to this?" David’s look was evil, a grim unfulfilled dark horse whose thoughts were more powerful then the barrel of an antique Winchester. He kept it firm, direct and inescapable while turning to his original position behind the wheel. Placed between each thought were future words glued to its creation was frozen time. I didn’t want to retreat, but he was the mentor and I…the class clown. “Don’t hate me because I have beautiful hair,” I played. “Then stop making me go bald.” The grin came back. I knew the rules of selfish behavior—it was unfair to everyone, especially David, to think Neal's disappearance affected only my corner of the world. What about Bart? With Neal at his side, they were a two-headed coin. Their playfulness on and off the stage sketched out hard to locate natural silhouettes. I’d seen this before, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac and Tom Shultz of Boston with Brad Delp. Were we over? Graffiti hill waved goodbye without my participation. I forgot about being cold, David was no longer angry and for that matter, Sam played no role in my newfound dance with well-focused enchantment…the hangout in musical form. Playing on the big mental screen inside was passion driven creations of unstoppable consistency, showcased by a group of starving young Montanan’s in heat for fame. I could see Bart reaching deeper than anyone pulling from his guitar the gift of chance taken followed by the scent of raw musical pussy…why else would boys be so in love with music? Adopting Gary fucked things up. The hangout was a crowded overstuffed sold out closet. Bart’s participation shrunk to backup vocals and bass guitar which is nothing but a drummer’s unpaid babysitter. When you’ve got cramps and you can’t shit it’s time to pull out the prunes. Our lifestyle changed which did nothing but force Neal to dump Paradise. He never forgave us for begging Gary to jam. To conquer this rock, we needed to roll and that meant a fresh batch of moss. Sadly, it killed the lawn and soon everything turned brown with envy. Nobody reminded Neal about how he was the one who discovered Gary. It was during one of his infamous midnight excursion with the Candy Man. Tony was the first to toke the niche—the next thing you know, Gary was in. Such an introduction gifted Tony an undeserving pampered touch of support from his side of town. The hangout was no longer South Side. They were the rich and we were the poor. They had Gibson’s and we were the best pawnshop displays this side of 27th street. The only thing Gary and Neal had in common was a love/hate relationship based strictly on who stopped by the candy store first. Neal's idea of calling drugs candy was a spice of life that seemed to make everything we did a little more acceptable—except when the teenage boy arguments, turned into young adult fist fights. 130 When confronted by daily abstract misbehaviors, the obvious place to walk is where the normal don’t shine—the Paradise contract. We swiped the idea from the God of Thunder Gene Simmons who tossed a jigger or two of the bands blood into a comic book. Our final sun would never set if at any time, any member chose to break the lyrics of what was to be the ingredients of Rock n Rolls greatest chapters. We knew we weren’t famous yet. Any contract signed in blood represents loyalty not only to the music but each other. Our fights were brutal, driving a wedge between those involved. It's a wonder somebody other than Neal didn't turn up missing before this. One night in July, the fourth, the skies over Montana’s Magic City were blanketed with fragments of unused fireworks and the enormous amount of smoke that follows. The only thing missing were a couple unexpected sonic booms and the desire to locate a witch then hang her. The hangout spent the holiday banging out chords at a small low paying gig in Laurel—a tiny community fifteen or so miles outside of Billings. It’s a railroad town, one along thousands of miles of train tracks. I always heard Billings didn’t want it so they dumped the eyesore on these village idiots. Which might explain Laurels other manmade agriculture—three well lit, hard on the nose, sky darkening oil refineries. God! This town had it made! Guess that’s why David found it in his heart to feature us on one of the year’s biggest nights to drink, scream, pull down your pants and moon the innocent. The July fourth performance swelled our egos inside the stereotypical smoke filled room with not enough space to pass proper gas. I don’t remember it being dimly lit, how else would I remember twenty six half dead drunk men and one woman pumped up a couple of raw dreams? I hated this shit! That meant David would be our biggest fan and best-dressed groupie. The song ends and he’s the only one hollering. The others are too fucked up to notice the difference between a live band and the jukebox. Another bullshit moment was set up time. Ass fuck Rob took too long setting up the trap set, gifted were Gary and Bart, they now had plenty playtime. They’d slide across the weathered, badly chipped hardwood semi-stage pretending to be live at Madison Square Garden. Never the Yellowstone county Metra, always New York. Adding buckets of puke to my thousands of miles of intestine was hearing David whooping it up in some fucking corner, acting as if he had never seen the act before. “Free bird!” David’s cattle call rang. “Saturday Night from the Bay City Rollers!” “How bout fucking Mandy from Manilow?” I cried into the unset microphone. “No!” Tony interrupted. “Feelings by Morris Albert.” “Feelings!” The entire hangout sang in careful pitched, completely out of tune harmony “Oh whoa oh, oh feelings. “My hard on is for you…” without a doubt Neal. “I’ve got feelings down there, oh whoa, oh, oh feelings.” Yep, the greatest chapters ever written for Rock n Roll, which were sharply interrupted by Rob slamming his sticks into the beat up head of his silver lover. How else do you explain the relationship a drummer has with his snare? 131 Garage bands and cellar dwellers that spring outward are most likely going to make money, a few pennies here, a keg there, fifty smacks this week, a different amount the following. Learning to adjust your ego’s dick determines how far you’ll make it. In the beginning, we were extremely lucky. It didn't matter where Paradise performed, each show was a new beginning performed in front of 25,000 imaginary, screaming, out of control, sex starved fans. At sixteen, fucking some chick behind closed curtains was the fantasy. Getting my hands on money was the attainable reality. You can earn it, steal it and beg for it only to realize, it burns up quicker than making it. Slipped twenty invited knives. Anything more could cost a life. If you’re a kid making Rock n Roll money, nothing pours from your veins more than the color green and the need to locate more. Suddenly cost and consequences no longer outweighs supply and demand. Bringing David onboard as our manager invited perfectly planned options—never duplicated or improvised, just set rules and regulations as approached by someone who’d been there. The only requirement was a pinch of skill. David had answers for everything, until three sadly dressed long hairs walked through the etched glass door of the Laurel nightclub. Their walk was staggered, but not alcohol slung. Each step a scuffed reminder of mom’s kitchen floor. The casual unfiltered stroll dominated the scent of un-trust, especially when their choice of seating was firmly in front of Gary. No assumption, they located the act they needed to follow. This lead guitarist would have to reply. Dressed in loose denim sun stained shirts, slightly tucked into faded jeans—the three long hairs rested their western boots with pointed tips alongside the stage. Even if we had the brightest lights used at Madison Square Garden, nothing carried the power of blinding the Hangout from what was about to be experienced. It started with the typical heckling followed by cigarette butts and beer caps being aimed then shot at each member. I burned inside. If the long hairs stayed I’d forget to go on. Lyrics would be missed and harmonies would remain unmet. David caught on to their act. Before he reached the stage, Gary felt the need to return the favor with a prefabricated saliva encore. This is how you get when laced with enough sugar to sweeten ten boxes of chocolates. Street sweets are best represented when fixated to Led Zeppelin, not small town bars with no general place to run when things go bad. Gary’s stamina and confidence violently strengthened with the arrival of Rob and Neal. Holy fuck! I thought, they can actually get along. For one very split with no slit but very straight and narrow second, Laurel’s railroad tracks and gas making refineries weren’t the talk of the town. Hell no! An old form of poetry first introduced by Calamity Jane was about to be ignited—throwing flames higher than a tanker torched by a lazy uncaring welder. The tiny room fell witness to the four steps of creative choice: A. Silence—it teases the imagination B. Footsteps—the beat of the approaching chorus C. Foul words—everything you wished Country music was about. D. HIT! BOOM! POW! I believe it’s Chinese for ass kicking. 132 The long hairs came for Gary. You know, three on one—quick moves, no shoving or tripping, just a body meeting the assumed criteria. Neal wanted in, Rob held him back. Tony kept setting up his guitar amp while the nightclub manager dangled his thumbs in circular motion—as if to be signaling the warriors to march forward. “Alright! Alright!” David angrily jousted while tugging the belt loop of the blonde mop top. “There’s no fucking way! You will not! Destroy this incredible place of performance! I came here to earn money! You three are trying to empty my pockets!” “Wait! Wait!” Neal lazily swiveled his way toward the circle. “You mean to tell me, there’s money being paid tonight!” “Oh! How fucking cool is this?” came my participation. I knew what David was up to: confusion. “I don’t give a rat’s fuck if you slice Gary’s nuts off!” Tony delivered in a Marlin Brando soft firm whisper, “But you better keep your West Side approach to conversation away from my beer money!” “I’d listen to them,” spewed the blood from Gary’s torn lip—his swanky body lying near motionless and obviously in pain. “Hit me all you want, but not on their clock.” Drum sticks tucked in his back pocket, leather gloves with cutoff fingers laced to a well timed beat, Rob performed the Hangout stroll, “The only way we’ll let you kick Gary’s ass, you let us fuck your sister first.” “What if I don’t have a sister?” “Shit!” Neal screamed! “Jesus Christ Gary!” Rob harmonized. “What if the pot smoker doesn’t have a sister? You broke the first fucking rule of the band!” “I wanna fuck his mother then.” Gary chimed in. “I bet she’s got enough tit for three of us to suck on at the same time.” Chinese words are not wasted vocabulary. HIT! BOOM! POW! Knows only one meaning and who better to get a mouth full than the grimy dirty beer stained wooden floor holding up the bands paying gig. Watching Neal grip a hand carved pool cue then slam it into Gary’s left shoulder echoed another purpose for this uninvited dance. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were swallowing. Neal used this opportunity to seal the fate of Gary who three days earlier ripped off one of Neal's candy connections. "You set him up!" I torched the air while shoving Neal into the mirrored wall behind the band. "This was nothing but a fuckin set up!" Releasing one of his free spirited smiles, Neal failed to see eye to eye with my accusation. I had finally caught him inside a non-angelic moment! The fucker was up to no good! He chose to create destruction over a performance that meant a lot to the rest of the Hangout. From his puffy lips came the line that made him so famous, "You don't mess with the best, because the best don't mess." The room stood empty; filled with people but hollow in true friendship. Hoping to return normality to his joint, the nightclub manager slipped two quarters into the dusty bubble shaped jukebox. I don’t remember the song only the painted face Neal whitewashed the fence with. 133 Chapter five: Scene three The frightening chill of reality ate through the backless wooden bench sentenced to life within the unfriendly surroundings of the Billings Police station. David and I arrived unnoticed as if to be invisible. I blame it on mind massaging. A game. Tune out, burn out, whatever it takes to prevent reality from kicking the fuck out of your lungs. The pretty navy blues are used to our type; two steps from total hood, a mile from homelessness. How often do cops see father-like figures with a worthless punk dragging his feet behind? My form of mental massaging was a life size movie screen, a dusk till dawn presentation of the summer’s events, my popcorn hand kept reaching toward an empty picture. It was like being an artist was a new drawing book, no objects to color not even a sketch to highlight or erase. David sat quietly, no spoken tongue, only the need to rip through a Rolling Stone magazine. A calming for the parental type—pages larger than life, filled with heroes and reckless warriors doing far worse crimes than those sitting next to him. I kept looking at David—questioning his involvement. The silent interrogation: Perry Mason versus Charlie’s Angels. Barnaby Jones meets Barretta only to get tangled inside a web made of unwritten Night Gallery scripts. The top staple was missing from the Rolling Stone. It was awkward to hold, the pages bent outward like a twig locating an underground spring. The rugged condition prevented my gutless imagination to travel beyond the nervous twitch that kept a modern beat inside the fire pits of hell. Damn it! I screamed inside at a self who found fascination with knocking the unglued dark sticky now dried Montana soil from the over weighted legs that I hoped would lead me to Neal. You are such a fucking loser! The inner voice continued. You could easily end it all right here. Spill it cowboy! Take the sheets off the bed and expose the mattress! I can’t! came the other side, a lack of innocence, the need to remain loyal. After all, how much trouble could I really be in? What’s hidden is hidden. There’s no physical evidence, not even lyrics written in code. I take that back. “Are you talking to yourself again?” David sarcastically butted in. “Jesus fuck Tarb! You don’t need a stadium full of people, there’s a big enough crowd in that thick fucking head!” “Is that what they teach you in Rolling Stone?” I counter attacked with a gallon more smart-ass in my shoes. “Would you order Gene Simmons to stop talking to himself?” “The only thing that fucker’s got is a mystery! Any true musician would wipe that shit off his face and play a real song rather than act out an ancient Japanese play.” How fucking dare he attack Simmons! The evil inside voice bled. Don’t take this shit Tarb! Stand up for the hero! Sam wouldn’t take this bullshit! Impress Sam! “Hey David, aaa…can we please be friends here. I’m fucking horrified and fighting with you isn’t where I need to be.” Chapter five: scene four The breaking clouds, tiny specs of moonlight; unveiled to my wandering eyes, shallow 134 puddles, each helped to create an infinite line—paths of possible destruction. It invited fear but nothing I couldn’t handle or disguise to look more acceptable. The decision to take the back way into the Gravel Pits proved to be the best offered. I was tired. Muddied, my legs hiked while the careless heart searched through familiar areas to better prepare for the final outcome of any answers. Lungs tightened by lack of air, thought became my only guide. The only place you would hide Neal is near the old pickup truck. A rusted slab of chapters past was buried treasure, its cab two feet under water. A hidden bewilderment lost in the back lake, strong enough to give the hangout a destination to play. We felt safe. The presence of possible danger from the outside world didn’t exist. Without warning, not even time to close my eyes the memory had failed! Shoulders before feet, splash second, fall first. A tiny creek, swollen—my new bed to lie, tormented by the storm now looking over its shoulder. I heard its laughter, this…while gasping, swirling, reaching and almost puking. I couldn’t stop it! The weather strained current devoured me. I didn’t have time to think about being hopeless. Weakened already, the search became for survival. I was slowly being destroyed by Mother Nature’s late summer curse. The journey to locate Neal was about to be drowned. The fucking Gravel Pits was near victory. Relax! a memory screamed, an image of the stepfather figure teaching us how to survive the wilds of Montana. You can’t defeat what flows. Become part of it! A river doesn’t eat welcome guests. Its war is with those who think they can win. I let myself go. No air to be had—just a memory, a faded reminder. The discomfort of being tossed up then thrown aside aided nothing. It was dark. I tried to open my eyes and heard fear. Medium sized river rocks clung to me like warm gum. I felt no boulders. How fucking deep was I? Relax! The imagination kept fighting. Being locked in the creek felt like a lifetime. A sentence I hadn’t expected. A rodeo bull rider needs only eight seconds. I bet this cowboy went a full thirty! Where the fuck was the clown to save my ass? The lazy ass bastard! Calm affects all walks of life. The rocks stop hugging and these worthless arms pointed the rest of me toward the lyrics of the fetal position song. I didn’t sit on the creek’s edge and smile. I didn’t lay half dead on my side like a beached whale. The decision was to run. Once free from the water, I ran in any direction available. I ran so fast the roadrunner lost—the coyote ate him. But not me…I was so fucking scared. Was I cold or was being afraid turning me into a walking earthquake? Even worse—I was lost. I didn’t recognize the trees. There wasn’t a path. I couldn’t hear cars racing down I-90. Lost…the type you get when confronted by impossibility having sex with inability. That’s it fucker! Just cry. Oh you’re the big man aren’t you? I couldn’t stop beating myself up. Oh look at that tear drop! You fucking piece of shit loser! Chapter five: scene five "How long have ya been out?" The voice asked. Attached to the interrogation was the warmly welcomed confident Bart. “Ya better wake your ass up! Uncle Bart’s here and he don’t need a bunch of sleeping con artists slowing his pace!” The waiting room—the Billings Police station—half painted, light blue with a sip of 135 green placed carefully over fresh scuffs on the floor. The lights hummed creating a cold fear fed by unevenly scented sweat, dust and fucked up dreams. Bart’s arrival officially ended my private timeout with David. We were alone. I thought of us as being the only true citizens of Billings with big enough balls to admit the truth and accept all punishments given, which I believe was a tall blonde with boobs the size of Washington state golden delicious apples. Bart’s entry was his normal, unpredictable manner of self over anyone. First you heard his slouching overweight voice pierce the silence. It seemed to add character to the Starsky and Hutch episode playing in my mind. I kept waiting for him to slide that fat ass over the hood of a red sports car. The closest thing to it was a giant fish splash landing like Moby dick, quickly followed by a Root beef infested belch, properly rounded off with a grunt, whoosh…the passing of gas. Its official…Bart’s special way means we’re right at home. He wasted no time flavoring the unfavorable questions, “Where’s Neal? Why didn’t you stop him? Does the Candy Man know? Is the Candy Man part of this? Where was Gary? Fucking Gary’s part of this isn’t he?” Hands stuffed into a pair of guitar player black netted gloves, Bart’s thickness protected nothing—a fat guy in a kids suit, a clown out of costume, adult anger but through childish mannerisms. He kept control by utilizing the tips of his music making fingers—the index pointed through me as if to be recreating all such evils. When confronted, I stare into the eyes of the accuser. Bart’s face seemed over shadowed by the dark rings under his puffy eyes—a reminder of late night gigs mixed with street sweets blessed by heavenly givers and takers. His concerns lied in the current flow of change, the events that grounded the hangout. Bart was a brother without his hero. He was tortured by Neal’s lack of communication. How dare he attempt to accomplish the unexpected without discussing it with him first? "Can we go back to sleep?" David firmly stepped forward. “Tarb’s been a real ass today and he needs more time to think about his mistakes.” Bart’s laugh was victorious. “You think you’re the shit don’t you? Ya got David here to protect ya. Ya ain’t no mamma’s boy…you’re a twink, aren’t ya Tarb?” “Bart!” David hurriedly interrupted. “Don’t create a fucking scene! We volunteered to come in here. If you keep going that foul mouth is going to fuck us up bad! I swear to fucking god they’ll read more into this goddamn situation than what’s really happened.” Bart sat back. He tore the room apart with his eyes. My choice to stay silent wasn’t smart. It fueled Bart’s anger. I was no better than Neal. "Your parents called this morning. They're worried Tarb." Bart threw into the stew. An honest approach, a paintbrush soaked in white paint without having to raise a flag. "Your step-dad even sounds worried. Talk about a true fucking miracle!” Unless given reason to sample, I’m not the intentional hurting type. But! Hearing Bart speak of the parental figures being worried purchased me an out—to play on their fears. If they felt sorry, it meant a lighter case of homeward bound punishment. “Did my step dad actually sound concerned?” “Do I get a boner when there’s chocolate around?” “He’s boning your ass Bart! The fucker’s never given a rats ass!” David didn’t want to play, “Oh that’s real fucking grown up! I’ve never met a more 136 spoiled homeless man in my life. Guess sleeping in that piece of shit wreck last night must have been pretty nice or was it the pussy with rainbow hair and fucked up eyes?” “Homeless?” Bart interrupted totally missing the David’s educated description of Sam. “Man! I can see the Tiger Beat headlines now: Tarby gives up house to write better music! Starvation over Hamburger Helper! Fuckin righteous Tarb! This is the shit that’s gonna make us famous…right David?” "Not if the lame nut sitting next to you has anything to do with it." David whisper screamed, you know, full facial expressions while using a tempered burst of air from large pissed off lungs. It was a true Oscar performance complete with quick sips from a plastic cup of cold coffee. "The band’s done! You’re fucking little hero and his silent way destroyed it for ya!” Silence hurts. Bulging eyes make me laugh. Toss in a bucket of red paint for David’s face and protruding veins from the neck and you’ve got a modernized Rock-in-stein. It would’ve looked better if David had been carrying a torched guitar streaming thick black smoke, the kind that floats but never fades. Whoa! Hold on, my tuning out didn’t mean David was finished. “Maybe you can convince the bullshit artist to tell you where you’re fucking bass guitar player is.” "Do you think he knows?" Bart chuckled while taking the cup from David. To offer such a Perry Mason thought required a payment of cold java. “God David! This stuff sucks!" "Tarb knows.” Rock-in-stein bolted into place. “Cops aren’t stupid and they don’t waste their time with punk-ass young fucks...” Oh oh… My brain shot to the half-cocked smile terrorizing the