Joey sat on the edge of the gurney. I hate wearing these gowns, he thought. He had a twinge of doubt. No, fuck, it! He was going through with it.
All these years, all those women. It’s been big enough, hasn’t it? Still he deserved to have a bigger cock. Like Grayson Ellis, like Tony Riggs, like fuckin’ Stone, goddam it!
I’m as big a star as those fucks; I’m, going to have as big a dick. I know people think I am a big dick, so now I’ll have one! The irony made him chuckle out loud. Man, the valium or whatever they had given him suddenly washed over his brain. Nice! Cut my cock open now!
The Anesthesiologist tapped on the door and came in.
“Ah, getting a bit of a buzz, are we? If you can settle back on the table there, well get you properly out.”
“Yeah, I don’t want to be watching when my unit gets sliced and diced, do I? “
The high was delightful. The anesthesiologist squeezed a little more juice into the system. Whoa! This is the kind of high that junkies dream of!
Doctor Jonas Arkavarian came in with two good-looking nurses. For Joey, the room spun lightly like a well-balanced mobile above a child’s nursery bed. Arkavarian was hilarious. The whole thing was hilarious!
“We’ll have you out of here and resting in an hour. Nothing to worry about except all the additional women you’ll have to deal with! But then, you’re a professional, aren’t you?” said Dr. Arkavarian.
“We’re going to take a little trip now, Mr. Lowe. See you in a few …”
Joey felt the sodium pentathol enter his bloodstream. He slipped off into the most pleasant half-second abyss he’d ever been aware of. Fade to black
Now, lights up. What’s happening? The nurses are walking out. Hey, baby, Where are you going? Joey had only closed his eyes.
‘We’re done. You’re huge! Won’t be able touch it for a few days, but after that, look out! Arkavarian was smiling. Twelve grand for that. I could have done it for two, but hey, I’m the best! Make everybody happy!
Horn came in. “Now you’re a really big star!”
Horn hung out for a while and then left. Jas showed up. She looked at Joey. He was wiped out from the anesthesia. He looked like a tired old man. She took his hand.
He felt something cold and odd: keys? She bent down and whispered.
“Keep your fucking Maserati. Now, when you get blown before a gig, I’m sure whoever it is will be quite impressed.” She straightened up.
He looked at her, bewildered. Oh fuck! “But, honey…” Oh well, what the fuck could he say?
Jas gave him a little ironic wave and walked out. What an ass on that one, he thought. Gotta call Charlene when I’m feeling better. See if this new joint is all it’s cracked up to be.
Sandy drove on 33 over to Rexburg to go to the Wal-Mart. She liked Rexburg more than Idaho Falls. Too much traffic down there. She could walk around the little old downtown and window shop a bit. It was about all the town she could take anymore.
The morning sun backlit the Tetons, their tips rising in the distance beyond the Snake River plain. It’s wide open and free out here, she thought. None of that crap that people think they need. There’ll be everything we need when we pass. Jesus will wash us clean of our sins and we’ll all be free.
The road dropped down into Rexburg as she passed the Menon Buttes. She drove by Jerry’s Bait and Ammo Depot & God’s Country Gift Emporium. On the way back she would stop and pick up some ammo. .22’s for the damn coyotes and muskrats. She needed a box of .38’s, too.
Boomer never had fit in very well. He called himself Wallpaper; he just sort of blended into the background. But he was smart, maybe the smartest member of Childhood. He had joined the band in ’77, two years after The Big One. They had decided to go with a bigger sound and get a keyboard player: J. Wiles Boominghampton. He played B-3 mostly in those days, adding that spectrum to the lads’ guitar and triple harmony sound.
Boomer didn’t talk much, not in social situations, not in band meetings, not to his wife of twenty-six years, Terri. But he did study the stock market, and all through the long lean years of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, when Ace and Harry had been struggling, Boomer enjoyed a quiet prosperity. He had always saved his per diems when he was on the road, eating and drinking backstage with the crew. He had squirreled away every possible dime and caught some stocks on the rise. He just had the knack. He knew when to hold and when to fold. He had taken some of those earnings and bought a number of small rental properties. His little empire had very quietly become a solid rock.
