Dear Readers..this is part five of Second Childhood..please go back to part one to start the story!
Sheila and the Hype
“So who is you know who?” Sheila was pissed.
So what else is new? “I have no idea, honey, someone playing a joke?” Ace really didn’t know, but it was intriguing.
“Ace, just tell me who she is. No, don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. I think I’m going to take Molly to my mom’s and stay for a while.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Sheels! I’m telling you I really don’t know who it is. Of all the lousy things I might be, unfaithful isn’t one of them.” At least not physically. He couldn’t stand being grilled when he hadn’t done anything. On the other hand, he didn’t have to lie, which made it easy to act indignant. He really just wanted her to stop. But that wasn’t going to happen. This had been going on for the last nine years, but had really ramped up for the last three months since he’d been out in L.A.
Joey had warned him when he met Sheila nine years ago. “Redheads. Ooh, you should have had the redhead early in life, amigo. They’ll wear you out in your old age. Good luck!”
He was getting worn out. “Please put Molly on.”
“Hi daddy!” Innocence.
“Hi, my little angel, how was school? What did you do today?”
“We painted, an’ I fell down, an’ there was a frog! Daddy, what’s a loser? Mommy says you’re a loser”
Oh, fuckin’ fantastic! “Daddy loves you, honey. Please put mommy on.”
“What’re you doing? Don’t involve our child in your bullshit!” Ace was the pissed one now.
“Ace, I think you should just stay out in L.A. with all those young girls!”
“Ok, Great. Look, I have the biggest gig in years tomorrow, and you’re sticking me with this crap. I don’t need it!”
He clicked his cell off.
Harry and Boomer looked up from the studio couch and said in unison, “I love you, too, honey!”
“Thanks, my fellow dickheads!”
Sandy’s face was lit by the glow of the monitor. She clicked the mouse again. Sweet Holy Jesus in Heaven. They’re coming to Pocatello!
A tractor rumbled by down the only street in Mud Lake, thumping and farting diesel as it passed the Tesoro and the funky cabins of the Valley View Motel, with its collection of primered pickups and low-rider Chevys.
“Sandy, get on up here and ring this guy up, will you?” Her old father couldn’t see well enough to work the register, plus he didn’t like Mexicans.
“Quiere algo mas? “ She said to the young field worker. He motioned for cigarettes. She didn’t mind the Chicanos. They had all the ag jobs, but shoot, all the white kids ran off to somewhere else as soon as they got wheels. Someone had to work the alfalfa and spuds.
She went back to her dark, tidy cubbyhole room. The little window let in the watery Idaho winter afternoon light. Her bed was in the corner, under a classic picture of Jesus with the clasped hands. Her computer glowed in the other corner. All around it on the walls were photographs. Horses, dogs, groups of people, smiling cousins, a girl in a one-piece swimsuit by a lake. Just above and to the right of her screen was a faded one of a couple of hippies, a handsome guy with long blonde hair and a young girl with granny glasses. Next to that photo was a promotional picture of Childhood from the late ‘70’s. Classic rockers, with drawn-in cheeks and provocative looks in their eyes. An eight-by- ten black- and- white photo with chewed-up edges showed a big group of long-hairs, outside the Spud Palace: guys and girls, all smiling. The girl with granny glasses was next to a dark-haired girl, who had her arms around a handsome, skinny guy with a beard. There was one more shot, a small, blurry one, of a young Joey Lowe holding a baby.
You’re coming back. I’ll be there.
5) Blinded by the Hype
Harry the Hebe looked in the mirror. You unhandsome devil. He wanted a drink. That old feeling.
Can’t have one without having ten, Harry the Hebe. Don’t forget!
God, he hadn’t been laid since Cara told him to take the proverbial hike.
“I want to go out with other guys. “
He’d been warned. She’s one of those ‘so many men, so little time’ chicks!
Unbelievable that a full grown man could have a broken heart at age fifty-five.
Ah well, fuck her! Tonight there’ll be women up the ass.