depths of a soul I had no control over. Prepare yourself for another vision, Tarby. Picture a cop not wasting time. Hmm… Yes Mr. Donut counter, it does seem suspicious that five kids from the South Side are riding together in this trashy white Ford Falcon—but we’re on our way to Vacation Bible School. Next time, we’ll think twice. Ride our Bikes! Somehow, neither Bart nor David seemed to be bothered by the gift of perfected mental escape or the fact that the three of us were pow-wowing at the local cop shop. We were overdosing on raw energy and getting away with it! Before we fell victim to a crime, the room grew with the arrival of a six foot three inch visitor from the dark side. Well, more like the dark blue, shiny silver metal side; his gun strapped to the right side. Oddly enough, it silenced the party. "You Tarb?" The donut counter boldly asked. A strong deep voice that bounced off the wall then vibrated my ass. What a coincidence I thought to myself, both David and Bart are trained pointers. Gee I wonder how well they’d do on hunting trips. Anybody caught between the law and loyalty is guilty until proven innocent. My limbs shook like a leaf that had been given word about fall arriving early. My eyes fell to my hands, white tipped fingers greeted the change of seasons. Any blood left had been drained, something about an all points bulletin put out by the heart. A lurking Bart and courageous David unevenly walked behind. I tried to count the steps but got lost somewhere between fear and fucked up. Heard, was their breathing patterns—jolts of thunder, wind wars strong enough to keep me on what little feet were left to waddle down the hall. Like Dorothy, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. If it had been a dream, a piss hard on137 would’ve freed me from the depths of choice versus morals. There was no way out! I mentally ran believing whatever took place that night at the Pits would be rediscovered. I fought hard to replay the hidden events. The memory did all it could to land feet first inside the swift, rain soaked creek that ate me. Chapter five: scene six “You fucking ass! Why?” I screamed at the top of my lungs feeling pain where pain had never visited. Everything about me was raw—I felt sweat pouring from my soul yet tasted that fucking creek. Disappointed, filled with fear, a spoiled like sound generated by kids who never get their way flew from my lungs. The aching pissed off whine pierced the night. It solved nothing. Unless you were a Western Meadowlark trying to catch some shuteye and some dick faced brat’s behavior could be seen through hollow trees. I couldn’t get away from the creeks overflow—it had to be six inches deep. The forest air was thick with humidity, faceless desire to help a friend and above ground excess from the cow pasture a half-mile from the Pits. And I still had a goal! No matter how ugly Mother Nature made me, uncovering the mystery that haunted Neal never seemed aimless or dead. I must’ve looked like a two year old in stinky diapers reaching for his mother dressed in her Sunday best. Montana mud can’t be filtered out—it’ll eat you alive. It cakes to your shoes and then your legs and arms—in time Bigfoot becomes your realty. I was a painted horse searching for battle. Wait! Wait! Please don’t think of me as being a hero! Barry Manilow made it through the rain. Me? Losing a friend tore at me. Those fucking tears were the remnants of flesh turned liquid. I always said I’d die for a friend but would I die trying to save him? My aching ass located refuge on a weathered log—a twenty-five foot newly fallen work of art tossed to the floor like a candy wrapper. The tree would soon be lifeless—a chunk of nature cut by the wind to feed the future. A future… I thought out loud wanting to laugh, cry some more then scream a little louder. All this, while questioning: Who? What? Where? Why? Each locked me in a tight-armed fetal position searching for warmth. “Only you Tarby—no one else cares.” I kept talking, “You spend more time giving to others while never realizing how much time you never share with yourself. Now that’s fucked up!” Hate, once felt lacks definition, bringing death unto they who shallow their lives in harm. Each who bares their soul is singed in the fires of hell. Although they never show it, one day they must pay and tonight Neal’s bill was past due. 138 Chapter six: Scene one What I wanted to see was a bulldog, a smashed face, a sharp dressed cop with an evil eye, a twitching lip almost hidden by the dangling dimly lit light hung over a weathered wooden chair. I wanted to see cigarette smoke dancing through off white metal window shades with just enough sense to recognize the nosey reporter sniffing someone’s ass for the next hot lead. I wanted donuts; giant thick pastries begging to be crushed by angry street smart attitudes bruised by crime creating punks with dirty faces and stinky socks. What we got were four sound proofed walls—light blue, ten million tiny holes with fly eggs tucked inside—some of them large enough to store a few pigeons. The silence hurt. A dullness that offered no echo or pretended to be anything more than what it was. I felt Buddy Holly. Interrogation room? More like a studio. We’d been invited to record a new record. We were the label’s hidden secret, the band that would rid the world of Disco and horrid love songs by the Carpenters, Manilow and Henry Gross who chose to sing about a dead dog named Shannon. I wanted to be thrown against the wall, cuffed to a chair, scared stiff as well as excited about watching cops quickly jump to their feet after spilling their addiction on important evidence. I wanted to be slapped, tortured, bruised in the face by cold hands and pissed off overworked smart mouthed law abiding blue suits—their voices tainted by brown teeth and stale gut juice created by warm cream. Most importantly, I wanted this to be my next song! Johnny Cash did Folsom Prison blues, Paul Simon had Fifty Ways to Leave his Lover but couldn’t. Such is the life of writers and poets, creators and destructive brats aiming to view weekly melodramas fed by American television. If anything, it could be the song that would land us on American Bandstand or the Midnight Special! Then, if we really made it big—Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Maybe I could finally meet Stevie Nicks? No! Gene Simmons! Reality woke me up. A cop suit—not FBI, a thick face, dominant but filled with question. I wanted a cop who had me pegged! What I got was a handshake from an easy rider, a clean cut who looked un-cop. “Good morning…” The gentleness caressed the room, warm rather than heated, boiling with steam, frothing at the mouth. Damn it! I thought. I’ve been ripped the fuck off!” “I’m known around here as Stephenson—I’m the shift Captain, this is my floor and you’re in my house. I expect your full attention. I’m not here to accuse nor am I willing to accept liars, thieves or reasons to steal someone’s life. For that matter, if you waste my time, I’ll damn well make sure you never forget me.” At that note, Officer Stephenson stood up and opened the forum. I instantly smelled fresh toast, hot butter oozing over its face onto the paper towel below. Unannounced but invited were followers, side cops, other investigators. Stephenson continued, “First, we don't care that you've run away from home. That's between you and your parents. If you break the law while digging through trash for dinner or you scuff up a white boy or Mexican then you become my problem. If you deal drugs or take the 139 shit…you face the man next to you. That’s his job, looking for punks like yourself who’ll become nothing but a piece of ass behind bars." I stared, not at David and Bart, but through them. I was lost, a kid with no path to race his bike down. My heart pumped fresh fuel into already inflated lungs. The vision was of me lifting those handle bars beyond the nearest cloud and jumping the first ditch I came to. A Stingray with wings! The banana seat fully inflated to pad my falling ass. The well practiced dare devil lands the hog displaying a perfectly rounded tail spin at the end as if to be saying, “I own this fucking world.” That’s where I wanted to be! Not in a blue suit, silver badge, gun-toting world of reality. I was numb to it. Bands don’t make it big by the duty Captain’s pegging me for free corn holing. David was the pocket protector computer class kid. He sat up straight, acting as if his mother was in the same room. I could see her standing firmly behind his tiny ass with a giant black leather strap. “This isn’t how we raised you David!” She’d be screaming. “You’ve crossed the line! No more plastic covers for your pockets—you’ll have to wear ink like the rest of them.” No matter where you put Bart, he’s always the king of cool. Head slouched, shoulders rounded—the perfect commode position. He was full of bullshit and needed to do all he could to free the evil spirits from his heart and soul. It made me laugh inside to see Bart pulling porcelain duty. "This is what I’ve been told," Stephenson continued, fragmenting my wild adventure. "Your buddy’s not in town for reasons you don’t know. Again, that’s none of my business. Here’s what I do know. Neal’s dealt a bad set of cards to the wrong side of town.” Tune out! Tune out! The valves of my playful mind ordered. Don’t react! Don’t say a fucking thing! The seeds of Stephenson’s unpoetic lecture crammed Bart, David and I into a colorful gallery of denial. Giant flowers with bright petals swiftly implanted pollen in our throats, gagging us, ripping apart what little confidence we had stored. I readjusted my ass. Stephenson caught on. We must have looked like the three Stooges—our expressions lacked—therefore we were guilty. You can’t identify fear when blinded first. All steps that follow are meant to be solid. No movement, a frozen gift from hell. "Off the record Tarb,” The mighty warrior spoke, a perfect manner, mild Taco Bell soft with an edge of barbecue. “You know Neal’s been screwing around with things he shouldn't be," So, what did I do? I shrugged! I lifted those shoulders up, straight up…as if to say, “Oh, I didn’t know.” I fucking shrugged. Then I stood up. Not a casual standing, an ignited Apollo 11 blast into an orbit of “Oh, I guess you can tell I’m lying.” Stretching my shoulders wide, the attempt was to gain ground—to feel my way through a self created back popping interrogation that accused me of being friends with a dope dealer. Oh I was good! Very professional! This man had my balls wrapped so tight in his hands I couldn’t do anything but fuck up more and more. He just sat there! Until, he slid back in his chair. A long whooshing with tiny squeals from invisible tires aching to be set free. The unvarnished wooden chair hated his ass more than me but how the hell would I get that baby on my team? 140 "You wouldn't be here Tarb if you’d told the truth two days ago." Stephenson dictated, casting his thought directly toward no one but me. “I’d say, you’re in violation of willing knowing that laws have been broken and you’ve done nothing to report it. That’s called aiding.” Nervous shock? I was shaking more than central California. Judging by the crud left in my shorts, it seemed all ties with limbs had been severed therefore nothing was left to wipe me clean. The man was about to pop something bigger than a Friday night zit. Anything they have is circumstantial evidence! I didn’t leave any clues. What really took place on the hidden trails near the two manmade lakes was nothing more than teenage angst. In every crowd there are several individuals—such identities create conflict. Within those chapters a page must be torn and that is the purpose of this story. I’m doing all I can to paste the missing sheet back into the book. The truth was I knew everything! I knew Neal like no one else. I knew about his bloodless yet festered sores caused by street sweets and their candy makers. I knew of the levels of pain he endured in trying to free himself. Most importantly, I knew the events of what led up to and away from the night in question. I didn’t write them—I lived it. I was guilty of one crime: failing to enlighten those who asked. If parents and cops wanted inside, they should’ve never grown up. Instead, they became mapmakers and rulers of invisible kingdoms. They force feed you into believing that what their parents never gave them we would receive in outrageous amounts. Guess what? Mom and Dad, your lack of direction ended the game! We’re one player piece down! I had to make a choice, keep it clean or savor the meeting; a stupid gathering of two very lost Optimist park hangouts with nobody but themselves to turn to. Where did it lead me? I sat faceless in a cop shop waiting to be terminated by a warrior who assumes more than he consumes. That’s what cops do—they put themselves inside the bullshit of the world playing out the roles of liars, stealers and killers. If properly played, the answer isn’t located—the guilty fills with shame, through that weakness, confessions are given birth. Captain Stephenson was set to play his pawn, do a little sacrificing, fuck with a kid’s mind, and germinate warfare. His weapon was his voice, a requirement when achieving the unspoken. He wanted answers, all the ingredients of a homemade German chocolate cake—whatever it took to harness the case of the missing bass guitarist. Too bad it wasn't that simple and who better to make matters worse than me? Yep, I chose to play the game. Me! I was the best friend and as far as I know the only link to where Neal was…would be…very well could be. Then, my king of the nighttime world crashed! Stephenson located a fallen charm from my bracelet, "You told the Dean of boys and Neal’s mother that things were buddy, buddy, chummy, chummy. Tarb, I take great pride in doing my homework. I never make accusations or point my finger until I’ve read every page, dotted every “I” and crossed every “T”. You and Neal were not friends… We’ve located someone who says otherwise." My eyes rolled back, head hung, shoulders folded, I was dead. I couldn’t sigh! There was no way to relieve the pressure! I refused to look at David and Bart for answers—assuming their faces were now the shape of guillotines and hanging chambers. Painted on their hearts was the hateful image of murder. 141 Blank! Every thought I tried to create came up blank. The average person would’ve have busted before finally asking, “What the hell’s going on?” I need not remind you—I knew everything. I think… Captain Stephenson laid out the groundwork, "One of you was hurt and you're having a tough time deciding what’s right from wrong? Who will sell out the other?” I tried to hide behind the large mass of accusations stacked on the desk. I couldn’t sweat. Even my tear ducts were dry. I felt as if I’d been sentenced to a one week one hundred degree stay at the Tongue River reservoir—the only place I knew where it got so hot and dry that a guzzled shot glass of beer ripped common sense to shreds. "Again Tarb, I can't prove anything. If I were you…I’d dig real deep then ask myself if any laws were broken? If the answer comes up yes—you become mine." You become mine. You become mine. The echo drove its mighty sword through my heart. It was like reliving an episode of the Brady Bunch. Echo! Echo! Mine! Mine! Just as the Captain’s thunder slid across my untouched wrists, the jagged edge of his steak knife caught a wandering vein. Stephenson reached into his desk. My feet twitched, arms folded, face whiter than innocence. Revealed to the world was a light blue medium sized T-shirt with the group Kiss firmly pressed on the front. If death is blessed with scent why couldn’t my nose pick it up? If guilt was heavier than the five hundred foot cliffs making up the Rims, why couldn’t I see it coming at me? The hand is quicker than the eye, a bruised soul I now owned. The confident Captain handed the shirt to me. I didn’t want to touch it. It not mine! I wanted to scream. Instead, the inner challenge began, how could I have missed this? Who found it? Who knows? Was someone else there? Eyes firmly fixed to the shirt—Simmons stared at me while Stanley danced. Peter and Ace knew the truth; both had been cut—dime size dark circles shaved from the annals of history leaving nothing but the replica of barbed wire torturing what used to be a perfect painting. How could I have missed this? I kept fighting. My tired mind found no rightful answer strong enough to shoot back at the Captain. I wanted him out of my life! He didn’t know the truth, nor would he ever. I vowed my life to Neal. I slammed a guarantee into the sopping wet soil surrounding the Pits til death did us part. Hoping to capture a Kodak moment, I stopped thinking. I smiled. An unrehearsed, mellow dramatic Robert Deniro whisk of the face—the man in blue smiled back. "What makes you think this is my shirt?” I sarcastically pulled from my ass. “Why in the fuck do you think THIS SHIRT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH NEAL?” I couldn’t believe it! I was yelling! A star was born. Not a Rock n Roller but I was Leif Garrett the actor! I starred in Walking Tall. I was the saddened child who carried his father’s baseball bat programmed to kick ass, shatter windows and prove a simple point most refused to believe in. No! I was Billy Jack! Yes—the mild mannered man who saw loyalty as being the strength to all things worth living for. If they challenged me, I’d use my kung fu on them! High kicks to the head, followed by twists and turns, leaps and arm bars that brought tears to their eyes. Re-adjusting my new confident self, the uncomfortable chair still biting my butt cheeks—the biggest wish I held came in the shape of David trusting me. I desperately needed his 142 knowledge to sit up and strike out against the punishment given. It would the South Side’s invitation to the final say. We had to look like the high school chorus standing on command—humming the only key we’d sing. It was time to leave the gut wrenching filth Captained by a Newspaper headlines hound. I jumped first. It was my movie role! David and Bart were supporting cast members. We were Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder turning our backs on Carl Malden and Michael Douglas—the Streets of San Francisco taking a Montana hiatus. Fuck me for not inviting chicks to the scene! A great pair of boobs racing beside us would have sent box office numbers skyrocketing. Farrah was cool but too big. The attention would’ve been taken off me. Besides, she’s one of Charlie’s Angels—damn if Kate Jackson wouldn’t have busted us later. I wanted to slowly turn and walk away—hell no! I ran to the door. I counted three and quarter steps before hearing that bastards roar a final. It was a clap of thunder, an endless amount of hot air which did nothing but lurk over Yellowstone County. "If the T-shirt doesn't belong to you Tarb, put it back." Embarrassed! Caught! Mentally cuffed without movement. The bored Captain trapped me! I remained playful. Unlike hitting fast forward on the eight-track, if I’d taken the steps back to my original position the diamond-studded stylists would’ve scraped the lyrics off a brand new 45. The filthy earth crusted KISS t-shirt was poison. The quicker I got rid of it, the more determined I was to protect the Hangout. Neatly placing it on the Captains desk was the proper procedure. I chose to drop it on the floor, right on top of the path of many journeys. If Crosby Stills and Nash had been there, they’d written a poetic battle hymn. My life had been pushed by everything I touched. Being shy was no longer the excuse. I wasn’t a hero! Only a South Side punk who’d had it! It wasn’t my fault that Neal was missing. The Captain knew otherwise. I couldn’t stop Neal from craving street sweets. People do it! Drugs are like sex—to attain a good high you gotta buy. I was the weakest! The clean cut one fully capable of selling out. The musician whose dream was to be famous and little shit like this would hold me back. The Captain preyed upon me—his eyes documented every action toward any reaction. Hollow, depressed, deadly chills blasted through my wired, beat up, slightly over exaggerated mind. Yes! I was fucking scared. I didn’t care about anyone but me. I wanted to burst! I would’ve told the entire story! But I couldn’t. Neal was my friend and South Side people don’t spill. Neither did Stephenson—the only thing he demanded was to hold the final nail driven into my coffin. "How far would you go to protect a friend Tarb? If you were missing, would that friend travel the same distance you have?" His voice was an overpowering whisper. He meant to make me the only person available to catch his envisioned next step. Frozen, paralyzed and unable to build up a new defense, angelic superpowers socked me in the stomach forcing me to bend. I picked up the t-shirt and walked calmly to his desk. The only thing I remember is staring at the Captain’s name boldly stamped onto a black background. I was no different than those letters—imprisoned by fate, known by name, guilty for no crime other than loyalty. I was road kill. No matter where I went from here, my shoes were marked with black ink. Every step created a map for all to follow—including the Candy Man.143 "If Neal was in trouble why would you hide the truth?" Stephenson confidently questioned while leaning over the t-shirt that separated our lives. "Didn't you learn anything from your brother’s suicide? My God Tarb! You know what’s happening! Why the hell won't you talk about it? You couldn't save Terry but you have the power to save your best friend and yet you continue to stay silent?” Like most injured animals, I backed away, three steps maybe four. A raccoon or possum would’ve attacked, their teeth carved to take on lookers with them. Anger was served on ice cream cones forcing the heart to make choices about control, endless flames of heated passionless hate, no tears to cry, only a fever fed by the grips of invisible fingers. Captain Stephenson was a greedy man. He owned my breath, requiring the birth certificate of those still uncreated. Lumps hung in my lungs, some so large the knot in my stomach raced to hide behind any available without asking. Each wound formed a dried scab crafting a driving desire to reach within the half faded picture. If it were still a game, I’d scratch all that itched. Swiftly cutting to David and Bart, I fell even deeper, they held no answers—both were petrified, I’d say more than the old oak near Ponderosa School. Stephenson was a bad fart fully capable of leading scent to all four corners. We were the first to take cover, which did nothing but earn us an invitation to return home. The Hangout didn’t win. We’d become victims, stowaways on board a jet with no landing gear to protect any of us from the winds of hell and its beauty to turn any ocean into waves of bloodless coops. Under no circumstances would I leave the city without communicating first. Being a juvenile saved me from the cell—only to realize I had a new set of parents to keep trained and well away from the bass beats that revolutionized Neal’s disappearance. No matter what, it would forever remain part of the imagination and not a hardcore reality. Chapter six: scene two Being in no particular peace of mind, we stood only hours from our final practice. Taken from us was time, what once seemed distant now cloaked the soul. Our dream was to play Halloween night at the Shrine Auditorium! Nothing was going to get in our way. The Gazette did its share of adding blocks to the building. By refusing to drop Neal’s story, the local rag acted as our silent guide, which lead toward better ticket sales. The