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 #10 in the series.
Chapter 4 – Econoline continued (part 3)
Arthur made up a driving roster to end the arguments over who was riding up front. I did whenever Arthur drove, and, after I got my driving permit, Waverly rode up front when I drove. He was laid back enough to deal with a new driver.
Perry took the biggest cut of whatever we had left over after expenses. On top of that, we contributed 10% of our earnings toward the Hammond B3 fund. It was all about keeping Studio Perry happy. We paid Deuce to manage us and paid him rent on the P.A. system. Arthur, Waverly, and I split the remaining chump change. I spent mine on guitar strings, truck stop coin showers, food, and chewing gum. Sometimes I had a dime to spare on a pinball machine.
I worked on improving my showmanship because no one wanted Deuce out front. Sure, I could sing. I always had. But the whole entertaining onstage trip was tough for me. Even so, it beat being crowded in the stinky van with Deuce talking nonstop, Waverly drooling in his sleep, Arthur chain-smoking and Perry with his regal nose in a book.
One afternoon we were hurtling down the Ohio Turnpike with Deuce behind the wheel and Perry in the passenger seat. Waverly was curled between Arthur and me in back, asleep with his head on my thigh. He’d spent the previous night at a girl’s house and we’d picked him up on the way out of town, which was typical with him. He always scored, even though Arthur was the handsome one, Perry was taller and Deuce was the smoothest talker.
I rarely tried. The women in the bars were ancient, at least in their twenties, and always pinching my chipmunk cheeks or squealing that I was cute, a charmer, a star. They didn’t interest me in the least.
While he drove, Deuce bragged about money he’d made, chicks he’d laid, and dues he’d paid. He wasn’t sure he existed unless he could hear himself yammering. It was hard to tune him out when he debated himself. “Who’s hotter? Janis Joplin or Marianne Faithfull? I say Janis because she could drink me under the table. Who’s hotter, Marianne Faithfull or Grace Slick? I say Grace Slick dressed like a Girl Scout, man. Goddamn. She’s smoking hot.”
Perry grunted in response every so often and licked his finger to turn the pages of his paperback.
That morning, I’d woke up too sick to eat the fruit pie Arthur handed me. The chills kept hitting me, interspersed with sweats. I just wanted Deuce to shut up for thirty seconds. My pulse throbbed in my face and a wave of nausea washed over me.
“Guys, can we pull over?” I asked.
“No more stops. We’ll be late to the gig,” Deuce said. “Piss in a pop bottle if you’ve got to go that bad.”
Arthur put a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong, baby bro?”
“This.” I touched my cheek. It was hot. Swollen. “Does it look worse?”
“Shit man, shit.” In Arthur-ese, shit man could mean anything from we’re low on gas, to let’s get some grub, to I dig this song. He reserved shit man, shit for blown tires, getting pulled over by the fuzz, or bad news from Vietnam. “Deuce. The next hospital exit. Take it.”
“We’re due in Cleveland. We’ll be late for our gig,” Deuce said.
“I don’t care if we miss the launch of the next motherfucking Apollo. Robin needs a doctor. Get us to a hospital. Now.”
“Chill out, Holtzapple. Hey man, who’s hotter, Cher or Goldie Hawn?”
“Sonny Bono.” Perry set his paperback copy of Stranger in a Strange Land on the dashboard. “What’s wrong with Robin?”
“The thing on my cheek,” I said, fighting another wave of nausea. “It’s getting bad.”
“Pfft. That’s nothing. These guys survived ’Nam, you big baby,” Deuce said.
“Unlike you,” Perry said to him. “Draft dogdger.”
“There’s the exit. Get over. Take it. Take it,” Arthur said. “God damn it. Take it!”
Deuce gunned the van past the exit. “They should amputate his face. Now that’d be an improvement.”
Spewing a string of swear words, Arthur ordered Perry to grab the wheel. He wrestled Deuce out of the driver seat and hauled him over the engine housing. Fists flew. The van and trailer veered wildly as Perry steered from the passenger side. We lost speed. The trailer lurched and bucked. Horns blared. Tires screeched. A semi swerved around us, brakes squealing. The smoking rubber tires stunk like sheer panic.
Perry scrambled into the driver’s seat and got us under control. We slowed to a crawl and made it to the shoulder, cars honking at us furiously. I jumped over the backseat to stay out of the brawl. Deuce was thicker but Arthur could land a punch.
The ruckus woke Waverly. “You fuckers are nuts.” He yawned. “And who needs what amputated?”
Finished with schooling our manager, Arthur shoved him to the floor and took the passenger seat up front. He put his feet on the dash and lit a cigarette. “Deuce needs his balls amputated.”
“I didn’t realize he had any,” Waverly said. “I thought those were the pickled eggs he swiped from the bar and stored in his panties for a midnight snack.”
At the mention of pickled eggs, I almost threw up the fruit pie I hadn’t eaten that morning. I climbed back onto the bench seat next to Waverly, pulling my knees to my chest. “Don’t talk about food,” I whispered.
“You can all fucking stuff it,” Deuce said from his defeated heap at our feet. “And that goes triple for you, Perry, you little queer.”
“Hey now,” Arthur said. “Don’t make me come back there.”
Waverly checked the wound on my face. “Damn. I wish I had my kit,” he said. “Let me think.”
“Stand back everybody.” Deuce was nasally with his bloody nose. “Waverly’s going to think.”
Waverly pressed his foot against Deuce’s neck. “Do you not know when to shut the hell up, or are you genetically incapable?”
“Lunatic guitarist. Infantile frontman. Bonehead drummer,” Deuce gargled out.
“Yep. Genetically incapable,” Waverly said.
“Uptight fag bass player,” Deuce added.
Perry adjusted the rearview mirror and pulled the van back onto the turnpike. “Bite me, you little turd.”
Thanks to Waverly, who’d been a field medic in Vietnam, I didn’t need a hospital. He had Perry drive to a pharmacy instead. A while later Waverly hustled out of the Rexall with a paper sack and a sheepish grin. He climbed into the Econoline and showed off his haul: gloves, gauze, Betadine, straight razor, suture thread and needle, cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide, and tetracycline pills.
A girl working in the pharmacy had given Waverly everything he asked for in exchange for whatever she wanted. He extracted a pube from between his teeth. Arthur chuckled while Perry made a sound like a cat coughing up a hairball.
“Let’s scoot,” Waverly said. “Her husband is due to pick her up from work any minute.”
Man, our drummer sure had my back.
He performed a makeshift surgery on me in an empty Little League park. While Arthur cradled my head, Waverly slit open the abscess, drained it, cleaned it, then expertly stitched me up. Throughout the ordeal, he narrated each step, his voice soft, soothing. I got a splinter in my fingertip from clutching the bleachers.
That night in Cleveland, my bandages looked so bad I didn’t bother worrying what anybody thought. Sure, I was still sick, but I faked feeling great so hard that I started feeling better. I climbed on a stack of amps and leapt down to the stage. I yanked girls up to dance with me. My face ached from smiling so much. Smoky Topaz was pure groove that night. When we were tearing down our gear, Arthur said I’d blown him away.
Finally, I got it: when I had a great time, so did the audience.
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Spotify playlist for Smokin’ & Cryin’