He didn’t get embroiled in any of those internecine battles that were always being waged between the guys. Let ‘em get all neurotic, especially Harry and Joey. Boomer did still like to play. He also toured with Jack and the Beanstalkers, Hugh Jorgan, and the Wilted Brothers. He was a vegetarian, did yoga, and worked out every morning. Outside of his mildly sarcastic sense of humor, Boomer was a very boring guy.
Boomer was waiting for Harry to begin his meltdown. The Hebe was so high-strung; it was inevitable. Would it be over the fact the Joey would no doubt start flying to all the gigs? Or would Harry go off about the sound guys? Drummers drove Boomer slightly crazy. They’re the loudest players in the band and yet they always complain about not being able to hear themselves in the monitors. Whatever, Harry would go off, and soon. Boomer thought Harry needed what he couldn’t have: a drink.
Ace might lapse into his morose, “I’m not good enough”, mode. It was less of a worry. Ace would just withdraw, start looking down at the stage instead of the audience, but Joey would carry the show as he always did. But when Harry got wound up enough he would be drawn to confront Joey. That could escalate into the realm of the physical, like that night in ’79 in Grand Forks when Harry went after Joey with a pitching wedge. Only Russell’s quick reflexes had prevented Harry from damaging the Franchise by hitting one of Joey’s balls across the border into Minnesota.
Ah well, they’d do a quick swing around the country, the record would do what it would do – probably not much –, and then indulge Charles Frank with the sentimental and symbolic finale in at the Spud Palace in Pocatello, home twenty of the original Childhood, where basically everyone above age forty-five would turn out to see their old heroes. Boomer was from Chicago. Spuds and hicks, can’t really relate. But hey, it’s a dime!
Marco Baldassari checked himself out in the bathroom mirror as the bus rumbled up I-5 on the way to Portland. I love this face, he thought. He was bored. These old farts, why do they bother living? Ace with his history books, Boomer with his Forbes, Harry with his gnawing nervous energy.
Marco’s allegiance was to Joey, and it was financial. Joey used him on all his gigs. He couldn’t break into the studio circle as of yet, but maybe that would come. He knew Joey was in awe of Stone and some of the other big studs. Whoever they used on the studio dates is who Joey used. No biggie. Marco had his own fingers working in a few pies. He was producing a new chick act and banging the lead singer as well. Plus, he had no problem hooking up with women wherever he went. Those dark Italian-stallion looks, the bedroom eyes. He caught a lot of girls who came to look at the famous Joey Lowe and saw an old man instead.
He thought the Childhood music sucked. But who cares? As long as Joey kept him on retainer, he was the man.
Hey, I love this shit!
Luther” Shinebone” Johansen drove the bus past Mt. Shasta. Love this country. I gotta get my chopper out here again. He felt the pregnant reassurance of the Glock under his seat cushion. Let ‘em try to fuck with the Shineboneman, and I’ll show ‘em how it all really works. Shine’s domain was the rig. He said who came on, and who got off. He made sure he got off enough by letting women know that their admission to this wonder-world on wheels was at his mercy. Otherwise, he would have never gotten laid. He was six-four, three-twenty, but not in a good way: just an ugly bruiser with a steady hand at the wheel and penchant for violence right below the surface. Like Joey would say, Shinebone? He’s perfect!
“Man, this is fuckin’ starting to bug me, man.”
“Harry, you just said “man” two times in one sentence. “ Ace looked up from his book, Bury My Heart at Chop Suey: a history of Chinese labor gangs in the West.” Don’t let it get to you. We’re working, we’re getting paid; let it go.”
“Yeah, but we’re driving around the whole fuckin’ country and he’s in L.A. hanging out. He’ll hop into Horn’s plane and just pop up for the gig!” The veins on Harry’s high forehead were bugging out a little.
“So what else is new? Who the fuck cares?” Ace just wanted to read.