missing bass guitarist—is it Montana mud that continues to cover the truth or has the Optimist Park teen been taken outside of our borders? I loved the mystifying appeal it brought to Paradise. The band had a new image! Rather than being a black mark on society, Senior High and West High students believed we had skills. It wasn’t about where you were from—local headlines create heroes. As David put it, we’d been given a giant dose of non-medicated hometown support. Behind the scenes, the Hangout was frail. You never get used to losing someone close. David kept us tight. No rope would stray from the bale of hay unless someone was there to toss the seventy-five pound clump of dried grass back on top of the stack. Although I knew the truth, the rest of the guys lived off Neal’s reputation. If at any time he were in danger, he, of all people, would know what to do. I wanted to argue that case. I wanted to strike out against Neal’s fame of being strong and forever attached to the morals of trust, loyalty and satisfaction 144 I knew Neal’s other side. I fought with it and lost, guaranteeing my silence. Try holding that inside—walk the walk, scream the vocals, tear up all truths while enduring the possibilities of being next in line to play the disappearing fantasy game. The final practice—one player short but who cared? That’s because David introduced our next set of lyrics: the official introduction of Neal’s replacement. I being of sound mind found it difficult to digest. Bart, Tony, Gary and Rob felt otherwise. Paradise had a new flavor. It must have been sweet for no bitter face clinched its cheeks for relief. “Guys, this is Rich,” David pointed out leaving no room to retaliate. “He’s the best I could find. He’s a quick learner with stage presence and a willingness to stay up pretty late to get this shit down.” Tony shook hands first. I knew he would. The Heights have always gotten along with West Side religious freaks— silver spooned, football wanna be whose body is too big to play. He makes up for it by ripping bad jokes, mimicking Eddie Van Halen and openly laying his hands on the cute chicks. I already knew Rich. He fucked my sister then dropped her. It’s a jock thing—press the flesh til you get inside, then curve the means of transportation. It was my fault. Rich and I hung because that’s what tenth grade chorus students do. Harmony isn’t a book you read. True vocalizing is a foreign language. The Osmond’s had family. Rich and I required shared technique. “Do you still hate me?” The whitened smile soothingly questioned my inability to accept a small town band change. “Dude, your band’s the fucking best. Not because of Tony. Not because Gary’s a goddamn monster on that Gibson—Tarb, it’s because of your leadership and dream to take this band national—that’s why I’m here. Don’t fuckin hate me because of your sister. I’d rather you hate me because I’m not good enough to be in your band.” “So, who decides if you’re good enough?” The leadership qualities wrestled while puckering my lips like Gene Simmons—the rock n roll stance: don’t you dare fuck with me because I’ll kill you look. “That’s why I’m here Tarb.” Rich whispered with confidence “It’s that attitude that’s gonna make your band bigger than life itself. Besides, I’m what you lack—unforgettable background vocals. I’m the McCartney inside your Lennon.” “Holy fuck!” I raged. “Am I gay? I must be! I’m getting fucked right now!” The welcoming committee clinched to Rich’s rescue! I was the skunk inside a multicolored house of hens doing battle. Wings flapping, mouths cackling, my ass was chicken feed. They feasted on me until I delivered a well planned out statement about being wonderfully lucky to locate such a gifted person on such short notice. How can a band be called Paradise when two of their most important members display crack? We should be The Plumbers! Two overweight gut hangers and a skinny guy! How about the Giant western rodeo belt buckles? Since Rich was so fucking cool why don’t we just rename the band after the shiny hunk of metal lassoing his drawers around the biggest fucking pot belly this side of the Missouri? His grandfather would be proud! We’d sell millions of them! Be like Rich! Hoist your level of competition with a genuine reminder of my face in a cow pie. 145 The Hangout turned their backs on me. Rich’s gentlemen approach warmed the souls of the ailing music makers. They left the practice area to a room of their own. It was time to teach, to challenge as well as enlighten. The gentle giant survived the very test Neal would’ve delivered. My anger was only an act. It would later cost me my life. Rich didn't pretend. Outside of what he did with my sister, he always remained loyal. Paradise lacked dedication. Our efforts of mass musical confusion laced with street sweets built smoke filled skies. But not after today, David’s decision to invite Rich within the ranks gave us new leadership—morals that formulate ethics. Bass beats can’t be original unless the drummers on time. Neal and Rob made us frail—an angel’s wing with three feathers or a flower vase with downward lips. How could I expect Tony to harmonize if the timing was off? No matter what, we’d always wonder who was gonna get lost first? Ego set aside, open palm extended—erased were the frictions that ignite fires. The big guy would stay. The importance Rich placed into his learning curve was air in our lungs. The Halloween show was a paying event capable of landing us inside the classifieds. No more fake garage crowds, no mothers or neighborhood groupies blessed with ill-fated clapping. The only clap we wanted was the junk requiring a doctor’s visit. What would the night be like? Would there be more than thirty doused men from Laurel’s Burlington Northern freight train haven? What if the attendance included ten broken beer bottles and a sick dog below the stage? Would any of this constitute a quarter page mention within the annals of music history? David rescued us, a positive step forward—his calm manner keeping all expectations at bay. “You're my only family. Take care of the old man inside this heart. He’ll do all he can to help you get where you wanna to go. But don’t forget where this level of competition began!" Bart didn’t join the pep rally. His interests were more in tuning. Big guy number one stood alone in the distant corner, guitar pick in his right hand, the left wondering how far a string could bend. He’d slipped away, moments in a world only he and Neal owned. “I can’t do it.” The note fell from his lips. “It's like a magic trick! There’s no surprise if the rabbit bolts before being pulled." "We need this practice!" Tony ordered, garbling the moment. "Of all the damn nights to screw off. First Tarb! Now you! I guess if this were a fight, you South Side idiots would walk away from that too!" “What the fuck do you know about South Side fighting?” Rob broke in. “You mother fuckers from the Heights don’t know shit about surviving. Now you wanna fuck up my band!” “Your band!” The Mormon Tabernacle choir sang. “Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!” A strained female voice rang. “I can’t believe you! You fight like you’re married. Get a fucking room!” It was my sister Susan—the Queen of the perfect world with a voice that scraped the depths of hell. With it, a stroll rather than a walk—hip hugger jeans, shirt wide open and an attitude to play combat with. “No wonder Neal took off!” The lecture began. “If I had this much crap to worry about, I’d jump the nearest freight to Bozeman. You guys are assholes! You’ve put a concert before true friendship! Why?” 146 No answer. No mirrored reflection to seize a control of. Nor did anyone push her out the door she invisibly came through. The longer Susan stayed the more our make shift stage became enchanted with the true spirit of brotherly love. Lord have mercy! Yoko Ono was visiting the Hangout! It finally took me to crack the safe. I screamed so loud my vocals tore. I instantly felt a dull cramping on the sides of my neck. My throat burped up acid—but nothing like foot long dog debris…this shit burned bad. But it didn’t matter. Susan still wouldn’t stop. “Your damn friend has been gone for a month! This is how you show your support? You’re fucked up!" Crash! Not glass but brass—cymbals, far from musical purpose. Plastic tipped drumsticks made to even the odds of speed gripped Rob’s buttons being pushed. The trap set failed to hold the mouse—the great escape and it didn’t star Steve McQueen. "How fucking dare you!" The torched drummer beat out—his body off balance; why else would he point at me? "This band doesn't mean shit to you Tarb." Damn it! The brain shot to my ass. The fucker is after me. In three years our tempers had never met. Too bad it didn’t stay that way. The beast, baptized by twin cans of suds took control. Optimist Park was ablaze! Susan’s guilt trip fed raw nerves—my reaction, the releasing of a bad fart from a bottle. Movement consumed the room. "Stop it!" The only words I remember. I think Rob commanded them. No beast identifies the outside world when struck with full contact. The implosion rewrote the rules of Tony’s blood contract—a bullshit piece of paper written from unevenly cut arms and fingers. The blood agreement was null and void. If Tony wasn’t pissed, I knew Neal would be. The idea was his, a Native American ritual—brothers never invite battle. Rob fought with fingernails—a black alley cat with no white stripes to identify its arrival. There were no fists to block or to deny entry. He scraped his lightning fast claws across my forehead leaving scratches that quickly bled. My hair was pulled, arms pinched and legs kicked til they turned into leather. Rock n Roll isn’t about beachfront property and well-orchestrated cloud watching. Opposites attract—you can’t tell me Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are lovers! Who did Mozart war with? Did Elvis join the ranks of the United States army to confront his opposite? In high school, masses collect to watch fights. Not this band. Tony felt it was time to practice. Six licks into Homeward bound from Ted Nugent, the fog dissipated. What a knife couldn’t cut fell short of distance. The Hangout was back to normal—true feelings ignored; we pressed forward recreating false fixations. You know the typical male reaction that women learn to hate. Fight then fuck. No stage lights, no heavy amplification, just Tony, Bart and Gary activating their imaginations. Each note, stretched reminders of what needed to be accomplished. The inspired selection gently caressed the slivers of wood that barely caught the insulation warming the garage. Outward and onward the message was read, for no fight would bring an end to the attempt of reaching the sky. Chapter six: scene three147 Each coin held features two sides—two, never duplicated expressions forced to love each other by thousands of pounds of pressure. The Gazette was the flip side. The local rag failed to meet the requirements of harmonic restitution. Missing Teen Linked to Drugs Halloween 78 finally arrived. The front page was my greeting card. They’d sent a call to action, draft papers, a summons to come clean. No war is won until there’s a body count. Did someone locate Neal’s? Was he alive? Dead? Home safe? Had he been freed? My tired ass slept while machines lit the night—ink poured onto once living trees creating false accusations. Yes! Neal had a passion for street sweets but his link to the Candy Man was no stronger than my need to start sampling. I was the keeper of truth and still not willing to break the mold of loyalty. How much more could I take? "The show’s tonight…" I drugged the tentacles of my mind. “That’s it, become stimulated. Be my two cups of energy and dominate this nervous excitement!” Innocent til the sweat begins to pour. Pools become lakes, your shirt acts as a river aimlessly tossing beads to the floor. There’s nothing more innocent than being hours short of a stage performance. Fear and confidence aren’t supposed to sit together—conversations shared leave teeth marks on your spine formulating uncontrolled shivering. If the first paragraph of the newspaper story was true—everything I knew, lived somewhere other than my heart. I was alive but not doing well. I hated yet was forgiving. I saw black then white. No other color voiced their opinion, therefore my silence was the best decision made. The Hangout endured Stephenson’s thorough two-week investigation. He demanded that we remain his open wound—a fresh cut, the scab picked daily, because scars look so cool. To my knowledge no one in the band asked for a bandage, not even Tony. I always thought he’d be the one to sell out. Stephenson pried the top. What we assumed was our little secret reshaped itself on the cover of the city’s only print. More questions, more evidence—the kind of stuff that inspires Captains to push beyond Hangouts. He wanted the entire tribe and got it. Under the missing teen headlines, twenty-two people were arrested. It was Yellowstone county’s largest drug bust. According to the barking words pulling on their chain at my face, an inside source whose name was withheld—connected Neal to someone called the Candy Man. According to the unidentified source, Neal’s disappearance wasn't a runaway but a bad relationship with Mr. Candy. Neal was seen with him several times, most of which were verbal entanglements. They openly discussed being ripped off and how each had been invaded by constant naggings from the North Side to improve or lose. Stephenson was in love with life—a murder investigation. Neal, part of a deal gone wrong—two sides of the railroad track, the warlords with force, bringing down the other mans army. Now a twist, the South Side senator I fought with fifteen hours earlier was being held for questioning. The assumed connection with the Candy Man invited probability. But, who was he? Was he a he? Could he be a teen? How could he be? Any link to mass quantity required shipment and delivery. Was Rob the Candy Man? He sampled but remained protective. He’d dance within the delights of expensive street sweets but his sugar level seemed controlled. Was he responsible for calling out Gary’s number in Laurel? Rob, The Candy Man? 148 David reacted quickly. Phone calls to parents and to players—lack of communications melted silence into silver. We could leave no footprint. Unseen enemies would search to locate weapons. Anything became everything. To keep from facing the instant death of Paradise, no reaction was our only action. We agreed to meet at Optimist Park. A public display—a noble gesture of moss meeting rock before the hills started to fold. "It was like standing in an open field during duck season.” David’s description of Rob’s arrest couldn't have been more explicit. “If you've got wings and quack…the feathers on your ass don't stand a chance." "We can't play tonight!" The expected whine squeezed from Tony’s chapped lips. A true display of his typical spoiled self-absorbing the juices of North Side selfishness. "The last year of my life’s been spent babysitting false friendships. I can’t play with ya! I’m done!” As if to be the spirited king, David laid his firm aging hand on he who’s vow was to become the quitter, “Tony my little Tony—a friendship, a waste of your valuable time? Your words fall short. How do you expect us to respect you?" "Respect?" Tony fought back, throwing his arms in the air—a brave attempt at getting away from David’s psychotherapy spell. "I get more damn respect from my dog’s hairy ass." “You should!" David pointed out continuing to calm manner his way toward a conclusion. The Hangout watched with laughter in our guts. The childish giggles and smirks sat inside like clumps of raw unsnapped beans waiting to burst out the first voluntary hole. "Look at these guys…” David pushed forward. “These shit ass cocky smiles are your true friends. If you leave, we’ll respect that decision. But keep this tucked inside your belt loops, if you turn your back—you’ve lost us forever." That thought ended the fun. Our so-called cocky ass smiles unwound and dropped to the concrete floor. The pasted picture was very serious. Paradise didn't need a free ticket. David was the conductor, it was up to Tony to hop on board the Amtrak and take off. "Your friends have suffered enough Tony…" David’s rich overtone captured the print. "You burden our pain." The North Side snot stood with his Gibson wrapped around his back, pure Springsteen. A rebel, the poor man’s hero, the poet’s pen—except Bruce wouldn’t turn on his friends. Tony looked long, lost and hard into David’s eyes. I wanted to view his emulation of the Hangout. His sudden silence hurt like a lover speaking of other adventures. Was he with another band? Had another band approached him? We had everything—then suddenly, you wanna walk away? The corners of his eyes spoke nothing. He gifted us with assumption. He wasn’t leaving because of Neal! He was scared! Terrified of playing in front of large crowds. He had jock itch! Goddamn! The assumption game was killing me! His hangnails had hangnails. His girlfriend scorched his ass with an ultimatum—her or us? No! Paul McCartney needed new members in Wings and Tony was hired to replace Denny Lane. Everything bounced off him. The Hangout absorbed every drop of impurities falling from a faceless, desire free North Side rich kid. Our lead guitarist, band director, background vocalist and only transportation—besides Rob—was a wandering sheep in an open pasture filled with featherless duck butts and one very silent wolf. Just as David requested, Tony turned and walked away.149 "How could you do this?" I tried to scream, my vocals already damaged. The Rocky Mountains were ancient erosions compared to the stacks of angered granite quaking every emotion I had left. My heart became flooded with unspoken tears. I couldn’t bear to look at Rob or Bart. This was my war! “Let him go Tarb…” Gary set free. “Ever heard of ZZ Top? How about Rush? Trio’s daddy—somewhere along the line they got fucked. It didn’t stop the rock from rollin. Not all of us can be Seger. Who wants to be? Just let the little fucker go.” “We gotta make this concert their show.” Bart harmonized. “That’s what Simmons would do! That bloodthirsty motherfucker would never make the people wait! It’s not about us Tarb! It’s Halloween baby! Masks, candy, screams and hollering—damn if Paradise didn’t put them in the mood to party!” “I killed Neal…” The whisper was heard around the world—my lips the origin. The midsized kid with hair no longer than touching the large curves of his ears—a confession, a selling out and not one person turned to react. I expected something—a look of shock or I knew it! I wanted to defend as well as fight, wrestled to the floor and held until Captain Stephenson arrived. Tony was gone. That was the headline. The perfect makings of a country love song—he ran away from his own garage. He turned to steal one more glimpse of that hand me down ship, the waves unveiled her anchored soul…near the ancient Sears tool chest…pipe wrenches, pliers and a chainsaw—and all he got was a sack full of preachers hearing my confession. Chorus: Mystified by puddles of rain—a lonesome cloud sulking on his shoulder. Tony, he loved to play…any song will do but don’t let me catch you stealing my storm. Musicians are artists—the chosen coat of many colors is unevenly blended allowing the mind’s eye to see lyrics, not portraits of solitude. The finished works are framed with insight. The leftovers are given to wanna-be poets and painters requiring oily enamel to seal invaluable sight without sound. The well-mannered silence lasted…two minutes. “Damn it!" The howl came from Bart, his mug thrust into empty palms. Knocked off balance, his overweight body fell into a retreating sitting position—a butt print sure to be made in the tall-yellowed grasses that made up Optimist Park. I assumed that he too had given up. Eyes reddened, vocals strained by ongoing departure, not even Rich, Neal’s replacement could figure this one out. We were mentally breaking down with no tire iron to shift the load. Pulling back his Captain and Tennille-esque long blonde hair, Bart located enough spurt in his spout to send David a quality-gifted thought, “How is it you can stay so fucking calm, knowing this nightmare hasn't peaked?" “Unlike your parents…” David issued. “I believe in you.” Optimist Park 1978: littered with raw talent, broken hearts and plenty of songs to write. The cold-hearted son of a bitch in me paced out every step, I documented the spoken view, left no room for retort only to burp and fart in the wind. We were creaming! There was so much inspiration flowing in our veins our boner had a hard-on. Barry Manilow would have to scoot his New York ass over! It was time for Paradise to board the train. The next million selling single was in our name. 150 Then…I blew it! The serene beauty of teen life in a rock n roll band dropped like a pigeon dumping while perched on a low humming power line. The Big Sky country had come under attack by my doubting Thomas ways! "Forgive me," the interruption slid from my lips, the emptied stare pointed downward and not into David’s surge of energy. "This faith you’ve put into us—why hasn’t it rubbed off onto your disciples? I’m still trying to figure out what we’re gonna do about Neal and now Tony? GREAT MOMENTS IN ROCK N ROLL HISTORY! I kept waiting for a giant hand to swoop down and clean up the mess. I gave it 15.5 earth shattering seconds. No thunder, not even a flashbulb to resemble lightning. David’s ability to move water failed to heal the burning beast within my angst filled chapters. October 31, 1978—Paradise, the childhood dream, musical escape, the innocence of being a kid, the hangout, an adoption of thoughts was pronounced DOA. Chapter seven: Scene one It takes only one night under Montana’s big beautiful sky to leave gaping holes in your memory—canyons of unexplained stars dance upon floors reaching beyond the horizon. You’ll spend the rest of our life trying to fill what Montana took away. You’ll compare it to every state line you cross, only to learn there’s nothing like Montana at midnight. Even when locked within the unfiltered rows of riverside forests, Montana stars aimlessly draw halos over open meadows—revealing what I’d been chasing for several minutes: The Gravel Pits. Three manmade lagoons—large, medium and small, yet deep enough to rob the night of your final breathe. I entered the county owned territory from the rear. The back goblet of raindrops patiently waited. This is where the Hangout wrestled within its cattails and reeds while feverishly guzzling Vitamin R mixed with street sweets and uncontrolled yelling. No matter how tough we were, life dealt us a hand filled with kid addictions and behaviors. We were two year olds in teenage Halloween costumes. Imaginations blessed with believability and consistency. Our methods of madness so unstoppable they became my only reason for being next to the rock pond this late at night. “Where are you Neal?” The thought arose then faded into its proper place—only to be poisoned by the memory of the old woman who lived within the trees. The Pit Witch who feasted on teens. Her shack made of broken sticks swiped from the charred remains of fires put out too early. We’d joke for hours. Only to learn that a woman did exist but none of us had the balls to cross the encircled star nearest the door. Had Neal become her latest victim? Looking from side to side I became impatiently nervous. Without movement, I too could recklessly greet the uncertainty of a myth—becoming nothing but a headline. The young at heart are nothing but a bag of Doritos—eat them, we’ll