He looked at the reflection of his face. How could I have a double chin when I’m this skinny? It’s not fair. He’d try tonight, but women at these events; they were always looking for the bigger fish.
Thank God for porn! That’s a funny way to put it, Harry! He thought.
Joey slipped three blue pills into his gig bag. One just for stage, so I’ll have a little hard-on. Two for later on. Not even Jas knew. It’s an old man’s secret. Fuck it! I’m fifty-nine years old. I can still get it up. I just like to have backup. He saw the Xeonosis ad on the back of Rolling Stone. I might just get one. Have Arkavarian do it. Sure, daddio cool.
Man, all the wankers are going to be there tonight. Gotta keep the alcohol down until after the gig. And no blow: blow is the enemy of the penis; turns the old tool into the angry inch. Can’t have that, can we!
He turned sideways and surveyed his body in the full length mirror. His gray hair streamed down from below his bald dome onto his shoulders. Maybe I should cut it off, like Stone. No, even though there isn’t any on top, my fans still expect to see what’s left of it long.
Ace changed shirts for the third time. Fuck. That shimmery gray one was probably the best. Twenty pounds. Why can’t I get that last twenty off? Otherwise, Ace felt good. The deathly quiet acoustic gigs of Nashville had robbed him of his old rock spirit. Back out here in L.A. he felt more like himself. Happening, baby. And tonight he was free; it would be too late to make the obligatory phone call home to the old ball and chain after the gig. The after party would last until late. He could hang out and look at women without fear of getting busted. Hell, Sheila was a beautiful woman, but Ace still liked to look. It’s impossible not to; it’s hard wired into a man’s system. He thought about Jas’ friend Ella. Whew, don’t even go there. Oh well, go there, but don’t be delusional. Just because the girl likes to talk about politics and history doesn’t mean she wants to boff you! Shit, she’s thirty years younger than I am. What a joke! Still, it was a fun joke; a lot more fun than getting goddam pussywhipped all the time. Just play well tonight and allow yourself to have a good time. Make some contacts. Who knows, Maybe you can move back out here. Or somewhere.
Roberta glanced quickly at her face in her new Subaru’s rear view as she waited at the light on Sunset. Makeup’s ok. It’d be fun to see how the boys reacted to her being here. The drive down had been fabulous. It was good to feel the pull of L.A., and it would be doubly good to strip it away when she headed back to Montana. She’d go back through Zion, Escalante, do a little sightseeing. Danny would have loved that. God, was it really thirty years? She had only been nineteen when he died. Just a kid. He was the best. Why did happen like that? Joey and Greg, why did they live and Danny die? It was so random; no meaning there anyone could discern. Drunken miner at the wheel; Danny gone forever in a second. Danny and little Jesse.
Her short time with Harry had been a horrible mistake; all the drinking and fighting. Thank God that was a long time ago now. Let bygones be. Harry was a lonely old fuck, no doubt. But he wasn’t a really bad person, just so neurotic. Now, Joey? He was evil. Joey and Horn.
Roberta wondered how Ace was really holding up. Her heart did a little skip. Ace… Stop it; no married guys, Rob! But she couldn’t deny it, can I? Ace and I just have a vibe. He couldn’t ever really talk on the few occasions when one of them phoned the other. He always needed an excuse to call, something about the old songs that Danny, and therefore Roberta as his heir, was part of. She pictured Sheila looming over him, like a red-haired dragon. Sheila should do something about herself. She’s going to poison that little girl of hers with all that anger. Why did they stay together? He was miserable and repressed, Roberta knew that. She understood that Ace wanted to do the right thing, but it couldn’t be good for Molly to grow up in a house where the parents were always fighting.
Ah well. Tonight, this trip down here, was a lark; a brief venture into the lights, into the past. I look pretty sexy for an old bat. I still shine up pretty good.
“Jeezus H Crikarolies! Did you see that?” Ace elbowed Harry the Hebe. They were pressing through the throng outside Rutabaga’s on the Strip.
