Author’s note

I’m serializing the first 10% of Smokin’ & Cryin’ here on my blog. It’s the story of a young American rock band set in the early 1970s. Please feel free to share this with your friends.

Overture is the first installment. This post is #2 in the series.


Uncool Utopia

No fans, no gigs, no reputation
Keep that sass to yourself, low expectation
Uncool utopia

Chapter 1 – Purple Heart (part 1)

All I was searching for in Dad’s dresser drawer was loose change to take to the barbershop. Why should I spend my lawn-mow­ing money when a punishment haircut was the last thing I wanted?

Instead, I found a consent for enlistment form postdated for my 16th birthday. Even with parental approval, I’d have to be 17 to enlist. Along with the form was my birth certificate, now altered to make it look like I’d been born in 1953 instead of ’54. He planned to ship me off to Vietnam when I turned 16. Five months.

Dad and Bev, my stepmother, had been fighting ever since her son Arthur returned from the war. She wanted him to stay at our house, but dad argued my older stepbrother was a bad influence on me and Lisa because he smoked too much, drank, did drugs, swore nonstop, consorted with married women, wore his hair too long and played electric guitar. Never mind that he’d been awarded a Purple Heart medal.

When I’d sided with Bev, Dad grounded me and demanded I get a brush cut. And with my hair grown out past my collar, too.

The tires of Dad’s Impala crunched on our gravel driveway and I hurried to stuff the enlistment papers into my back pocket. That’s when I spotted something with no business in Dad’s drawer: the only pair of earrings my mother had ever worn. They should have been buried with her. She’d had them on in the casket. Yet here they lay jumbled with his cufflinks, tie tacks, and the ugly class ring he wore to impress people.

I cradled the small, golden brown gemstones in my palm. Smoky topaz. She’d once told me she chose them because they matched the color of our eyes. The day she got her ears pierced Dad flew into a rage, saying she’d mutilated his property. My mother refused to take them out. She knew he was cheating with Bev from across the street. Those earrings were her declaration of independence. And now they would be mine.

I stuffed them in my pocket and slammed the drawer shut. No way was I getting a stupid brush cut. I didn’t care if Dad grounded me forever.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Dad loomed in the doorway.

Downstairs, the phone rang.

“I told you, get that shaggy mop taken care of,” he said. “You’re turning into a goddamn reprobate like your stepbrother.”

Bev called to me from the kitchen, “Robin? Telephone.”

Grabbing the excuse to get away from Dad, I pounded down the steps, rounded the corner and snatched the receiver from my step­mother.

“I told him you can’t go over there tonight,” she said. “We’re having dinner at the Elks Club, your father and I, and we need you to stay here and babysit Lisa.”

Arthur was on the line. Since his return from Vietnam, I’d seen him only twice. He was a terrific guitar player. While he was gone, I’d taught myself to play and written a bunch of songs. It took the dull ache out of his absence. My hip stepbrother was the one good thing that came out of Dad’s affair, the divorce, and his remarriage.

“Just listen for a second,” Arthur said. “A few of us are getting together to jam tonight at Deuce’s pad. Come on up. You can sing for us. Or bring the Gibson. Or both.”


“My mom already said you have to babysit. It’s cool with me if Lisa tags along. Just don’t let our parents find out. Now, tell me Sorry, I can’t make it.

“I really want to but I have to watch Lisa.”

“Perfect. All right, baby bro. See you around 8 o’clock.”

“Sure, man. We’ll get together some other time.”


  1. PARENT/GUARDIAN STATEMENT(S) (Line out portions not applicable) a. I/we certify that (Enter name of applicant) Robin James Chelsea has no legal guardian other than me/us and I/we con­sent to his/her enlistment in the United States (Enter Branch of Service) Army.

 I/we acknowledge/understand that he/she may be required upon order to serve in combat or other hazardous situations. I/we certify that no promises of any kind have been made to me/us concerning assignment to duty, training, or promotion during his/her enlistment as an inducement to me/us to sign this consent.

Parent or Legal Guardian: Vernon R. Chelsea

Witness: Beverly Ann Chelsea

Date: December 6, 1970

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