Boomer glared disapprovingly over the screen of his laptop, the rock band equivalent of rattling your newspaper in a British gentleman’s club.
Harry went back to silent fuming. Medford, Grant’s Pass. Fuck! Harry couldn’t stand these little dip-shit towns.
Ace put the book down and watched the mountains go by. I sure do miss all this when I’m in Tennessee. He felt so stuck. Maybe he would make enough dough out of all this to move back out west again. Ah, Sheila wouldn’t go for it. She had her company, and Molly had school. Sheila had her society friends and even worse, her mother. Ace often wondered what was in it for him. He and Sheila didn’t have a love life anymore, just an anger life. Ace loved his little girl, but Molly was more of a mommy’s girl. Mommy’s little princess. Ace didn’t know how to be a father to little girls. His older boy Josh had been a breeze, an inspiration. But Josh was grown and gone. He could separate from Sheila, but he couldn’t really do that; he couldn’t initiate it. She’d have to leave him. Even then, he wouldn’t be able to just move away from Tennessee and not see his daughter. It wasn’t in Ace’s playbook.
I’ve suffered at the hands of women, haven’t I? He’d made some choices that looked good at the time, but sure had worked out poorly. I really need to see a therapist about that someday. He wished he had it in himself to be a cheater, because he had his chances, even now as an old guy, but he was a chickenshit when it came to that. It wouldn’t be fun anyway; the guilt would weigh him down. Some guys could cheat with impunity, some women, too.
Ace let his mind linger on the sensual image of Roberta, her long hair, her full breasts, her simpatico eyes. And how about that girl Ella? Holy cow! Too racy for this old Ford, have to take a double Viagra even to think about her! Roberta wasn’t far away right now, just a few hundred miles across the Oregon cascades, the great big nothing desert, and up over the Sawtooths. He hoped she’d be at the gig in Missoula, maybe Spokane as well. I’ll call her.
Rain clouds had been moving in for the last few hours, now the road was wet. Oregon: where it’s always winter!
Ace’s cell rang.
“Ace, it’s Krystal!”
How would I have ever known? Ace thought. Krystal Hick’s Mississippi twang was as melodious as a George Jones song.
“Sweetheart, I got some good news for you. Tracy Boggs just cut Same Old Shirt. They say it’s gonna be the next single, and that’s like right away – next week!”
“Wow, Krystal, that’s great!” Tracy Boggs was hot, he’d just had a huge number one with Take That, You Beach. His sculpted face was on the cover of every Country music magazine; his videos were on hot rotation at CMT.
“They didn’t tell me until they had it all mixed and everything. Wait until you hear it, it sounds fantastic! The video’s all shot and ready to go. There’s only one little thing.”
“What? Let me guess; they want half the publishing.”
“Ace, you know how it is. I told ‘em no administration. They moaned a little, but they went for that.”
“Hey, fifty percent of something is worth more than a hundred percent of nothing, right?” Same Old Shirt, indeed!
I’m Sick and Tired of the Same Old Shirt, a working man’s lament with a rock anthem chorus, was a song that was seven years old. It seemed like every major and minor artist in Nashville had passed on it twice. It was always, it’s too rock or it’s too country; the normal bullshit. It goes to show you never can tell, thought Ace. Nothing for years and all of a sudden a possible hit single that he had written all by himself. Yee haw!
“Holy Cow!” Ace was careful not to swear. Krystal was Pure born-again and again Baptist.” You sure did a good job, Krystal!” She’d been plugging his songs for a year. A cut was tough to come by; a single by a big artist was almost unthinkable for any but the top Nashville insiders, which Ace was decidedly not.
“We’re goin’ to have us a little ol’ number one song. I can feel it!” Krystal purred. Saw-ong.
“We’ll celebrate when we get to Nashville. We’re at the Old Hickory on April fourteenth.” Ace felt a momentary twinge at the thought of having to see his wife. Ah well. A hit record wouldn’t hurt. She can’t say I’m a loser if I have a hit, can she? Well, he guessed she actually still could; in fact, he could hear