“That was a really expensive set of knockers, compadre!”
“Harry! Ace! You shitheads!” It was fat, bald Morton Good, head of Zero Records, wearing a huge Hawaiian shirt that made him look like a hot air balloon splattered with the remnants of a big Mexican dinner. “Are we going back to the top?“ Morton grinned rhetorically.” Well, we’d better after what we spent getting that record made!” laugh, laugh. “You know Shel Ruebens? And Larry Oliver? And… and…face after face after face…all those well- tended short beards…they all look alike, Ace thought… oh, this part is what I don’t like. I can never remember who all these fuckers are.
“A pleasure, “Ace said. A real beauty with enormous boobs squeezed by. “I feel like an elf at Santa’s tit factory, “he laughed.
“Oh, you like my wife?” said Larry Oliver caustically.
“Oh!… well, you are one lucky guy!” Ace said to Larry, who he didn’t know from Adam or Moe or Curly Joe, but who was probably the head of promotion at Zero or the chairman of Orion Radio or some other such completely important part of Ace’s possible but definitely not probable resurrected career. Dressing room, he thought.
“I just know I’m going to love it!” A thirtyish, very stylish woman pulled at Ace’s sleeve. She had the Russian dominatrix look working, hair pulled back tight in a bun, Elvis Costello glasses, big Ukrainian lips. Ace wondered how much that collagen cost on a monthly basis. She tugged hard at his lapel and looked deep into his eyes. She whispered breathlessly, “I just know!”
“Sorry Charlene, but this boy’s got to get backstage a do his preset humping now!” Joey’s muscular right arm clamped around Ace’s neck. Ace noted that Joey’s long wispy hair tonight was a brilliant platinum blonde with subtle gold highlights.
Joey said to Ace, “Charlene may look harmless, but underneath her mild-mannered exterior she’s got world class tits and she’s a major nymphomaniac!”
And that’s a problem? Thought Ace.
Charlene reached up and grabbed Joey and planted a big kiss on him. Ace suddenly became invisible.
Harry caught his elbow. “Let’s go run down the set, Ok?” Ace knew Harry got nervous right before a show. This is when he used to start throwing down vodka.
God, the place was packed. Excellent!
“He’s got his own dressing room?” Ace, you are too frikkin’ naïve, he thought.
“Yeah, we have the peon penthouse. His room is twice this big.”
Marco checked himself out on the mirrors. Looking good! Of course I’m half the age of these old farts, he thought.
“You just know what comes next, don’t you? “said Harry.
Ace knew, but he just shrugged. What could they do? Nothing, that’s what.
There was a knock at the door. Marco opened it partway. “Hey!”
“Hi guys!” Roberta stepped in and struck a Jayne Mansfield ‘fuck-me’ pose. She had the body for it still. She had on a little shorty kimono over a black v-neck t-shirt that didn’t hide her nice, refreshingly real-looking breasts. She had on tight jeans and real-deal scuffed-up ropers: Montana hippy stripper chic. Her long wavy auburn hair hung better than halfway down to her ass, as always.
“Roberta! “ Ace threw his arms around her. She hugged back tightly and hung on. She looked into his eyes for a pregnant moment and then gave him a heartfelt, hard, but all too brief, peck.
“Hi, Harry. Do I get a hug from you? “He hugged her, but briefly. A shoulders only job. Too much water under that bridge.
“Hi Boomer. Marco, you Italian Stallion.” She glanced around.” Where’s the penis that walks? “
“His own room, of course.” Ace was thrilled to see her. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
She should have been the one, but the timing had always been just wrong for them. First, he’d been with Ada, his first professional ball buster, for all those years while they raised Josh. Roberta had been in living in Montana ever since Danny was killed. After his divorce, Ace needed to try Nashville. We have a special understanding which will never be consummated. I need to leave it right there… but still…there was sweetness there. Roberta had the capacity to reach into Ace’s heart in a way Sheila never could. He had been secretly in love with Roberta way back in the day when she was with Danny. But Danny had been his best friend. Then for a long time Roberta hadn’t been ready for anyone. They each sort of put the other out of their heart thoughts. After his divorce, Ace had moved to Nashville and met Sheila and had little Molly. End of story.