make more. Slightly standing, my heart mimicked Wipeout—drum displays set to ocean waves, automatically tossing your ass back in for better preparation. But how could you be ready for a best friend’s departure? Where in the Dick and Jane books did Spot run to aid a deeply cut relationship? Toss in the Pit Witch and now we’ve got a date with The Exorcist. Fear of the third kind: fucked in the mind with no common sense to run. Ladies and Gentlemen, I was living reality. My body hurt more than my heart. Sweat poured then instantly 151 mixed with humidity and passing raindrops—the type held by trees until one happens to bump into its plumbing system. I stunk so badly, an outhouse would kick me out. Light blue was supposed to be the color of the T-shirt barely covering the quivering of a body under attack. Gifted by the task to locate Neal were gifts of body stains, mud and leaf sap. I felt like a glue factory, a homemade magnet yet nothing shielded the goose bumps nippled by lowering temperatures and moist air. Had I known what I know now, the fresh blood released from the gaping hole in my left shoulder would’ve been enough to turn around. I was so determined to attain access to Neal’s process that I fell short of favoring what should have been stitched. The T-shirt was ripped at the sleeve—a tree branch, maybe the barbed wire fence separating the directions of I-90. Fresh coats of blood painted my underneath disguising itself as uncontrolled heating arrangements with a body far short of being in shape. A deep cut. My bicep trembled but I felt no pain. This late at night, without proper vision and reasons to look, mud and blood work in harmony fooling the mind’s watchful eye. Attempting to become an instant Boy Scout—added pressure was applied to the bleeding mess. A pocket of puss hissed at my fingertips relieving itself on the opposite end of the numb wound. Beads of sweat painted the outskirts of my aura sinking the halo effect of an angel in search of a troubled warlock. My search for Neal stopped. Beckoned to the reddened quest, I found more importance in protecting me rather than the misguided trust missile that led me there. The trees disappeared—as did the tiny laps of unpurified water created by bug wake. The rocked shore nearest the back gravel pit held not one reflection of me pretending to be manly. There were no tears, only disappointment. I was alone. This Drama Queen moment was brought to you by: Burger King—have it your way. And by: John Deer—big toys for big babies. Visions of an incredible scar heightened my anticipation. The only thing compared to it was a badass gash on my knee properly created during a headfirst, twist, and flunk a dunk bike accident in the south hills. This baby would make me famous. Instead of Scarface, I’d be rock music’s Blood Gusher! Wait! Fuckin Simmons already owns that one… Neal was somewhere close. My only reliable source was the handwritten letter. Girls write letters, guys brag. Not Neal, this letter meant something to him, which is why I took the scribbled thoughts so serious. My selfish journey was over. For a brief second, I was my only star. A solo concert on top a four hundred foot stage made of Montana made trees and pine needles. It would’ve been so easy to grab that invisible microphone—a keg of sweat beneath me, an aged leather strap loosely holding my guitar and me together. Time being no guide. I’d wait til the crowd almost went silent before softly singing a rock stars ballad. “Cruising down the highway, doing ninety-four. Can’t go any faster, pedals on the floor.” One thing you never forget is the roar generated from screams of excitement combined with localized hollering. Concert applause isn’t understood—it’s endured, felt, captured then sent to a special place in your heart. You live it only to die by it. When they open me up to investigate my reasons of departure—I want the sounds of ten thousand arenas worldwide to greet the doctor’s first glance.152 I didn’t need drugs to gain access to distant places. I was my own natural high—here, there, reality never carrying enough weight to knock out fantasy. Jokingly, I was my own lost portrait of peace. The clearing sky played with me—dim images of starlight peeking through puffy clouds haunted the reflection beaming off the back lake. The curve of a sneaky moon rippled in the water adding shadow to rocky beach. Any other time, I’d start throwing stones, skipping flat rocks—counting the number of kisses left before sinking. My wandering eyes kept up with the bass beat. A deeper view melted the acrylics of my painting forcing the shy moon to disappear. My only lantern of hope had stepped aside unveiling a building breeze. How dare I miss the swaying of the underbrush? The slender, thin leafed willows waved their stems effortlessly within the breeze—I assumed they were brush painting the cooling air. I’d become lost in the moment—a beggar receiving. Something didn't feel right. I caught one more glimpse of the moon in the corner of my tiring eyes. A stare filled with wonderment—an attempt to understand its rightful position in the sky. How was such a reflection being made when it failed to match the events in the sky above? Curiosity captured the cat. Walking closer to the water’s edge, I reached into its surface to sample an explanation. Knees bent, fingers pointed out, a simple dance with the moon’s shine is what I searched for. “A face,” the heart sent to my spaced out stage. “It’s a face!” There was no reflection of the moon. It was a human face! Chapter seven: scene two The solo quarters, an empty corner of the Senior High cafeteria—jockless, no freaks, only me and a payphone clanging its hateful rage. I knew who it was. I didn’t want to answer. “I came back for this?” The mumbled burp fell onto my only audience—a milk cartoon, half full—in my state, half empty would’ve been fine. It’s difficult to shake the action from reaction—imaged memories, painted by a mind seizing a release without the aid of chemicals and fantasy. Hours, no longer days from the Halloween shows, anyone would’ve felt imprisoned by kept secrets and tales, but not me! Surprisingly, I’d let go of my love-hate relationship with Neal. I couldn’t stand the torture! Self-pity—I was through! The view must have been hateful and uncaring, my posture leaning from side to side, the repercussions of a bad decision. “Ringggggggggg” Graffiti greeted the stare I gave the clanging pay phone, artwork of ballpoint pen faces and trees shaded by number two pencils. The legendary Expressionists would’ve been proud! For nothing adds flavor to making a point more than three rock hard wads of gum stuck on the bottom. It’s something to play with while in deep conversation with a chick needing a reason to say no to her boyfriend or college lover. “Ringggggggggg” I assumed it was David. I didn’t wanna talk! The fucker’s calling to break the news—he’d located a band to replace us. I figured Tony’s baby ass manner faded Paradise to black. His ego got the best of him. Besides, Rich knew only one riff—a boogie-woogie that made us sound like an old copy band, nothing unique that screamed “us”. Plus, Rob was in jail.153 “Ringggggg” If I didn’t answer it, we’d still be a step closer to escaping the wrath of living life in a small Montana town. The Hangout deserved more than hideaway holes in the wall decorated with cut up cardboard boxes and drunks funked up by bottled spunk. I didn’t want our music to become nightclub losers! Joe Walsh! Life In The Fast Lane! Sometimes you party til four—it’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door. Jackson Browne, The Load Out. Fleetwood Mac Dreams! Peter Frampton, Do you feel like we do? Feel! Feel like we do! I blame this rock addiction on David! He planted the seed! The old bastard built up our confidence! Paradise was to reach beyond a dream. Charlie Pride put Great Falls, Montana on the map. Paradise wanted to electrify the Rocky Mountains with its own brand of foot pedals and pawnshop surprises. “Ringggggg” "What in the hell is your problem?" I fought an asinine tantrum. "Grab that waste treatment plant and accept the responsibility! Then rebuild." Six steps were taken forward. I counted them—a mental stick rapping a snare. Four-inch platforms, taps firmly nailed into place—evenly draped by two toned blue bellbottoms. It was my job to showcase the look while placing lyrics within each beat. The goal was to reflect without reacting, to heal before requiring, and to locate the mysterious ingredients flavoring new music. "Hello," a grumble shook from the larynx while wiping the sweat from my free hand onto the latest fad in fashion—the only threads holding a teenaged hood together. "Tarb!" the voice fed through. Fear froze me. My bleeding heart caved in. "Neal?" my only physical response. The combination of hearing the voice and asking the question shoved me hard into cold sturdy school brick wall. I could barely stand up—the payphone bolted to reality strained to keep the unexpected upright. Eyes closed, fist tightly wrapped around the spit infested black receiver—tears thought to be lost rose above the sand bags and stones flooding the valley floor. My best friend, had he returned home? His image, last seen on that cool September night. I couldn’t be masterminding a fantasy. The phone wasn’t ringing. “Neal!” “Tarb!” “Neal!” "Stop fucking with me!” Bart demanded. “Holy fuck! You’re such a asshole!” Shamed, embarrassed and hurt, my face slid down the high school wall—a circus clown performing a reverse sitting. An unprotected way carries the weight of pride. I had none. My heart was playing games. Lost, is what I was yesterday. Today, hallucinations sickened the wisdom of the assumed broken circle. Harmony doesn’t get any prettier than that echoed through family gatherings. Bart and Neal were extremely close. Dan Fogelberg said it best: Twin sons from different mothers. The Hangout found their impersonations of each other incredibly comical. 154 So what if they didn’t look the same. Bart and Neal acted identically—exchanging instruments, cloths, shoes, ball caps and voices. Tony and Gary were driven into out of control fits of rage. They accused our twins of being mentally challenged and hard to take seriously. "The Halloween show’s still on!" Bart hollered, “David hired Mark to replace Rob." “Mark?” The buzz killer sarcastically interrogated. “Not another rich kid from the Heights.” No shouts of joy or Rock n Roll cum stains left in my tighty whities. I was handed enough just information to prove Paradise could survive without its founding members. Halloween night 1978, the Shrine Auditorium in beautiful Billings, Montana was supposed to be our night! Being in a band isn’t always about new songs, half dressed groupies and bottle throwing fans. Every damn experience is lived out then blissfully shared through eye-to-eye contact with your best friend on microphones two, three and four. Just like Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham! They never take their eyes off each other! Before Gary and Tony were spliced into the Hangout, Rob and Neal were all this Montana wanna be had. Without them feverishly playing next to my fast beating, over exerted emotion filled, passion driven vocals…the feeling of conquering such a childhood fantasy no longer exist. “Tarb…his trap set is four times the size of Rob’s and we don’t have to pay him.” Not paying a drummer? The most important man at the fire station and someone’s discussed breaks and dues being paid. Call me the Elvis Presley of the band. I’d rather give away everything than watch sweat pour from the soul of the stolen. Rich brats are addicted to green, my defense started to build. Billy Joel would never stiff an opportunity. It’ll make us better! I swear Bob Seger would do the same. I mean, what if this Mark guy is like Peter Criss? He answers an ad and we make it! I don’t ever wanna grace the pages of Rolling Stone knowing we fucked someone.” “You’re stoned aren’t you?” Bart interrupted, laughter caressing the corners of his nostrils. “When did you become such a righteous Jesus freak? Shall I lay my hands on his forehead and heal his North Side fucking ass?” The only realistic thought projected through the phone was, “Whatever it takes.” Captured, magnetized and memorized for safekeeping—I wanted the brightest reds, greens and blues to lift our once in a lifetime virgin moment into the stratosphere of Rock n Roll heaven. Not one song! Every lyric, thump of the bass, kick of the drum and unperfected wisp of my hand over six strings would be documented by a heart I couldn’t control. I was the architect! Bart, Gary, Rich and Mark played the role of snot filled, dusty ass, mud caked, tar faced construction workers set to build walls and fireplaces. David purchased the land—it was time to sell it to future proprietors. We all carried equal weight and everyone involved would be paid. Gary’s music, my lyrics—the future, no longer just assumed big time. I wanna play in cities with three hundred thousand in population, maybe more. Larger than life stages, bigger than a four-car garage! I’ll marry a blonde woman who can guzzle an entire six-pack of Coca Cola, throw down six bags of Doritos and not belch once until she’s chased it with a giant spoon of melted Dairy Queen ice cream. No matter how bad we sucked, the Halloween show had to happen! The Aerosmith concert taught me one thing. When you’re fucked…play anyway. Crank the music up and 155 create waves. Make em think we’re great because it’s ear busting loud. Don’t give em time to wonder why Rich can’t keep up with Mark. If I’m having fun with Bart and Gary’s banging his noggin on Mark’s snare, then we’re one step closer to being the greatest actors they’ll ever meet. “Hey, before I let you go…” the question formulated within the heightened mountain peaks of my vivid imagination. “Who the fuck is Mark and how the hell will I know him when we meet?” Mark: Basic nose in the air, quiet until challenged rich kid from the Heights. His crafts were fine-tuned due to sheer boredom. He got the fifteen-piece drum set for Christmas because high school football was already taken by his brother’s mental capacity. Mark: Doesn’t look or dress like a drummer—no jean jacks, torn button up shirts and especially not one pair of sticks bouncing from the cheeks of his ass while firmly tucked in the back pocket. Mark: Silk robe—mauve or light purple, boxer shorts with matching t-shirts. He didn’t sport the path with K-mart purchased Chuck Taylors—Mark wore tanned leather slippers. He didn’t have to look tall he already was—six feet three inches worth. He belonged on a basketball court not trapped behind a metal monster made of skins and loud enormous thuds. His personal interests were drums. Not all the women he could have. He wanted nothing but his drums. The blue blood honed his skills by having nightly sex with ivory painted timekeepers. The Hangout met Mark a few months earlier. An unscheduled practice, everyone but Rob was invited. David called it the what if theory: A backup plan, the opening act of possibility—a need to constantly watch what’s catching on, staying ahead of the curve. "This is bullshit!" I remember Neal sounding off in hopes of latching onto harmonic support. "Rob’s gonna think I stiffed his ass. You can’t do this shit! It’s unethical! It kills great bands! Go ask the fucking Beatles about Ringo! He wasn’t the original. That dude got stiffed. I can’t stiff Rob!” Neal harshly blamed Gary—never Tony. A war of words without taking cover—anything and everything was said and yet Gary never fought back. Rich kids know their borderlines. No lines in the sand. Just green backs and chump change for the foosball table. Then those famous words, “If he's in, I'm out!" The most overused thought in American music history. Jealousy challenging fate—hurt feelings overtaking greed. A leap of faith overshadowed by egomania. Musical blue balls with spurts of spit incapable of impregnating a willingness to want to perform. Neal didn’t stop. "Come on, Tarb! It’s not supposed to go like this! We’re Paradise not these stuffy fucks from the Heights." I was too shy to react. Neal ate my silence. As clear as can be, our dreams and everything it took to keep us together shifted to the right. If we’d been on the highway, this truck carrying Montana beef would’ve ended up in the ditch. Rob was our ride. He drove a Ford pickup with a giant bed. You know! You love the girl because she gives it up when you’re in the mood. When she ain’t handing out, you shrug your shoulders and quickly escape to plan “B”. Guitar cases and amps stuffed into the front and back seat of a car mix like a beer fart the morning after a late night kegger. Who the hell wants to sit on top of, around, underneath and over sharp cornered hunks of plastic and still be in the mood to whack the shit out of your vocals once set up? 156 I finally spoke up, "Just for today…right Gary? Mark is only filling in today." "What kind of fuckin support is that Tarb?" Bart hopped in like a rabbit searching for a free fuck—a heroic attempt at being almost famous. Then came the first thought after the most famous words spoken in American music history, “I'm with Neal, if Rob’s out so am I." Pasted to my forehead must've been a kick and scream button. It didn't matter whose side I took, someone, anyone-was going to fight. Miscommunication is an adult disease. We didn't suffer from it. Everybody knew that Neal hated Gary, Bart fumed at the thought of Tony and Rob now had reason to shoot wads of gum at Mark. Introducing! The third most popular Rock n Roll expression, "Who the fuck needs you?" A well-crafted easily traceable performance by Gary-right into Neal's uncooked south of the tracks attitude. I counted three guitar picks scraping the skin off six strings. Straps dropped Tony's Gibson the first put away. My heart raced. Not because of indifferences! I heard the pulling of a tab. A fresh can of suds—David’s way of simplifying the matter by offering both sides an illegal sip. Vocalizing takes pitch, volume and control. Barley feed the veins with a unique blend of sprays that usually end up being spit like watermelon seeds into the bullheadedness of injustice. If songwriters weren't poets they'd be nothing but a bunch of cussing sailors. Yep, Mark’s first Paradise jam session rated like most: good or bad. Never great! Good meaning fewer cans of beer left on the musty garage floor. Bad being light-headedness caused by raised eyebrows and intoxicated high blood pressure. The bastard was an official member of the band. No Rob! No Tony or Neal! The cream had risen to the top leaving behind a frothy frozen hardwood Shrine auditorium stage. An invisible whitening that trips those afraid of being live, unsure, yet confident to succeed. The new lineup wouldn't get knocked to the ground slamming their funny bones into broken cables and empty amp cases. Through improvisational tendencies, the heavily lacquered surface would be scarred with Paradise pride. The very substance mysteriously dripped into single cans of Vitamin R when authorities aren't looking. Tingles became the newfound addiction. Millions of them numbed every inch of reality’s biggest bite. I couldn't feel! Taste! The entire landscape became yellow and green with no trees to play shadow games. I was a victim of music! Eternity was finally over! Halloween '78 had arrived. Chapter seven: scene three At the Shrine Auditorium back entrance, the late afternoon sun sipped on a stream of sweat beads clinching to the rolls of my every expression, brimming with nervous fear, probably because I was the first to arrive. You know, the perfectionist with a mean disease to feed. The auditorium caught whiff of my arrival thanks in part to a tool shed of sorts, hand crafted chipboard leaning over six uncarpeted concrete steps. I refused to believe this was Robert Plant's Stairway to Heaven. I always pictured it as being long and winding, made of heavily scented cherry wood, then lined with neatly placed cedar carvings and designs. I walked alone. The air was dry, empty, and dead to life's reality. I'd been here before. But, I didn't remember the dull roar of silence filtering through the mesh-plated catwalk some 157 thirty feet above. Maybe I was to blame? Had I become the chilled bottle of bad wine, cork popped a month ago—the aroma, a dash of vinegar? No answer came. Bart's entrance stole from the show. Please God, quickly make us famous... the thought jelled between my playful brain cells. Bart, hauling amp and cords should be outlawed. His theory: make it or break it in one trip. Arms straight out, black cords, orange cords, duct tape and guitar picks. Two guitars slung over the right shoulder stealing balance from the left side, heaving with heavy breathing since sliding the oversized crate from his old man’s pickup. The brick faced auditorium carried with it a damp scent—confetti, sweet, like cotton candy or dried Pepsi. Bart and I joked about a possible high school basketball game—the final seconds still frozen on the center court scoreboard. The fans walked away. Without true competition, why defy friendship through unequal defeat? The only witness: the stage. A giant box rumored to be a handmade swimming pool cover. My grandparents spoke of it several times. High school students competed for state and regional championships until the city realized the pool’s thick white color was laced with lead. It forced them to seal the giant bathtub, turning it into a stage. My god! It was a coffin! Perfect for Halloween night! Just like a sleeping cabin for one, that wooden surface was smooth to the touch and five mother fucking feet above the soon to be crowd of out of control little bastards. Toto! We aren’t in the garage anymore! This was a party stage! Huge! The Hangout could crack a keg, pretend to be five high kicking David Lee Roths and still have enough wood to watch an outdoor movie premiere. “Fuck, Tarb! If I fart in this corner, it’ll never reach you!” A one hundred percent pure Bart thought. Just keep the beer away from this class clown… Inside thirty minutes our newfound oasis became professionally cluttered with drum and guitar pedals, straps, cords, microphones, a million mic stands, suitcases stuffed with cloths, stage lights and my infamous purple acoustic guitar. I love the color purple! Thanks to several coats of model car spray paint—I was the keeper of a true one eyed purple people eater. Proof that damn ugly and crusty munch a bunch not only get along like sugar and tea but nobody, not even my mom, would borrow or steal this music maker. Mark found harmony within a newly designed eighteen-piece cage. He had drums so tiny my dick roared with laughter. Forget about getting a musical hard on—the imagination kept a firm grip on reality versus punk-ass rich kids itching to be better than wasted trinkets and half cocked attitudes exploring departure. Shockingly, he wasn’t sporting his Hefner robe. The bastard was decked out in black gym trunks and a ripped T-shirt! The iron on patch read: What came first, the chicken or the lay? Chapter seven: scene four Showtime 8pm. The wire framed auditorium clock said 6:42. Just enough time to roam the unseen halls, catacombs finger pasted by Shriner’s putting value in true escapisms. It’s a Neal thing; locate a special place to etch our names. He picked up the bad habit while on family 158 leave inside the mysteries of Pompeii’s Pillar—the only known place where Lewis and Clark scraped their names in stone. Neal wrote daily—a journal. He’d one-day return to reclaim his island. The writings served as legal documents of misbehaved moments of artistic expression. The Shrine auditorium was such a paradise. "Tarby, Tarby, Tarby," the free spirited rolling of Neal’s tongue would whine while pulling his four inch blade from a leather strap inside his faded denim vest. "This is a perfect moment! It’s time to force tomorrow into a square box. We’ll call it today. For it was yesterday and today arrived early, had I not written, we’d be left with nothing. Therefore tomorrow is where we put focus, knowing that because we took the time to recognize today—tomorrow’s generation willing believes our trail existed.” "Where the hell do you come up with such bullshit?" I asked while looking around our current destination. I had to feel safe! To do everything possible to make sure no one was preparing to walk up, run, jump or race through this unplanned, unannounced meeting inside Gravel Pitted darkness. "The way I look at it Tarb," his over confidence continued. "If you think you're gonna be famous you have to leave your mark. Don't mess with the best, because the best don't mess." My one thought, “I wanna be Neal when I grow up.” He was the kid you feared—the bully on the block. Would he kick my ass? What if he talks to me? What do I say? Then he wants to join your band. Instead of leaving face prints on the corner of Murphy and Hollowell, he becomes a clown and makes you laugh. Neal was the foul-mouthed rebel capable of charming the moss off a sunbathing stone. He could have any girl but elected to play with the band—but not tonight. His handwritten letter, complete with misspelled words and bad punctuation was scented with a new personality—a spice I didn’t recognize. The cocky South Side mannerisms that challenged me to sneak behind the wizard’s curtain were gone. I didn’t bother looking for the glowing halo hanging from a nearby cloud. This was black finger paint, below it, a child dressed in adult decisions. Not a mask to wear, yet there I stood in front of Halloween 78—my hero lost somewhere on the path getting here. Feeling imprisoned by a windowless metal door, the decision to open it would lead me straight to the bowels of the Shrine Auditorium. The crumbs left to dry were memories I couldn’t shake. Paradise had evolved—the Hangout was nothing more than old habits. Being a crowd of one, I elected to tiptoe down the unlit wooden stairs toward a haven of what could’ve been. The steps, I told myself. That’s where Neal would’ve carved his name. Get behind them! It has to be in the farthest place from the nearest touch. I chose the unlocked walk-in storage room, boxes, maybe twenty-five—old newspaper clippings, promotional gimmicks, pamphlets, business cards, a couple of clown costumes and a waist high tool chest giving the room a manly carport aroma. It was a real firefighter’s nightmare. Adding to the sore spot, no light switch I had no shadow. Such a guy thing! We hear the call to build a box and forget to give it electricity. Such proud displays of Montana manhood gave birth to the phrase “Go get the flashlight.” 