Ace picked at his strings in the darkness of the stage. He hated the feeling that everyone was staring at his less than god-like ass as he fumbled with chords and knobs. Don’t look up here until we play, ok? Ace felt the familiar anxiety flooding through his veins.
“It’s all working fine. I’m set. Harry, you ok?
“Yeah, bossmen, this nigger be ready to pound. “
“Where the fuck is he? Can someone get Russell?” Russell was Joey’s personal roadie.
Sure enough, as Ace and Harry had suspected, Horn had got them all out there, except the fabulous Joey Lowe, on the stage in front of a packed house of chatting, glass tinkling industry insiders and high-price-spread beauties, like they were Joey’s back up band. It was hard to hear onstage over the babble. Like a hive of slightly inebriated bees, the place was, as Hank Williams used to sing, buzzing. The band guys were plugged in and ready and still no Joey. They couldn’t stall too much more.
Horn came to the side by the monitor mixer and shouted out – “Just start the riff; he’ll be here in a second.”
Ace rolled his eyes. Harry counted four with his sticks above his head.
They launched into the familiar, bluesy groove of Here Comes the Big One, the song inspired by the big ‘quake of ’74, and by long beer and acid nights, being outlaw hippies running in beat-up pickups across Idaho’s Snake River plain.
They vamped on the one-chord, just a basic chunka-chunka, as comfortable and comforting as an old pair of cowboy boots.
Ace looked out over the heads of the audience.
Smile, you dick! He said to himself audibly
Russell pounded on the door.” Come on J.L., showtime!” The riff came through the Rutabaga’s walls. The door opened and Joey stepped out, smiling. His face was beet red.
Viagra, thought Russell. Charlene, Elvis Costello glasses a bit akimbo on her smudged-up face, pushed by them and out of the dressing room door in a hurry. Joey turned sideways to the full length mirror and gave himself a wink.
“Nothing quite like priming the old pump!”
Russell shook his head. The Joey Lowe show! Been there, done that.
A roar went up from the crowd as Joey took the stage. Tool dropped an original ancient gold-top Les Paul over his shoulder and he fired into the riff. He threw out his chest and spread his legs and played an incendiary quick lead, then spun around and moon- walked all the way to the other side of the stage, sucking in his cheeks and posing hard for the crowd. Ace and Marco just got out of his way. Joey stuck out his long, dirty-minded tongue and fist-pumped the air. People whooped and whistled.
Now they sang. Ace sounded great still, better than back then, really. The three parts on the chorus still had that distinctive sound that had made them number one for a few minutes in 1976. They finished Big One and charged into Rifleman, with its signature guitar lead. Then the country-rock ballad I can read your mind some of the time. Ace had written all of these songs, but somehow it seemed like they were Joey’s. Maybe that’s because he and Horn now owned all the rights to most of them.
Joey worked the crowd, throwing classic shapes. There really wasn’t any room for Ace up there. Ace’s thing was being the sensitive singer-songwriter. Joey’s was being the numero uno high-wire acrobat, golden-boy quarterback, porno stud, and movie star. Ace looked back at Harry from time to time, and kept visual communication with Marco and Boomer. But Joey was in a world of his own. When he did look at his bandmates, it was for the sake of the audience. It was like he was saying, hey look at me, I’m grooving with my bandmates – how cool is that!