159 To survive in the wilds of the Big Sky Country, lesson number one is learning to crap in the woods at 2am. Who needs an outhouse when a fallen tree serves the same purpose? The next morning, the trail usually begins where you wiped your butt with dried sagebrush six hours earlier. With what little light I had, darkness controlled the mind games by shoving outlines of images toward me. Instantly my heart started to pound, eyes grew wide and the tips of my trembling fingers served as antennas. I had mentally returned to the Gravel Pits. The mirrored surface of the back lake spoke to me, “Feed my history.” I couldn't move. I didn't want to! Each breath was a disaster. A gasp would’ve been nice. Batman always got a Boom! Biff! Pow! I received reverse growth—the lungs collapsed, toes curled and my arms were so tightly folded I could feel my chest popping out of my back. The reflection from the lake studied my behavior. Every move, itch, wiping of sweat off a damp cold forehead was despicably displayed for the owls to carry foreign conversations. I begged for a ripple in the water—something to shatter the assumed territory. The unfaithful mirror gifted me with more fear. I wasn’t cold. I was scared! "Tarb," the cracked voice broke the air. "You weren't supposed to come." I couldn’t see! It was too dark! The moon was sleeping with a passing cloud. To take my eyes off the lake gained the speaker control. What was I to do, be thrown aside? Did I recognize the voice? From which direction did it arrive? The Mummy, Teenage Werewolf and the Chainsaw Massacre—screw the storyline! I forgot to look behind me! Always watch your back! Precious vocals have been destroyed screaming at overgrown monsters creeping behind innocent half naked women. See the boobs, girls gonna die. Don’t bother wasting fifty cents on a condom—just don’t have sex! “Why didn’t you listen to me?” The disappointed voice gently swept through the willows painted three steps behind. "The letter said you’d be here Neal…" I nervously replied believing he’d offer a friendly welcome. "Don't turn around!" The order arrived. “Jesus Christ! You’re skinning dipping aren’t you? Who’s with you?” Wind from the river gusted between our touch and go creating white caps on the freshly scratched surface of the back lake. Each blow robbed the midnight air of damp cow manure but creative frictions kept us warm. "The Goddamn letter Neal! Why the fuck did you write the letter?” I questioned through a classic case of whispered scream—fierce anger and pinched nerve disappointment. "What’s gonna happen if I turn around? Whatta ya gonna do? Turn to stone? I'm here…because…you need me!” His lack of compassion meant I stood alone—a lifetime compressed into short breaths of air, sips of wind, a vibrating larynx as if I’d been crying. An incredibly close reminder of my brother—had Neal chosen the same? Terry didn’t give us a sign. Act one of Neal’s performance was quite the opposite. "Who writes your script?" sarcasm fled from his forked attitude. "You make me wanna cry. Give it up Tarb! I'm not in the mood!" Not in the mood? I thought to myself. It wasn’t Neal that I was talking to. 160 It’s easy to get confused! Like the people of the south, each region carries with it a branded lingo. Accents are improvised. Montanans impersonate the Old West with relished enriched tones. If you hang with a man long enough, comparably speaking—the lingo displayed makes you family. The unseen face swept my ignorance into its own cave of selfish darkness. I’d spoken out of turn. The letter wasn’t to be had. He caught me off guard. I didn’t catch what now seemed unique. The harmless mannerisms were strong enough to pull from me the symptoms of anger and yet I felt fear. Mentally I fought to match the voice—to put a face with proper identification. Was it someone associated with the hangout? I must have been followed! Every step, every decision to run—I was followed into the deathly dark damp forest capable of hiding three lakes from the realms of civilization. I was now an official member of the perfect murder scene. “Hey…ah…can you please come out of the trees and talk to me. This is freaking me out. I mean…ah…it really seems pretty unfair that you know of me but I’m not being kept up to speed as to who you are.” The knowledge of his identity, that’s all I wanted. With no direct response, good or bad—I froze, the chill made it impossible to seek refuge. My feet wouldn’t run. My lungs cramped. There wasn’t a heartbeat keeping me alive—only a mystery. Neal would’ve started laughing. Neal might have burped, farted, and rolled on the ground to scare me. He wouldn’t have stayed silent! Neal would’ve claimed victory! It wasn’t him! It couldn’t be him! Who was it then? He sounded too much like the rest of us not to be one of us. “What if I called you by your real name?” His confidence twirled from the thin sticks stuck feet first in the willow patch. “Nobody ever does that, do they?” Peter Frampton signed sealed and delivered that Stevie Wonder head on collision straight into the Sylvers hotline. I jerked around—front to back, half circles, nervous, scared, my reflection caught by angled lakeside moon glow. The Hangout calls out the names we adopt. Nobody threatens otherwise. It’s a sign of respect. Birth names are ego driven—parental figures honor the dead by slamming our freshly powdered ass’s into ancient ruins with names like Frank, William, Violet and Irene. Bible thumpers are worse—James, John, Zechariah and Joseph. “You touch my real name and your blood will become my bath water.” I’d been pushed. Punch me, laugh at me, throw me into a near frozen lake—but never confront my biggest hate. Adrenalin wasted. A junky angered while in flight. This trip was going nowhere and I was ready to rewrite the faceless mans destination. “C’mon mother fucker! Say my fucking name! Blare it so fucking loud that your skin turns red. The moment it does, you ass fuck, you’re gonna wish your steps were never near this lake. I’ll bury your in stone making sure you suck Mother Nature’s tits until you become sand.” The last thing I remember hearing was an echo fading. “Alright fucker! Let’s play your asinine way!” His deeply sketched voice tore through the unnatural silence. I didn’t read the prelude. Such laziness cost me a fully produced yet well disguised entrance. From behind the silent watcher gained access—his reach no farther than two or three inches. My right arm was swiftly locked in reverse, my face no longer able to see the protecting trees. I’d just been introduced to the caverns of Montana mud dug by inquisitive feet. 161 Sharp blades of grass shaved beads of sweat from my forehead—but never the sound of him breathing. More noticeable was the thin rounded pipe angrily pressed into the back of my head. No pointed tip—maybe a tree limb, possibly a river rock? The curve was united—an even flow of pressure, nothing jagged or flat in the center. "You’re a stupid little fuck! Why would you put yourself in danger?" The whispering watcher shoved from his straining lungs. I wanted to roll out, kick away—become Billy Jack! I fought to remember the words of Shazam, Isis, Colonel Steve Austin and Gene Simmons. That bloodthirsty bastard would’ve created fire—using my six million dollar legs, I’d leap to the highest branch to get a better view of the silent attacker, stare into his face while smoothly swooping down, blocking bullets with my incredibly cool cape…only to heroically walk away clutching the waist of my new found babe, Isis. Reality sucks! I owned a mouth full of dirt—no room to spout a smart-ass recovery. My nose bathed in lime green snake grass scented with cheap Avon cologne. I’d smelled it before, but where? The brains catalog of photographs lay open—attempts to digest a passing identity. Faded shots stole from black and white suggestions only to focus more recent brushes. “Mr. Gon…zales!” I choked. The slender cylinder with a hollow center tore a hole into the search for proper identification. I’d nailed it. His lock up and forceful aggression screamed like a television game show. His sweat dripped like fear—a river. I’d become back lack number four. “I…need…some…air…sir.” Did I say it or think it? For the first time, he pressed his large hand into the nap of my neck—a gripped fist carved out of something extremely square. The silent attacker held no branch from a tree nor a tire iron or a stone not thrown into the graveled pits. It was a foolishly guarded firearm set to scare more than harm. Or—so I continued to assume. “This…is…getting…old.” My light heartedness started to return—mouth numb, cheeks burning, eyes opened just enough to notice morning had not come. “Holy…fuck…you…wei…gh…more than…a pigs pink ass soaking in slop.” “Listen, you mother fucker!” His bad breath entered my limited space—the Clint Eastwood delivery tactfully performed. “Wow! The Outlaw Josie Wales.” I chuckled through undeceiving fear. When scared, the body reacts. Things happen—you can’t control it. Some tremble, others cry. I farted. Not a poot, pop or silencer—this one ripped. I fired off a drawer full of knives sharp enough to shave tears from inspector twelve’s sticker. It was a beer fart! The grass melted around me, the moon dropped to its knees and all I could do was laugh and wheeze! I’d wheeze again. Then laugh. Wheeze—then more laughs. I laughed, loud, hard and uncontrolled. “Goddamn it Tarb!” The attacker whined. Peter Max couldn’t have painted a better form of pop art—a six-pack of rounds aimlessly exploding from the tip of my stun gun, laughter and a shallow attacker without a backup plan. Two strangers enduring a rare form of freedom—whatever it took to dodge nature’s passing. Like a Max original, the portrait seemed abstract. Vividly displayed in the center of the rainbow was Mr. Gonzales—my high school teacher. Crap! The same pencil pushing mathematics geek who shoved himself between Rick and Rob had over taken me. I assumed it was his job! It turns out he was protecting his investment? 162 “You’re the Candy Man…” The accusation came without raising my voice. “Far from it.” “Why else would you attack me?” I angrily spun back—my distance from him getting larger. “Tell me about the letter,” Gonzales calmly conversed, knowingly attempting to change the subject. “What did Neal say in the letter?” “He told me,” I paused…paused some more, then became verbally wrenched “You’re a fat fuckin pig made out of goat sweat and chicken vomit. You stupid fuck! Why are you here?” “Because he wrote me the same God damn letter!” “Bullshit!” I raged out loud, the echo crossing the lake three times—if Neal had been a half-mile away, he knew of our existence. “Okay, okay, okay…” Gonzales repeated. “Talk, don’t scream. We don’t need a farmer calling the sheriff. I stared into the overweight Chicano’s large pair of black-framed glasses, schoolteacher tie no longer stuffed in his zipped extremely muddy brown leather jacket. If he felt fear it wasn’t visible. “I got a letter from Neal,” he tried to explain. “No!” I left no room for him to finish. “Tarb, you’re gonna have to trust me!” “This isn't your side of town!" “Whatever…” the teacher’s disgust rang. "Just get out of here…before you're caught. Something’s gone wrong…and…" I questioned nothing while stepping closer to his wisdom. I believed him…to the point of firmly latching my grip onto his muddied behavior. My scrawny body was quickly shoved to the ground. My pride injured, I stood up immediately with arms swinging. Both hands ice cold, palms numb—if anything connected, I didn’t know it. I’d been defeated—the attempt to tear a hole in his atmosphere defeated. “What do you want from me?” An out of breath Gonzales spit from the corner of his mouth. “I don’t want anything from you!” “Then leave!” The teacher ordered. "Where’s Neallllllllllllll?" The long scream left me without air. I couldn’t tell if I was hiccupping or gasping. Coughing, extremely loud, an uncontrolled croup deeply dug from the center of my soul offering nothing but pain and gag reflexes followed dry heaves. Gonzales didn’t offer help—his eyes watched without compassion. My gut offered tales of death—he swore to make it so. The assumed weapon, a branch, pipe, something with more strength than he or I warned of a possible encore. I could see his wrapped hand rigidly waiting to convince common sense to run before it was too late. “If you make one more noise, your parents will never forgive me for what I’m about to do.” The staggering slur lit the teacher’s face—the barrel of a gun cracking the bridge of my nose, a vow to split in half all things considered. 163 The test was over. It was his way of saying the grade curve didn’t come into play. The heated tip of anger raised new hopes—life, death and everything in between. Would Neal be looking for me? Probably not, it wasn’t about him—nor was it about Rob, Tony and Gary. “Let, l, l, please let me understand this.” I stuttered. Was I scared or freezing? The barrel of the gun would offer no warmth until peer pressured. Vision of what if I’m shot captivated the ridged temperature encasing the teacher’s index finger. Crystals collected near the nail, my breath halted—the wait…an explosion of some sort would have to be heard right? I was stiffer than a morning pup tent—the cause and effect of looking down the opposite end of sight. Christmas appeared a hundred times and I’m only sixteen! Rather than receive, I gave everything away—my sister got the microphone cords, parents my lyrics, friends my holey underwear, in hopes they’d learn how to fill them with something other than dreams. “Y, y, you…probably think, that I think, y, y, y, you’re t, t, t, the c, c, can, Candy Man. W, w, w, w, w, well, if you were h, h, hmm, him—you’d have k, k, k, killed me by now.” No more words. The teacher turned. At first he walked. Once inside the trees, I could hear his oblong overweight ass attempting to run—clump, clump, thud, a swish of tall grass quickly followed by thud, clunk, ouch! It had to be difficult! There wasn’t a path! Not even a sky blessed with heart throbbing moon rays to romance the soul. Wait! I screamed inside. He’s running because I’d been shot! Where was the explosion? The crack of the bat! The National Enquirer stories were wrong! I don’t feel warm liquid! Damn it, he used a silencer! Hawaii 50 never used silencers! Where’s Michael Douglas? I want his high flying Streets of San Francisco car to get its tail pipes over here! I must’ve looked like a cocky ass confusion bomb! A mentally challenged sack of bullshit ignited on the steps of anger and fear. My hands feverishly searched for the bullet hole—head, chest and shoulders. Nothing… The more I searched, the farther Gonzales got away—his lumpy ass stomping no longer heard. I was alone again…the Gravel Pit’s—three manmade lakes beneath the dusty, dry hills lining the Yellowstone river in south Billings, Montana. The back lake stared at me, a glossy portrait of love versus hate—no wave to tease or a ripple to wander. I would’ve done anything for a western meadowlark to raise its mighty song just so it could be impersonated. Just me on the boulder beach half lit by a moon fighting off passing storm clouds, sometimes three at a time. One thought kept playing—the needle lifted but the stylus refused to swing back—a stack of choices but the vinyl wouldn’t drop. I was caught somewhere in the middle of the eight minute version of Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. “Let me sleep on it baby, baby, let me sleep on it…I’ll give you my answer in the morning.” Why would a schoolteacher make a trip to the Pits? Newcomers collect out front—most get lost locating the backwater. Not Gonzales. He’d been there before and this late—no forest looks the same with limited light. If the teachers awkward way of screaming danger proved true, it was only natural to believe Neal was somewhere in the middle of it. He played hard creating wicked games of self-righteous rules that guaranteed him a pride filled destination. But how long would his luck last?164 Chapter seven: scene five Crawling from beneath the dark stairs, my signature carried with it a fresh scent of every reason why kids get high in school. The aroma of an El-Marco’s thick tip fades reality into a spit wad. Held up to my nose, lungs expanded—dangerous chemicals enter the door, freezing time, if but for only a second. Three people knew of the presence at the Gravel Pits—Neal, Rick and Mr. Gonzales. Each, in their individualized way made contact. With Neal out of sight, the teacher didn’t push forward which told me that something did take place. How and why? Gonzales kept close tabs but he offered no inner escape. The silent treatment resembled acid—in time I’d have to accept blame. If there was going to be a night that somebody would step forward—revealing all that’s been hidden…it would be this night—Halloween 78. Halloween 78 Chapter eight: Scene one Raw ability is fed by the gift to achieve—nothing replaces the imprisoned self whose vow is to paint. It’s my cocky way of describing the importance of performance over consumption. We were there to pour not to devour—to slither not force, lightly rub our fingertips across naughty like lace on a wedding night. The Hangout, minus Neal and Rob murmured in near silence while waiting for the cue—a single voice, David’s…the command to overtake a large playground in the mind. We slung ourselves over metal chairs beautifully made for discomfort. The craftsmanship of four sturdy legs stole from our willingness to fly, so we wobbled on the back legs of assumption. The cities first under age Halloween gathering poured into place. An assembly of attitudes filtered through the casket-sized doors—costumed students from Senior and West High, Lewis and Clark Jr. High, Riverside and Lincoln. All were told to mind their P’s and Q’s. Some listened, while the brave hearts from Laurel pushed to be accepted. An evening of disguises—starting first with the decorations, outlandish oranges and blacks hung like moms laundry. Long streams of attempt resembling flags that had been dyed—I felt for the poor ghost duct-taped to the catwalk. Rather than scare the masses collecting below he hid from his own shadow. The leery and scary were greeted with buddy hugs, high fives and nodded heads. Chaperones stared at the cigarette scented long hairs who’d been street sweetening their smiles since noon—glossy eyed and shallow hearted, every thought followed by poetic laughter and mild tones. It was the Hangout’s invaluable collection of goofy and strange. Travolta would have creamed! The Shrine Auditorium was a Sweat Hog’s paradise—all four corners of the city represented the brink of border wars and yet no one flagged the other for competition. Several doors to the right of the stage, Gary stood on one leg of confidence—loose shirt, curly long locks…Peter Frampton cool. Gary showcased the look of a true Rock star, constant smile, bouncy step, a need to shake hands with everybody in the room. Not once…but abusively often. “Gonna rock, gonna rock…rock tonight,” Gary sang to warm his vocals. “Temptations 165 right, name the price…gonna rock tonight.” Then the chorus—all were in harmony, “I don’t wanna know your name! Cuz sometimes, names don’t do you right. I don’t wanna play the game, cuz little things don’t always paint…cherished times…” Laughter. Unplugged before it became cool. Wiping magnetic dust from the lens of his wire framed glasses, Gary sheepishly kept his grin while taking full account of where the rest of us were—mentally, physically and I’d say spiritually…no stage comes alive unless the gods of Rock n Roll ignite the passions of performance. Rich, pound for pound chewed up the center circle, “How many Milk Duds will it take to give me the ultimate sugar high?” Mark studied David’s itinerary—the route we’d take to the stage, taped areas signaling the edge, a song list with captivating bold letters ordering, “No foul language!” "I'm nervous!" I was the first to break into truth. “You’re nervous?” Bart sarcastically interrogated. “Does Gene Simmons get nervous? Fuck no!” “Bullshit!” Rich defensively ran to my side, “He wouldn’t be wearing paint if wasn’t nervous. It’s a mask—he doesn’t want anyone to know who he is because he’s afraid of criticism.” “Hold on, hold on…” I had to protect the God of Thunder, “Simmons doesn’t give a rat’s ass about critics. He’d burn em up while licking a French pussy with that damn tongue!” “What about you Tarb?” Gary chimed in, “Are you gonna use your stage to score shit from the chicks?” An image of Sam exploded in my heart. I’m talking big bright, beautiful rays of mauve, pinks and gentle blues—an unbelievable aura of unexplained tingles. Like the Brady Bunch, when Marsha got the hots for Davy Jones—stars twinkling somewhere between puppy and love. What the fuck was up with that? The soul governing my every step in life slammed onto the judge’s bench—a true Perry Mason moment! I meet some low life in a junkyard and now my minds popping like a fresh chunk of Bubblicous. He’s guilty your honor! Damn guilty! “Yo Tarb!” Gary suspiciously barged in, “Save the mental masturbation for after the show. Get a look at the breasts first! Then come back and tell me.” “Tarb will never score” A laughing Bart rolled into play, “He’d spend all night trying to write songs about unhooking the bra!” Kids at play—no matter what age, uncontrolled laughter is an addiction. Paper towels thrown, socks shot like baseballs, a kick and a shove, gutter slang, foul language and yet the laughing never stopped. Border lines fell—the Heights, Optimist Park, Rich’s West Side demeanor…none of it was worth fighting for. Our first laugh cost me some reputation but who cares? Bart was right—I’d probably jot it all down then make fun of myself on stage. Then came the call, “Show time fellas!” Three words. Dead silence. I was the freak—he who holds a tiny laugh tucked away for safekeeping. I could feel it flow through me like cotton candy scented air. It was sweet and incapable of being touched. I didn’t want it to melt. Nor did I burst out! I was selfish. It was mine to savor, to live off and to 166 dip into during times of low esteem. In unison, the Hangout sat on the edge. Gary, Rich and Bart vigorously worked their fingers—stretching their long grips into submissive positions while bending both wrists to meet their forearms and biceps. Mark kept a drummers beat—the imaginary trap set, sticks firmly twirled then gripped. Bang! Bang! Thump! Boom! Bang! I paced. Every lyric raced to my lips totally ignoring the brain. David kept to himself—a deep thinker. The type who rubbed his eyes with the left hand while cramming packs of gum into his mouth with the other. Nervous? Try frantic! Don’t talk to him—the entire set is being played out in his head. A field of hype and glory set to explode on an unknown stage. "Everybody stand up!" David ordered The slightly aged single man was in full control of five questionable music careers. Virgin thoughts of success were baptized between his fingers—if he rubbed them together any faster, the Boy Scouts would have fire. "Let me see what you guys look like!” His motherly instinct wailed, “Tonight’s show is “not” Laurel, Montana! Tonight’s performance isn’t Los Angeles! But that doesn’t mean both aren’t important. We know where we’ve been and we know where this could take us all. Each of you have the guts to perfect what makes you great—tonight I ask that you take it two steps farther. This is your house gentleman—no matter where you travel, you’ll never forget the first big crowd. It’ll haunt you while eating away at your determination to become bigger and better without losing the raw gifts you have that put you here tonight. You are to go out there and have the best damn time of your life! Make it fun! Play with them! Tease them! Don’t ever lose you’re your smiles! I don’t care how badass you are—David Lee never stops being David Lee! Tonight, you’re at the top of your game—tomorrow…we’re back in Laurel." "Yes!” Rich rebel yelled while closing his box of candy then placing it inside a chewed up duffle bag on the floor. I felt like we’d just passed boot camp—Rock n Roll soldiers preparing for a six-mile hike up Timberline. Somewhere up there we’d locate a full staff of quarter notes and eighths, sixteenths if we got lucky or desired to move pretty fucking fast. David and Rich physically stood with their shoulders back, arms straight and faces bulldogged into victory position! A major production blessed by true pride hung over the Hangout. Mark, Gary and Bart chuckled like second graders who’d just been told its time to pee. Maybe it was time I uncrossed my legs? Then came the call, "Grab your instruments Paradise!" Revved up, David walked toward the large wooden door—he stopped for a moment when we noticed something extremely real: there weren’t any crowd chants, no loud pre-cum music to welcome us or even a booming voice on a loud speaker barking at the masses to take their seat. “This is what I call the greatest time to be in music.” David’s confidence shot to life. “Eighty percent of those people out there have no idea who you are so that means you have a twenty percent chance of failure. Only you know when someone fucks up. Don’t stop! Don’t make faces at each other! Be you in that goddamn garage recreating what you claim is the best mother fucking moments in music history.” Totally caught off guard, I noticed how nice our founding father was dressed for the occasion. David was sporting pin stripes with a pair of matching shades stuffed in the breast 167 pocket. He looked like a manger—a little on the professional wrestling side of life, but…it worked! Especially the dash or two of Avon brand cologne we were afraid to choke on. I closed my eyes hard—these twenty-five steps forward invited guilt-ridden pain. Instant depression! A valley so low I could read the blinking No Vacancy signs outside worm hotels. I couldn’t stay with David’s motivation. My hands locked themselves to empty air buried inside my faded jeans—a comfort zone while the mind traveled. Flash back reminders of how David failed me two months earlier—the overpass, the Police station and the corners of his heart. He knows the truth about Neal. Chapter eight: Scene two The back lake glowed an eerie green—algae combined with ground fog just thick enough to tease. Long stems of snake grass filtered through the untouched portrait—wild asparagus dotted its corners while ample amounts of sunflowers hung their halos to dry. Montana nearing dusks early light. The Western Meadowlark strolls between nearby fence posts, waiting for its shadow to be cast. With it, a pocket full of self-written whistles easily rounded then followed by garbled chirps. The Red Winged black birds become jealous—for no one sings like the well-perched yellow music maker, not even my mother during times of sickness. I remained standing—frozen by an assumed paradise. The swamp beast had risen! South central Montana’s home game version of Big Foot—shirtless, caked mud collected under the rounds of my chest, both arms and legs cut and I stunk like two men who’d just fought for their last breathe. Rage burned everything. Giant southern fires last spotted in Atlanta ignited a race war I couldn’t control. Being alone left too much time for me to puzzle piece history. The Mexican teacher, overweight, covered in confidence, large black plastic glasses barely clinging to his face—my presence kept him from something! The fat jumping bean was hot on the trail of a burrito and I kept him from the spicy sauce. He tried to kill me! What was he trying to achieve? I had to leave! Run from the forest—leaving the back lake and Neal behind. Picking up speed was difficult—buried by the ashes of past downfalls kept me from clearing the height of uncut Montana wild grass. Dried scabs were ripped from my skin exposing every reason why going to Pits was a horrible mistake. We joked of there being life after dark—a witch, murderers, muggers and creeps searching for small willing children. It wasn’t supposed to exist! The Hangout spent summer nights swimming naked in one of the three lakes! Who was watching? Then, life stopped. “What are you doing?” I spoke out loud to a self that wasn’t listening, “Go! Get out of here!” A simple handwritten letter kept me from stumbling. If they’d been lyrics, time would have no tale. They belonged to Neal. Maybe Gonzales got the same note? “What? Now you’re instantly forgiving?” I still didn’t want to listen. Once guided by the color of the moon—chance became dare as distant clouds raced to bring more rain. The forest was no longer silent—the wind strengthened forcing me to take 168 cover. A log cabin would’ve been great! I settled for a fallen pine sewn to the earth by overhanging vines and straggling willows. Inviting, was the soaked floor, which was decorated with alfalfa; tiny bushels of green leaves, some still sporting their dried purple floral affect from spring. I was to live like a rabbit! The low roar of the wind trapped me six steps outside of heaven. I was more afraid of Mother Nature than Mr. Gonzales! Nature’s informal greeting need not be accompanied by singed cracks and pops generated by lightning created fire or unexpected things that twist. Is he alive? I compassionately wondered while tossing out used-up long deep breaths of damp Montana air. I couldn’t run. If given the chance I would’ve saved my brother. He was constantly accused of being locked inside a weird state of mind, a mood, or sickness to the stomach that was often told to get well, fix or fake it until its right. Terry lost his battle with life. If only he’d left a note. We’re given second chances for all the wrong reasons. Neal’s handwriting was horrible but legible enough to send photocopies of past events through me, around me and into the cold rain seeking refuge on my face. Large invisible figures danced wildly on the once calm back lake. They must’ve been wearing clown shoes, the splashes were so big. Unlike war drums performed at Crow Fair, the calling to move came in the shape of Truth or Dare. Truth: Neal wouldn’t jokingly write a suicide letter. Dare: Drop the brotherly love guilt and play out the role of Steve Austin the Six Million Dollar Man. I couldn’t stop searching for Neal. It didn’t matter how clumsy I’d become, each push through long leafless branches and tall scratching grass was toward the unwanted second chance. A self-guided tour influenced by a need to preserve life—even if it wasn’t my own. I wanted to be numb. To set aside, peel away while pretending not to be. Instead, everything touched cut into me like knives slicing a garden fresh tomato. Clotted blood picked up the pace. Scratches became scars, armpits ripened but my eyes never left the ambition. The letter stated, “I’ll be waiting for you at the buried truck.” What buried truck? I vomited inside. I know these trees and trails more than my mother! I don’t know of a buried truck! “If I’m not there, it echoes the danger my life is in. Habits can’t be controlled through avenues of song. I’ve tried. When you reach me, forever remain silent no matter how many habits you endure." I stopped suddenly. I turned to view the bulldozed trail. I felt the feeling. Wind that becomes silent paints unseen walls. Licking my lips, I patiently waited for sound. The steady rain stole from me the scent of bubble gum and cologne. Each told the age of my passerby—a new watcher, another chapter still unread. There was no need to hold my breath—it had been taken. Rolling thunder left no evidence of the unacquainted visitor. Location means nothing until confronted—instinct was all I owned. Twice in one night, I’d been consumed by the presence of harm. The chill of knowing 169 froze the moist night air. Slowly turning to the right, the view over my shoulder was to gift the watcher with a calm confidence—to signal but not to alert. His face blank, emotions just as calm—we stood ten feet from the depths of morning breath. "I know why you're here," Mr. Gonzales directed his point of view. Visibly tired, the roundness of his body stood unprepared for attack—he draped it around a tree whose bark had been scraped from the center of a lonely man’s soul. The teacher’s confession, "The last time I saw Neal he was pale faced and unable to move. We’d spoken but not in ways you’d think. He wouldn’t stop comparing his life." “To what?” The anger sprouted a flower. “He compared his life to what?” “I assumed it was you.” Not far from every stream a pool of compassion waits patiently to be heard. Rather than challenge the unrelated hills before me—I fell into the arms of nature’s unforced curves. “I’m lost. I mean I have nothing! I, I, can’t see why you think he compared himself to…” “To someone who has the guts to fight without fighting. To someone who turns every event of his teen life into a song people can sing. To someone who comes from a family rich enough to barely afford fried eggs and hamburger for supper and still has the decency to wear a cocky smile with matching tennis shoes.” “Bart and Rob…” I softly brought up. “Please don’t name everyone in your lame ass band—only your name appeared at the top of the letter.” “He gave you my letter?” “No…he threw the original away. It wasn’t perfect enough to give you. A love letter Tarb. Not as in two guys or in the way most kids write love letters. This one hid nothing behind scratched out thoughts. You’ve read it! Why else would you be here? I came because of a need to perfect his handwriting. It created a paper trail.” “You’re so full of shit! You have a fucking gun! You attacked me!” Gonzales wasted no time firing back, “Your anger’s not a weapon?” "What did you do to Neal?" I delivered hoping to stay focused. I needed a twist, a corner to peer around—something to protect me. My next attack wasn’t going to be accepted in ways that would warm. "What is it Mr. Gonzales? You're Mr. fuckin cool at school and child murderer by night?" The robust teacher with large black-framed glasses clutched his fists, three long streams of sweat colonized near the bridge of his nose before being fed into the open pool raging beneath his cheeks. Mentally he was exhausted. Physically the bastard was ready for another round. "I didn’t come here to hurt your friend!" "Then what is it fat boy?" Oh crap! I reflected—interrupting my own river. I sound like Paradise by the Dashboard lights! What’s it gonna be big boy? Yes or no? Let me sleep on it baby, baby…let me sleep on it. The distance between a thought and reality can’t be measured. I was given no time to escape the teacher’s new lesson plan. The fat boy observation bowed the grading curve. The portly man morphed—an NFL linebacker programmed to scratch red pen into the depths of my 170 essay. Blinded by eyelids securely closed, the connection to 911 failed. I’d been reintroduced to those long sharp stems of grass that make Montana a wonderful place to visit but never stay. Driven to compression—a slice of cheese pressed between mud and Mr. Gonzales, no memory forgets when a man wraps his hands around your neck then delivers a face made of the devils unmistaken arrival. I could hear the schoolteacher screaming but I didn’t. I’d become lost between fear and hopeful, tune out and pay attention. "I'm tired of your childish bullshit," Gonzales roared pulling my lack of amusement around. "Open your fuckin eyes and listen to me!" It was as if Moses had split the sea. The strings connected to the window shades of my soul begged me to pull. Once open, sunlight revolutionized rage. But who would strike first? Could I win or had Gonzales accomplished his needs to step within? Anger painted facial expressions stealing the respect a student holds for those who teach him. Unable to breathe, I drowned…cold drops of sweat poured from Gonzales’s forehead slapping my face—throwing each attempt to escape deeper under a spell. Unlike a math test, this order was dressed in fury, "I asked you to leave this area—you fucking didn’t listen. Now you're into some shit you can't get out of." I couldn’t move. Not because I was afraid but his oversized Mexican fingerprints drew ever bit of air from my collapsing lungs. The lining of my stomach was twisted and ready to heave, each leg was numb and no moisture lived on the thick walls of my covered mouth. I stared hard into the forest. The only hope gathering was a pinch of purpose. I kept a firm grasp on emptied belief—somehow I knew Gonzales was more focused than this. He’d never displayed this personality before. Even while in class students make teachers angry but never to the point of full body dialogs with mysterious endings. Luck had taken its final lap. Hidden behind long slivers of wild grass and cattails—a willingness to fight no longer lived. He had pushed us deeper into the night as if to shelter our story from a growing storm. No thunder penetrated the raging hearts fired up like a Mustang in heat for a Chevy Nova. Then…Gonzales let go. I spun to the muddied floor realizing we’d walked into an unidentified wet land maybe three inches deep. The water was chilled but not Montana cold—a spillover from Yellowstone River, maybe underground springs. He had fallen. He, being more tired than I lay loosely while I straddled unseen shores. Heaping amounts of long drawn out breathing flooded the low land driving my feet deeper into the mud, making me even stickier than before. "I'll tell you again Tarb," Gonzales hap heartedly warned before searching the night air for a better glance of where I stood. "If you don't leave, you won't make it to school tomorrow." No warning can keep a dream from being realized, especially if it’s been delivered scornfully or maybe in this case…caringly. Until you’ve been to Montana and felt the power of her curse clinging to the already muddied bottoms of your shoes—no ending can be complete without remarks made of the horrid weight gripping the soles of your towers. On the opposite ends of my legs was a brain—feeding it fists full of blood was the enemy…a heart which had become connected to a never ending need to save what might be left of a friendship with Neal. If we hadn’t fallen into the tightly knitted shells of a cattails quest, I could’ve easily felt the edge of my unprotected left ear kissing the face of a gun barrels most powerful blast. Eyes 171 exposed like two full moons, the stormy Montana night constantly bit at the heels of survival. Weighed down by the clinging mud, I almost expected to feel a tight grip of pain shattering my veins, draining from them any hope of seeing this so called tomorrow. The wind started to blow—its song mimicked the nearby Yellowstone River…a rushing but calming roar, a faded message the way a cowboy must have heard the stories shared during the days of cattle calls and sheep herds. Picked up by time then thrown to dine, the force of the wind bent the trees into a state of relinquishing their dried leaves. Mr. Gonzales shifted his weight; I could hear him struggling to free his body. Long gaps of silence followed by bursts of cussing, struggling and plants being ripped from their rooting systems once thought to be unique. The one time calm wetland took the shape of a struggle. Which in part would become tomorrow’s show and tell. Guests visiting the Gravel Pits would easily recognize the evidence required to make this a scene made of life versus death but in the end who did win? The first and only sounds capable of escaping from the depths of my true self were faint moans of fear. I fought with my life to hold back a coward’s tear brought on by the weight of the man whom I never dreamed of being so silent. There were no laughs to share, only simple breaths of air and a man I believed would steal from me my teenage life. Chapter eight: Scene three "Oh my, God. Get a doctor," Bart screamed as he watched my body fall fast to the cold concrete floor. Without proper guilt of possible mass destruction his guitar dropped freely from his shoulder. Upon impact the dull thud thundered through the closet sized dressing room like the claps of hell heard that evil night at the Gravel Pits. Wasting no time, David bent to his knees to comfort my tearful face hidden from the frantic act of courage brought on by the hangout. Gary and Mark raced down the crowded hallway searching for emergency aid while Rich sat quietly in the corner hoping his dream to touch that stage wasn't suddenly brought to an end. "It's going to be o.k. Tarb," David calmly spoke out to me wiping the tears from each eye with a misty moldy smelling handkerchief. "Are you this fucking nervous?" Bart questioned lifting the cup of cold water back up to my dry lips. "I met Neal’s father Bart." I answered looking straight into his face receiving absolutely no response. "Shh don't talk, let’s just get you back up so we can hit that stage." David interrupted continuing to comfort the hate, fear and out of control emotions that had stricken my once over excited imagination. Rushing back to the room with emergency care Gary and Mark were quick to retreat next to Rich in the corner of the room. Bart showed off a different side holding tightly to what someone may have presumed to be his only friend. Two medics dressed in casual street cloths topped with white shirts eased into their natural ritual taking my blood pressure, temperature followed by a list of questions that dealt with a past I couldn’t change. All was quiet on the home front until they slipped the black band from my aching wrist. There it stood for the whole world to see, a deep bluish black, and very red gash in the flesh of 172 non-perfection. Looking around the overcrowded makeshift dressing room taking a quick roll call of witnesses, the medics no longer appeared to be confused…a new path to chase, a possible lead to what nearly erased, an angle to what led to me fall quickly from the playfield onto a concrete floor so cold. Can the idea of lifting me quickly to my feet; a different way of looking into the future be governed by an act of, “Oh really?” Often accused of being the actor, the one whose personal pains are never worn on the sleeve of his shirt, David felt nothing in my decision to hide from him the elements of truth of what was going on. Those so called hidden pains drifted from sight with the release of a famous cocky, confident, devious Tarb smile. To see their reaction was all it took allowing me to build the required energy and necessary deep breaths, freeing us from this moment of insecurity. Rubbing ten fingers through my fallen hair, desperately trying to rebuild the Rock-n-Roll image I fought so hard to protect, the image in the mirror reflected the very person who spent countless nights observing himself on a journey to never stop searching for the beast within. Face growing out of proportion, hair darkened and longer, nose and mouth fading from sight, the childhood game had no rules as long as it white washed the nightmares. I traveled instead beyond the limits sliding freely into a welcoming open soul belonging to her unforgettable pair of blue eyes. Turning thoughtlessly to shelter myself from a possible downfall of disbelief, a sense of warmth cradled my heart when Sam’s beauty met with the edge of my assumed perfect harmony. Sam was visible, her hair still as colorful as a spring rainbow. Only she could be the one person whose open hand calmed my hurting soul two months ago. Filled with shyness yet simple without challenge was an unexpected Hallmark Greeting card in the game of life. "Where have you been?" were the words that squeaked by my tiny giggles of joy. "My God, you are the sight for a lyric-less song." "I told you I'd be here," her confident response, that same gentle tone she used the first morning we met. "What? You thought I forgot?" "Even if I did, you sure have peaked my interest now." I hurriedly returned reaching for her young hand to place within my trembling fingers. "Whoa whoa, don't get to comfortable," David butted in moving Sam to the side leaving no room between us. "This is no place for a class reunion; you and I need to talk Tarb." I agreed looking back and forth between Sam and Dave. "She's only here to say hello." His arm forcefully wrapped over my shoulder to officially declare himself as my buddy, David led our partnership out of the room, down the hallway then through a locked wooden door. Once inside I was asked to sit down on the badly varnished chair next to a cluttered coffee stained desk. A radio lightly