The set fell into a couple of Joey’s slow blues excuses for solos for a while, and then built toward the big finish: The Perfect Fool, Tapped Out, Rockets, and Glory Was His Middle Name, which brought down the house. They rushed from the stage and stood sweating in the hallway behind the curtains. Russell tossed them white towels. The crowd was going bananas. Greg Horn, beaming that I’m going to make a few million grin, handed Joey a glass of Glen Livet, which he threw back. Then he jerked his head in the direction of the stage and they dashed back out and wheeled into a reprise of Big One, this time with a humongous, dynamic guitar solo that went up, down, and a couple of serious versions of sideways before ending in a sustained note, the Les Paul singing as only Joey could make it sing. As the band rode the last chord, guitar still feeding back, he stepped out in front of the monitors and reached out and down as if touching the audience. His gaze started at the ground and then slowly rose, his right arm rising as well, the women if front mirroring his move, until he seemed to be staring out into the stars, his outstretched arm pointing towards some unseen, nebulae-blessed realm, the place that Joey Lowe plainly belonged to. Just like fuckin’ Hitler, thought Ace. He had always hated that move. But it worked every time. The crowd, which had been standing since Joey first flashed out onto the stage, yelled and hooted and cheered and clapped and stomped and made all that welling-up noise that makes up an ovation. The band crescendoed around his sustained, blaring last chord. Joey stayed posed in his grand salute to himself for an interminable moment. Then Harry hit three big down beats and rolled on his crash cymbals, riding them into a last flash of metallic shine. An even louder roar went up. Joey slowly backed off the stage, arm still upraised in his salute, to the whooping throng. Ace and the others tagged along offstage.
“Great set, guys!” Joey shouted as he high-fived everyone around him in the runway. People were already pressing in on them. The Joey was instantly gone to his own dressing room. Outside the door the hallway was jammed with silver-haired rich guys with expensive sport coats and even more expensive women aged from twenty to forty. Stone was there. Julietta Sponz, Richard Berkeley from the Now Show, Dina Toney. It was see and be seen, face-lift and cleavage nation.
Ace and Harry and the boys slipped, mostly unnoticed, into the “band” dressing room and toweled off. A few people peeked in, saw this was the wrong room and politely drifted out. Roberta came in.
“Good set, guys. I guess some things never change!” She laughed.
“Don’t even say it, Rob.” Said Ace. She knew he couldn’t stand that posy megastar shit. It galled him that it worked. Well, at least Joey was on his team.
“What’s the word… cringeworthy?” She laughed again. “Hey, you guys have a really happening dressing room!” It was just the five of them, nope, actually four. Marco had gone over to Joey’s. They could hear the din of voices through the wall.
Harry and Boomer left to go next door as well. Harry had looked uncomfortable.
Roberta sat down on the couch and looked at Ace, who was drying his hair.
“Gee, Ace, your songs sure are good, though, “she said.
“Yeah, too bad I don’t own any of them any more. Beelzebub has ‘em all.”
“You sold them to Joey and Greg?”
”Had to. My Nashville experience hasn’t exactly work out the way they told me it would. Gotta pay the rent, you know.”
Roberta played with the ends of her long hair. “Want to go somewhere far from the Madding crowd and get a glass of wine?”
Ace looked her. Boy, that is trouble, but I’m not going to say no.
“Sheila would flip.”
“Where is she? She doesn’t need to know. Besides, I’m just talking a drink and talk, away from all these phony fucks.”
Ace exhaled deeply. He thought about it. He didn’t need to phone in tonight.
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
The door burst open and a tide of rock and rollers flooded in.
“Pictures!” Shouted Horn, “C’mon, girls!”
Suddenly, the room was filled. Horn lined the band up, with Joey in the middle. Smiley faces, strobes popping. The attendant throng discovered that there was an entire stock of wine and beer in this room that hadn’t been touched yet. Drinks all around! Horn did a double take when he saw Roberta. She caught him staring at her. He gave her a wave. She forced a quick smile in response. He gave her the creeps.
The room was now packed. Ace found himself cornered by a good-looking trouble-girl, who kept eyeing Joey, who had Jas on his arm, over Ace’s shoulder. Others pressed in. Everyone wanted to talk deal, writing, tour. Ace had a glass of wine. Another girl chatted. He looked to find Roberta in the crowd.
She was gone. He pressed his way out to the hallway, then out to the valet parking. But Roberta was gone.