playing in the background David seemed to be very concerned with the earlier events of the evening. "You can either tell me what the hell is going on, or I'm going to assume." his words rang out. I couldn't speak. What was I suppose to say to a man that invited more fear than my own stepfather? Looking down at the floor, my arms placed between a set of trembling legs, silence was shared. "O.K." he continued. "I'm going to assume you're just as fucked up as Neal and this girl 173 just loaded you up with more shit." "Fuck you," I disgustedly returned to David taking a sharp aim at knocking his assumption off course. "Where in the...." "Shut up!" he interrupted. "Listen to me, and I mean it’s going to take both of your ears to take in everything I'm going to say." Pointing his finger in my face; nearly hiding a concerned look in his expression. David laid down his self-guided never to be broken or else law," Cut that fucking arm again and you're out of the band." I wanted desperately to play tit for tat. It was quite clear he hadn't been doing a very good job of babysitting. Tony and Gary’s drug abuse outweighed the odds of my survival. Hey I guess it wasn't his turn to watch them. David needed to know the truth; it tore heaping holes in my stomach making me a vomit machine with no place to send my latest collection of creative juices. How was I supposed to reveal what I knew? I was crushed by too many thoughts during a time when David wanted to pull every piece of the puzzle together. His masterful way to keep peace was to physically pray. You’ve got to be kidding me… I selfishly thought. Once finished, David looked at me with an empty thought of courage. It wasn't hollow but instead a vote of buoyancy; a space aged signal of support. Telepathy of the third kind. "Whenever you wanna come clean," he whispered into the air, "When you feel it's the right time…remember I won't hurt you. I'm the only true friend you have." This so called God that he tossed words toward honestly made him stronger; the opposite side of his reaction was a man could’ve crushed me in two. My eyes wider than a barn owl’s late night vision of the fort, David had just become the only cold hearted adult who took the time to believe in the Hangout. I swear to God he desperately needed an Oscar for his performance. It almost made me cry, which would’ve led to another discussion with his private healer located somewhere between the moon and the farthest sun. The dude needed to spring a pair of wings and get this show on that dimly lit fully prepared stage where any act of art could be wasted on starving ears. “Get your shit together Tarb,” David ordered. “Success doesn’t have time to fuck around.” That was the only cue I needed to hear. For fuck sake, it was finally time to hit that damn stage. I wish every person alive could one day take the walk toward the outlet; there’s no vibration more powerful than listening to five rock junkies inching like worms toward a fire breathing auditorium or as I liked to call it: home. Mark couldn't stop talking to himself; Gary harnessed the ancient powers within while walking with his eyes closed. “Fucking guitar players are a breed of their own…” Bart mumbled while holding onto his wit with Rich and myself, our smiles casting a pat on Bart’s back for building a commodity out of our separated mindsets that screamed, “Ain’t nothing gonna get in our way.” It doesn’t matter how big the band or the size of your fans…anyone associated with music should be led to a stage by flashlight at least once. Nothing ignites the core of your original dream more than the glow of red lights French kissing your guitar amp—the message sent couldn’t be more simple, “We’re about to have creative sex.”174 Reality sucks you back to life the moment your lungs fight off the enormous amount of cigarette smoke that’s collected in a hall with barely enough air to feed a snail. Calmly walking through the electronic maze prepared by roadie friends not wanting to fry musicians, nobody in the hangout spoke of bigger cities, larger profits from record sales or endless tours; topped were our separate worlds and through the magic of letting go each of us knew we’d deliver something strangely mysterious called harmony and to our delight it somehow managed to collect large enough crowds to break us free from illegal kegger parties in the south hills near the Yellowstone River. From where I stood at center stage, I couldn’t tell if we had an excited group of high school teens or concert starved Montana’s that chose our show over howling at the moon. The more I squinted through the darkness the harder it became to find faces I might recognize, hoping a set of eyes already known might ease the fears of failure that had grabbed me by the balls and squeezed. No matter how much we wanted to end the silence of the night, the depths of our personality were soon to be exposed; four young one day men and a dominant manager counted under their uncaught breath the numbers required to hit that first chord at the moment we had practiced one hundred maybe two hundred times. The boundary line screamed for our fame, searching for the creation of what made us who we were at such a young age. Kodak couldn’t even capture this moment as each heart begged to be healed by the opportunity to reach past the governing rules to achieve the ultimate high…music. This is where I go when I want to hide. I’ve always believed if you don’t feel fear on stage…you truly don’t care about the final destination of what’s about to be delivered. Our stage is never lit up until we’ve stuffed away every ounce of hidden fright in a jar David places on the edge of the metal stairs that took our garage band approach to living to a higher stage of performance. Looking to my left, I could see Tony’s body shivering with each scream created by an impatient audience. Bart stared at the floor like a child discovering a dead spider while Mark repositioned his ass over and over again behind the trap set that was set to keep four fucked up kids on time and hopefully by the grace of any God in tune. Halloween '78 was no dream; tonight we’d make the act our total paradise. “Alright guys…” David’s voice could be heard in the background, “You can’t get to forever by standing around…let’s make them sing.” "Are you ready?" The thunderous loudspeaker voice rumbled through the crowded corners of the concrete brick walls, "Rock! Rock! Rock! Billings, Montana…light the night right! Rock! With Paradise!" I couldn’t feel myself. Get twelve kids together and you’ve got reason to call the cops. Steal the current from a river of images with arms raised high as if to be counted and the waves lashing out make you the body of water raindrops spend an entire life searching for. To feel the total effect I closed my eyes, birds discovering flight. I don’t hear music, I feel vibrations, on cue Tony, Mark and Bart ripped into our world of let’s pretend with an ear piercing ring the front row would carry with them beyond tomorrow. Upon its arrival the unfiltered edge was seared into the farthest depths of their secret place to hide by extremely hot and blinding red, blue and yellow lights sending my ultimate high of catching innocence off guard, punishing the once dark auditorium with colorized creations that unmasked blistering rainbows on the windows, force them to beg for mercy while trying to 175 keep the sudden bolt of electricity from escaping their panes. My lower lip resting on the curve of the microphone, confidence the tour guide, released were the lyrics firing vocal bullets into the skulls of kids wanting something more than Disco, solo Beatles and pop so bubble gummy that every place they stepped they stuck and it was my role in life to free their feet from such beats. “Nice, nice, nice to see you…couldn’t wait to wake, wake, wake up your night. I know what you’ve got, ohhhhh sweet darling it’s far from a lot. Fake, fake, fake it until he begins to realize…it’s me! You’re thinking of! It’s me! That’s set you on fire! Rock! Rock! Rock! Get on top! Rock! Rock! Rock! All night! All night! Til you can’t pop anymore! Let me rock you! Inside, outside, every room your parents aren’t in. Let me rock you! Feel you, fill you no more let’s pretend. Rock me! Rock me! All night long….” The jet black stage monitors throbbed explosively into our faces acting like tour guides on a legal journey through a natural high. Long vibrating guitars chords shattering invisible panes of glass in our ears, drum strikes that sent earthquakes through your soul peeling the paint from the invisible walls called dreams come true. The Shrine Auditorium was my river which had become flooded by wild acts of insanity from the front row and beyond and it was my job to rip the roar from the mountain river and shoot it down a granite faced thousand foot cliff to the body of water below. Hearts racing, gushing beads of sweat feeding the starving parched wooden stage floor; each song performed was breath stealing fast, unnoticeably unperfected, and well accepted by those who stuffed their teenaged bodies into clothing so tight I could read their family tree four decades deep. The scalding hot lights refused Gary, Bart and myself entry into the gates of our manmade heaven boiling our blood instead in a vat of hell bent desires. Bent chords acted like keys opening unseen paths even to the man of steel; Bart’s natural talents bled from his fingertips helping to generate all that was unique and tonight, that finger being pointed belonged to Paradise. His arms crossed and emotions kept intact, David impulsively stood at the edge like a father that just learned of his daughter’s first sexual act. Far from being a gentle old man, David lashed out at the sound engineer with words even I hadn’t invented. “Stop being a stupid fuck and get those vocals up! That lame ass guitar would sound a fuck of a lot better if you’d stop yanking your ego driven one eyed monster!” I couldn’t hear David’s distorted implosions, quickly turning away from what I assumed was negative; my vocals were met by unfamiliar faces belonging to young adults craving to be accepted. It was my undertaking to fuck with their heads and hearts by creating an undetectable string leading them back into a world of musical satisfaction. Forty five minutes into our walk on the wild side Bart drew the curtains closed when he stepped up to his beat up silver microphone, "Is there anything sweeter than an auditorium flooded with bad asses? One of you is more bad ass than the other and like a true bad ass, you’re holding onto something I’ve got to get my hands wrapped around." Wiping his soggy hair with a towel he kept near an assumed water bottle, Bart stared diligently into the audience, scanning the birds as they were flipped to the blonde chicks with two guys to the ugly twins with beef bones clinging to their necks hoping it would attract any dog to their pleasure zone. A rare shade of confidence encircled the abused stage telling those of us standing by that176 Bart had everything under control. The Shrine Auditorium lights completely lit like the concert had grasped its final page, the mystery that filled our minds would soon find its conclusion. With no place to roam but plenty of room to get lost with a new found friend our fearless guitarist had somehow become the captain of his own ship. "Does anyone know where my best friend Neal is?" Sharply pacing back and forth like a silent wolf readying himself for battle, David’s anger became four hundred foot flames behind the stacked amps and speakers, “Shut the fuck up Bart! Don’t lose this crowd! Get your ass back on that fucking guitar!” "Many of you have read about my best friend Neal," Bart bravely told the quieting crowd. "If anybody has information leading to his whereabouts, please step forward in the next couple days and help us end this damn nightmare." My back up against the speakers, legs crossed to add balance I would have never expected the crowd to react the way they did. An atomic bomb of support shattered the crisp night air. The hangout did all it could to hold back the burning tears that now stained the corners of our blood shot eyes. Who would’ve thought the student body of three high schools would unite as one supporting Bart’s wishes with an unforgettable show of verbal release. David didn’t allow it to soften his heart. Covering his face with open palm twists and knee jerks, I’d say his body language connected him to uncensored deep thoughts allowing nothing new to penetrate what he saw as a potential disaster. Obviously Bart didn’t catch David in the corner of his eye, if he had; he wouldn’t have walked to the back of the stage and casually picked up his ugly as a donkeys ass purple acoustic six string connection to broken dreams and strapped it to his overweight clumpy out of shape body. Unprepared and unprofessional unrehearsed Bart plunked those strings like a chicken being prepared for the pot. Nothing was in tune nor did it appear to be important enough to remind the rest of us the path we should be taking as a band. Stepping up to the live microphone he whispered the lyrics of inexperience but those in attendance didn’t care, they had been drawn into his one man show moment, cuddling together in circles of embraced outpouring which add acceptance to his rhyme and reason. The house lights slowly dimmed on a stage that had grown nearly cold, the visible truth reflected off the yellow, red and blue flickering flames introduced by pocket lighters and match sticks. Bart had this one quietly tucked away, a poets visual as told by the messenger who sought nothing more than a room to paint what he felt on the inside during a time most don’t understand unless you’ve lost someone extremely close…a forever friend. A fog bank of cigarette smoke cuddled the auditorium rafters filling the air with cloud formations that resembled cartoon figures in a land of Once Upon and Time. Gentle flickers from cooling stage lights cast a burnt scent toward the heavens documenting the age of new birth to be placed next to the footsteps preserved on the sandy surface of the ancient layers of stone that make up the Rims; five hundred feet above the ordinary giving life to the sculpted tale of the famous Big Sky. A few beats from his nearest touch Bart took on the landscape of Dylan, Lennon and early Denver, a freshly made bed made of lyrics meant to remind as well as erase; a territory of hope while methodizing with the chances connected to unwritten consequences. By letting go of the past enabled to him free up the future, allowing music to soulfully blossom. Sweat so thick, soups of several scents raced to the floor changing his long blonde hair to 177 a drenched black meets golden warming the wishes of the little girls who lined the front five rows with hearts the size of the Rockies and gullibility several miles deep into an earth they no longer participated with. Bart would never forget this night as it stood unprotected in the hands of a musical collaboration we called Paradise. At its closing the song incubated in Bart’s secret emotions brought to him a fresh style and look; instead of being the flabby fat ass kid without a dream, he’d be called the caring one, an honorable mention hero who spoke out one late night in a hall so large for no reason other than to locate a long lost friend. Halloween 78 Chapter Nine: Scene one Until the show at the Shrine, there was no roar more attractive than the roar water makes flowing between rocks and moss that have been placed in riverbeds to do nothing more than chase sand toward the ocean shore. Ringing in our ears like chocolate scents a candy store shelf, the screams and cheers acted as flying carpets over the river into a paradise designed by wishes and hopes combined with flashback escapes and the street sweets that took us there. The late night Montana sky darkened by the tranquil trickle of city lights trapped the flame like flickers, the polished glimmers of each star outside the Palisades of the Yellowstone. This is where she slept each night, Billings; lounging within the mundane windblown sandstone valley named by Lewis and Clark, the first to explore the newly purchased territory from the French called the Louisiana Purchase. No high lasts forever… Once inside the dressing room, a stiff knock on the door exposed the change that would infect the next steps of several generations. In no mood for a chronology of the night’s behavior, Captain Stephenson manifestly fragmented self control secured the badge that gave him command. Grinding his bulldog appearance and persona within the legal limits, the crisp sound of starch woven between the threads of his navy blue shirt took the full impact of hidden muscles fed by rampant blood constantly ready for war. "Am I to assume you’re interfering with my office?" Stephenson callously quizzed The Hangout still lost in love with the concert crowd and stage, "If that's the case boys..." "Now wait a minute!" Gary fiercely faltered, confiscating a foolhardy step toward the gloominess of the police captain, "We keep a thousand kids out of your hair for two hours and this is how we’re treated? Holy crap Dude, we weren’t doing anything wrong." "No?” Stephenson sarcastically replied dragging it out to the fullest then following it with two shakes of the head from side to side, “Do you mean nothing wrong as in you are lazy and are a do nothing kind of person or you weren’t doing anything wrong in the way high schooler’s tend to rewrite the rules enforced by my office?" “Hey come on!” I interrupted in a near whining negotiating tone, “Gary didn’t mean to ignite your night. Seriously, what gives? Something’s gotta be up because you didn’t just show up to congratulate us on a great show. Instilling his coffee stained teeth into the unprocessed unprotected flesh of the inner cheek, Stephenson demonically stared into eyes gifting no one with a backstage pass to his 178 personal thoughts. The Captain symbolized a hunger to protect everything including a chewed up pencil stuffed into his overcrowded pocket of personal notes and receipts. It didn’t matter who was standing in the room. All who arrived was unsympathetically introduced to the duties of a Captain that warrants a point of view that refused to tolerate challenges such as Gary’s conspicuous interrogation. "Tell me something that will make my office staff feel loved and needed." Stephenson persisted, the sound of his heart pummeling through his pride and the way it was being delivered, "If you claim to be so innocent, maybe you can explain why I just spent the past two hours of my life fishing out the remains of your 16 year old friend Neal." “Oh my God! Oh my God!” The only terminology I could release while stumbling toward the metal chair David had set aside during earlier events and accusations, “Where’s Sam? Somebody find Sam right now and get her in here!” “Bart!” Tony bawled, “Get him a fucking place to sit!” He wanted no part of it instantly leaning hard on denial. The stagger of sorrow left unprotected in Stephenson’s shadowed composure deteriorated the parallel effects of death gasping for air. “I’ve had enough!” David cried out while shoving himself between Stephenson and The Hangout, “Are you hear to arrest someone or just the bearer of bad news? Talk to me! Don’t talk to them! Do it outside this room so they can grab their shit and digest at home with their parents and family!” “I just needed to see their faces.” With regret Stephenson confessed. “Figured the guilty party would be standing in this room and I’m man enough to admit I might have been wrong. Jesus! I’m really sorry to bring you the news this way.” “Tarb?” The angel spoke in the center of the storm, “Oh baby…what’s going on?” “Sam, they found Neal’s body at the Gravel Pits.” I somberly bellowed reaching for her extremely soft warm and forgiving fingertips, “I, I, can’t believe he’s gone.” Love isn’t always found in the wrong places; a teens heart swells when located between the locked compassionate and protective arms of someone who unconditionally comforts the wounds created by battles she never came near. The innocent scent of her perfume cradled my burning soul, easing the anger into a shape of peace rather than rage fully capable of leading to more blood being shed. I had finally found home. Or so I assumed. “Watch Tarb,” Stephenson commanded his army of three now ten steps free from the dressing room, “My instinct wasn’t wrong. Poor boy just gave himself away. I mentioned nothing about Neal being at the Gravel Pits.” Halloween 78 Chapter Nine: Scene Two Without hesitation Sam insisted The Hangout spend time with large numbers and not be locked up in manmade caves with no mental place to escape except into vivid imaginations already soaking in beer stained memories of a childhood that suddenly grew up. Sam strongly suggested we become part of The Point, a collection of square city blocks that feel like multiple circles. It was only minutes from the stage we had moments earlier 179 electrified to near implosion with a kind hearted gentle conclusion from Bart that acted more like an adult signature than a punk-ass garage band with its sights set on puking in hotel rooms before launching out and destroying the walls that protected private bathrooms. Sam, Tony, Bart, Gary and I pulled into the Granite Towers parking lot totally disconnected from the party that had begun several hours before. This time, a separate tone of imperfection rang out sending shockwaves into the hearts of those who knew our friend best. News of Neal’s body being pulled from the cold late fall October waters navigated its way quickly through downtown Billings inundated with post concert goers and high school students basking in what little freedom they had left before returning home to a world of parental decisions and constant commands. Stunned by the number of white candles lit and held high into the dark Montana Big Sky, I sat in disbelief wondering why so many embraced a roughed up, torn to shreds family throw away like this? Neal would’ve been pissed that such recognition was being served. He lived off other people’s hatred or misguided truths, not about what his efforts were truly all about. “If I said I love you would you believe me?” Sam asked me while using her fingertip to pull my pouting face away from the road of everyday living. “How can I be this close to reality and miss it so much?” My swollen vocal cords cracked the night air, “Is this what love is?” “My poor little John Lennon, confusion has you bound and tied. There’s so much love in this parking lot and you’re too numb to feel it.” Sam whispered while taking a swing at convincing me to touch something positive, “This is what your music is about…strip away the amps feeding back and your boyhood screams and kicks and underneath the paper that caught your thoughts there’s a genuine soul who wants nothing more than to locate love. Tonight Baby, I’m your pill…take me and make me into whatever ride you need…tonight you need to open your dreams and see that not one but three schools know your pain and it’s time to show them your inner strength by being loyal to the lyrics you write…” “John Lennon?” Bart interrupted Sam’s long distance dedication, “Make him Alice Cooper or Edgar Winter, we need rock not roll!” “Do you hear that Tarb?” Tony punched in, “He thinks you’re too wimpy. He should know. He killed our fucking high at the Shrine with a sappy bullshit story about finding his friend and poof the fucker’s found! What the fuck do you know asshole?” “Stop it!” Sam roared, “I can’t figure you guys out! On stage you’re perfectly in tune but out here…it’s a damn joke!” Shoving herself free from the warmth of the car, Sam pushed her way into the night to free herself of the melting worlds of what used to be; her rainbow hair roaming the crowded gathering, her eyes on fire from a lack of inside support making her a monster on the loose. “Sam!” I shouted while ripping free from the carefully stacked chunks of metal sitting on four tires parked unevenly in the middle of the city. “What do you want from me Tarb?” She sharply returned walking to a near run. “Why can’t you hear me? I fucking said I love you and your committed institute of crazies lash out at me like a piece of cheese set out for an army of rats.” “And I said, what is love?” Stopping…Sam failed to take notice of the hundreds of teens surrounding our very public discussion, “Love Tarb is more than missing reality. It’s sharing dreams with someone while making reality! I know you’re in pain! I wanted to be with you tonight not because I love 180 hanging out with your friends but maybe, just maybe you could find it in your dreams to do nothing more than hold my goddamn hand in public!” “Sam...”I attempted to council without reaching my arms up and outwardly to hold her angry accusations. “Shut up Tarb!” She shot, “I’m going home! I’m going home!” Rushing without fear into the unlit city center alley completely bathed in wine bottles, cigarette butts and smoke, my ego driven ambition was to do nothing, yet I truly loved her and letting her go wasn’t going to be my way to end Halloween 78. So I chose to continue running, just as I had been doing my entire life. Into the alley Sam and I ran believing it would lead to each other’s escape but instead right into the arms of unpredictable fate. Hidden behind teenage intoxication Rob found the spit and spat of teenagers in love to be his ultimate high. Internally, Rob’s tobacco tarnished lungs collapsed under the pressures of fear, hate and rage. Face, a chalky white, conversation taken over by imagination, the penetrated focus seemed to shatter the black tar lacing the long dark alley. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Sammy and Tarby!” His unfiltered voice came into play putting emptiness in both our passions to chase. “Um, didn’t mean to scare ya but isn’t it great we all fucking met this way. I honestly thought it would’ve been later. A lot later because my buddy Tarb, we’ve got to talk and having your lady friend here is just going to make it easier for me because you would never fucking lie to me in front of someone who now says she loves you.” “I’m out of here!” Sam persisted only to feel Rob’s right arm reach out and latch onto her untouched skin, “Get your fucking fingernails out of me!” “I said…we needed to talk and it includes both of you,” Rob’s inebriated thoughts poured from his bottled up soul, "Look what I found Tarb…it’s Neal’s gun, Guess where it’s been all this time?" Hurriedly my eyes scanned the threatening alley. Sam resituated herself in the hallowed halls of being in the wrong place at the right time. Prepare to run wasn’t her decision of play; she let me know through a carefully planted corner cheek smile that this was part of her game. Curled back into weightlessness, heavy thoughts were too much to hold, “Rob,” I symbolically collaborated reaching for his trembling arms aimlessly chalked up by the scent of fear; an unforgiving face, no glow in the soul not even a memory of the passing seconds racing by. D.O.A. and frozen under the Montana Big Sky, a misunderstood circumstance. Securely clutching his lengthy unwashed black raven hair, only a small window lead Sam and myself into the shut down factory of thought punishing the pairing of two blood stained eyes. I had never met this side of Rob before. Too apprehensive to run, no available intervals to modify the vulnerability at hand. It became rigid to trust any response, guarantee; any opportunity to flee would lean hard on one of us becoming the receiving target of his weapon of choice, an evilness destined for the chest of a friend. “I love you Tarb…” Sam privately tossed into the unspoken, untested, severally bent conclusion of a onetime incredibly great day. “Who the fuck can love Tarby?” Rob’s sweltering fire began to grow, “She has no clue! Holy shit Tarb you had us all fooled!”181 “Wrong!” I violently returned shoving Neal’s gun off me and onto the wilderness of in between that lay between three, “You weren’t there Rob! You didn’t hear Neal. You totally fucking missed everything!” “Oh my God!” Rob’s cracked tones pierced the edges of a confession. No longer able to camouflage his resentment compressed with tender emotions affiliated to losing a friend, Rob’s true identity was comatose to any act of realism therefore he had made up his predetermined mind to document his displeasure inside an unwritten book of fate making out with a race against time. Ripping from his pocket a sheet of notebook paper separated our destination of dreams, crumpled and damp from body sweat and tears he read, “Only I know the truth. Only I shall keep it free. I was with Neal during his final breath. Only I know the secret to all of this.” Like a broken heart left unsheltered, rhythm was the unsuccessful substitute for my miserable decision to create a pattern. I once swayed to save The Hangout only to learn such selfish grace meant nothing to those who’d judge my day. "I fucking trusted you Tarb!" Rob's voice splintered as if to be preparing to unfasten solid fits of built up rage. "Then I found the gun. You’ve always had it. How am I supposed to react knowing you were lying all the time?" “I love you…” Sam’s unforgotten soft lips painted across the blizzard white canvas of my saturated eyes. It wasn’t meant to be this way; the concert, a quick walk through Optimist Park to make noise and celebrate; the cops are called and rush home to hide while spending the rest of the night laughing about it. Drawn into the depths of what should be and could be make up the layers of untouched acts never featured during a three part play. Although my truthful words remained silent, having no reaction to the lyrics leaving Rob’s already written songs occupied the present with the repercussions of bad decisions hidden then plucked before they were ripe. I felt like a hollow decaying oak tree clinging to its final limb. Trapped and kept under control by his right hand tightly clasped around a gun he, not I, identified as belonging to Neal. Three passing ships lost in a fog bank with no horn to light the night with a better ending that assumption scraped deeply into the fist of his left palm unlocking swift passing seconds inviting change to a pencil sketching or design of what would become our legacy. “Sam…are you part of this?” I abrasively inquired hoping to unearth a warmer place to land what little trust was left in a situation that was growing toward violent more than peaceful, “Did you set me up? What’s going on here?” “You my friend are what’s going on!” Rob thrust at me while carving from the crypts of Hell Neal’s name over and over again in the side of my shivering face with the barrel of the gun, “Kiss the moonlight goodnight Rock Star.” How dare I cross-examine his current path, seconds no longer played an important role in a decision he’d already made. I couldn’t tell how serious he was, the confusion forced me to play out the synopsis of there being a long thin metal slug sleeping in a canal designed to embezzle from a passing breeze the final breath of reality. There was nothing but emptiness in the billowing stomach of selfishness and pity; all who were present were pasted to a stage to play out no identifiable role under the constant bite of the late evening October sky. “I didn’t know he’d be here Tarb…” Sam’s voice began to shake, “How do you think I feel hearing that you killed Neal?”182 “I didn’t!” The fury flew from my already sprain vocal cords, “So what if you found the gun! How does holding it in my face tie it to me?” "Don’t you recognize the vest I'm wearing?" Rob’s distinct frankness cut into the cloud of three way doubt leaving no room for this to be anything less than child’s play, "Take a closer look, Rock Star! Don’t you fucking remember something?" Sifting through the faintly lit unpainted alley heavily scented by roaming cats and dogs, the undeveloped photograph sharpened becoming clearer; ripped and withered, bleached rather than aged no sleeves to strengthen the look. The brazen statements Rob shared weren’t forked out from mindless visions or assumptions but proudly displayed on his weakened frame with the light blue stitches of Neal’s infectious personality. "You think I did it!" the jargon coast from my central point plagiarizing the faith and trust that once bonded Rob and I together, "Just fucking say killed Neal." If the worth of a single minute is that of 60 seconds, then what is the value placed upon just one second? For that interval of time to snap into place several lessons in life are required from the book of lessons taught. Crippled, I endured acres of hard silence, none of which changed his decision to push the gun farther into the bones protecting my frozen cheeks. I had pushed him too far, inviting the impact of the beast that once stared back at me in the mirror. The forlorn child inside was trapped beneath the wickedness of fate. Incompetence of pursuing the bedroom that rescued the importance of protection, instead brought to me a portrait of self, falling face first into a pool of body oil meant for dreams that aren’t supposed to be witnessed by the naked eye. “Is that Neal’s vest?” Sam artlessly added to the alleyway fair attraction, “You found them in the same place didn’t you? Please tell me where.” His unending dark black hair soaked in beads of sweat, lips a shapeless brilliant color of red, eyes molded to my chest, sucked from it the pasty lump of blood anchored onto the contract we pledged to never destroy. “You tell her Tarb,” Rob continued to dominate. "The beast was not I," was the first confessional thought to blossom beneath the starlit sky, “They were laid together to honor him not force you into complicated rage.” “Tell her where you put them!” A more physical Rob burst into motion his shivering index finger resting on a sliver of right versus wrong connected a decision to continue to stand back with accusation or forwardly open the wounds of what will become his unwritten new fate. I could no longer savor the midnight air, touch the closeness of passing cars, or glimpse into the eyes of the accuser. My courage, its rhythm weakened and torn, produced a reverberation resembling that of a sorrowful sad song. “Under the Yellowstone River Bridge,” I pathetically stuttered, “The metal box by the concrete wall where Rob and Neal used to hide their candy.” “You fucker!” Rob wailed, the echo so loud it bounced off the skyscraping Montana shaped Rockies, through the Prior Mountains, off Yellowtail Dam then back into our shell shocked faces before reaching anyone who might be able to aid Sam or myself, “You were setting me up to be framed!” Clutched within the vigor of his unopened palm, Rob felt it was time to seal the deal, he slammed Neal’s gun into the side of my head instantly drawing blood from the freshly opened wound. “Rob!” Sam burst into tears, “Nobody tried to frame you! Please put that gun away!” 183 Encountering a question of strength, the sluggish running of a cigarette scorched tongue across the yellowing of teeth revealed how far Rob’s emotions had traveled. The unpolished flavor dribbled from his swollen lower lip onto the hidden trembles of my intimate passing thoughts materializing what would become the final chapter of Halloween 78. "Rob, put down the gun!" an unacquainted fourth voice mandated from the edge of the shadowy boundaries. No amplifier could have grazed the curves of our ears closer than the strict order directed to the core of our souls. Without reaction, questions required answers; therefore the disagreement was justified, The Hangout’s blood contract was to be no more. Filled with the salt of a shattered soul, the color of brown was washed from the eyes of the child that viewed an act of bravery placed in the bullet that would help Rob sleep peacefully six feet under. My one time best friend lay lifeless in the cold mid-fall alley with barely a brown, red or orange leaf from nearby city trees to help bury his fame. A single gunshot from the verge of obscurity carefully drove its engineless energy through the remains of a final thought, leaving him with no worries or hand delivered gifts of flight to passing clouds that may have sung out in harmony the ways angels are expected to do. Staring into the emptied remains, his body shook as if being attacked by invisible demons fighting to keep him from being free. No part of the fallen friend reached for the tiny pebbles that made up the gravel beneath our feet, deciding instead to welcome the layered thick pools of blood on the run. Hastily moving forward was time itself, all things in motion moved outwardly at a pace no mind can penetrate. I couldn’t see anything but fear. I tasted hatred while consuming remnants of history that would soon require an explanation. “Sam…” I incoherently mumbled with no reply sent back, “Sam…baby please, I’m so cold.” Rob’s voice had melted from the page creating slurping gurgles made from body gases combined with internal heat gently kissing the vibration of midnight. There would be no fixture from a past; the present became a new reality no longer attached to a musical stage. “Sam…” The vocal search continued. My face bathed in the aftermath of discolored fate, “I need something warm.” No distant music played in cars locked in block formation; the wind seemed to run free from touching me. Glancing at Rob with not a worry in the world, everything present resembled a pipe filled with a pinch of solitude and unending peace. The haunting swells of echoes rebounding off the rooted Granite Towers slammed into the ageless face of mystery deafening the masterful beauty of the aftermath beginning to formulate as the first scent of gun powder entered my nose. A shade of ice blue glazed the frozen autumn air while pieces of certainty fell from the cloudless sky. Still no lifeless leaves roaming the darkness of night. Of all things, I was profoundly troubled by this being Rob’s grave, no flowers or music to play, only a gentle whisper from a past that couldn’t be changed encircled by the smoke from a missing gun that was never his. Little by little I began to pace across the concealed path of no alternative; without Sam, I had no insight. Without Sam I was to blame. Without me none of this would’ve taken place. Determined to silence the sudden presence of concern, the identity of a witness was required for me to learn. I heard a fourth voice, older in tone and experience, sloppy in its 184 deliverance, almost wet as in having a slur. I knew the name of the voice in question but why was I left with his destruction? Blackened by birth, rotund in distance, it was Mr. Gonzales whose attendance had become a new lyric to sing. I too must face the truth knowing what I knew made me another witness. Wrapped in a chest tight calf colored leather vest the barrel of the beast appeared at a distance of maybe fifteen feet. He’d been studying the actions turned reactions, all the while masterminding a reason for being there and not home with his wife and family. "Get out of here Tarb!" the enormous resonated influence ordered, violently crushing a somber funeral for a friend, "I can't save you this time." “Sam?” I barely released. “Sometimes Tarb the rules of science change and through education chance takes on a different name,” His calming guidance mindlessly challenged to shine, “I simply had no choice.” "Billings police!" Captain Stephenson howled into the pale moonlight his voice fractured by the impact of unforeseen hazards, "Lay down the gun!" Frantically inspecting the faintly lit settling of two sides, Stephenson scrabbled to the most imminent object; a caved in trash can by sitting next to a city tree, like me, never full but always searching. Parallel with the jagged weathered box, a black and white fence for trash, the police captain christened the fresh air with a call for backup, "I've got somebody down! No! I count two! Get me some damn help!" "Go Tarb," Gonzales persisted in a high-strung whine. "You are too young for this sort of outrage." Fixed to the loosening of a once tight core, my only thought was to locate the singled out place to settle the score. Much too far for me to lunge, the high school teacher kept his restrictions extended beyond the 357 pages of a Geometry book landing nowhere near my feet leaving both our trails in the open for Stephenson to see. I sensed nothing, which sculpted the bust of his barren essence; Mr. Gonzales now callas and not torn, pilfered from me all that I hoped would impetuously become a forgotten memory. "Why should I run? I gruffly made the objection, the outrage maturing into an execution of insult, resentment and disgust. "Tell me! Why should I run? I didn't kill did!" “Because you killed Sam…” the answer descended from his numb new beginning. Time doesn’t stand still confusion does. How could such an allegation not blister the deceitful lips that distributed them? Too calm the teacher lingered making his pointed finger straighter than my flood of fear. “Did I kill Sam? How?” The mind grilled the soul. Through Rob’s fierce accusations of setting him up, there was no feasible way to rip Neal’s gun from clutched anger. To convince myself of such, I reached to council the open wounds put into play by fists of fury, the barrels impact bluntly punished the massive amounts of vessels whose only skill was to live by the rules of passing it on. I heard only one shot but I remember nothing. Peering for a one hundredth time down at Rob’s tortured skull the unexpected twist poisoned common sense leaving me susceptible to accept anything pleasant in the name of allowing this night to end. An intellectual epidemic erected under the glow of fiery theatrical lights from heavens past disguised hidden ambitions to pump more graveside blood into our vocal wounds. The 185 indifferences between Gonzales and me carried with it the raw taste of Neal’s flesh decomposing under the unsheltered atmosphere over the Gravel Pits. To immediately heed his closing manipulation made me the messenger rather than hunted prey. Resentment split what little thread was left in the fine art of keeping it together; the abrupt loss of three friends dissolved into disorder forcing me to tamper with the one man show. I couldn’t see Neal’s gun. Had it fallen beneath Rob’s motionless corpse? There were no boxes in the alley for it to bounce into, around or below. No window wells associated with basements, caverns or poorly designed brick formations that resembled everything but what they were supposed to do. "Tarb! Put down the gun!" Stephenson trumpeted his authoritative domination, a continued appetite of excellence circulating through the tempered metal crest welded to his courage. Dismissed were the whispers of tautness and hardened trepidation often attached to the command, "I won't ask you again, lay the gun down!" “Gun?” I strained to see why he singled me out. Resistant to audit the aura that surrounded the ruptured acne pours blanketing his face, dimpled were not his cheeks but my trust in the teacher whose first name I never learned. To look within, would allow me to believe, to which I had no purpose. Envisioned was a silhouette of Mr. Gonzales showcasing no physical evidence of fine tuning his uncanny craft of preventing a confrontation between his image and career. He stood with confidence looking straightforward at my unnoticed, unidentified, uncaring right hand that securely seized control of the switch that turned the night on. I too was baring arms but too blind to take note. Until then I hadn’t been rubbing my fingertips through untaught comfort and protection like he had. I kept touching my skin hoping that it would be a dream. Reality made me the barrel of two metal points completely guilty of both crimes. The blink of an eye is measured only if it remains open, therefore all that remained were nightmares masked not by questions that slept with certainty, but within the constant breathing of he who is the beast. For this beast’s time had come to step out and away from the mirror and make love with the girl he once knew as Sam. When and how the weapon arrived in my hand had without a doubt become the question. Ultimately it would be The Hangout’s history that would prove me straight. Until that time, the only thing true was the whisper she shared, a final, “I love you.” Was it murder for fame played out on separate fields of interpretation? Was I constantly finding myself in the wrong place at the right time and through assumption innocence would prove to be my worst weapon? A full harvest moon slowly rises over the rolling hills of Montana. With each passing second it adds color to all who wish to reach out and touch the sky. They who savor the opportunity are blessed with the ability to bring unto others a gift. One gift. To be shared in the purist of all art forms. Let it be that which we call music. Laws that were broken won’t require a key to unlock the bars. Music has always been my place to hide. The songs carry the curves of runaway thoughts that find joy in kissing the edges of a poetic slow dance and I’m here purely out of consequences. One might think Neal’s disappearance was my ultimate high dismantling a conclusion of sacrifice fed by the streams of blood that flowed openly from Sam’s final breath. Would any of 186 this of happened if Gonzales and I had approached Neal’s letter with better care and understanding. I live in guilt, shame and fear knowing how much love weighs when standing on an unlit horizon of passion! Gonzales didn’t have Neal’s letter, he only saw him writing it in class. The dead giveaway wasn’t heavily penciled words into paper so thin it begins to shred but rather a single second caught in the memory banks of a school teacher that took the time to care. I didn’t promise to protect my friend. I guaranteed his story wouldn’t be read only to find my footprints in a riverbed of sand face to face with a breathless friend. It was me that reached out of the frozen night with an explanation knowing whatever I came up with would be held against me in any court of law. The game for fame isn’t over. Not until I get out of here. Therefore the thickness of The Hangout’s blood contract remains truthful and fair for all that wish to follow the words I’ve chosen to share. I undertook the task of preserving Neal’s secret…maybe too well. Word sketches have made me an injured wolf and here I lay covered in stains watching everything take place over and over again. If only those that remain could hear the songs I sing, for this day behind bars would no longer be my new place to run. I want to breathe under the lights and dream between the waves of sound pouring from amps thirty feet off the ground. I’ve climbed to the summit of a Rock n Roll stage only to find nobody’s listening. Music is where I go to hide. It is there the truth lies, the true story in the palms of peace above my mother’s insight, layered behind the pushpins and hung to dry. A riddle to rattle the cage, holding the truth of Halloween 78. Coming soon: Halloween 78 The Truth About Yesterday Laws have been broken but it doesn’t require a key to unlock Tarb’s travels behind bars. How thick is the blood that made up The Hangout’s contract? The secrets are hidden inside the handwritten sketches of music. From this day forward you’ll never listen to a song the same knowing this is where artists go to hide.