Sunday, September 25, 2016
Conversations In Hell
It was the usual suspects. We were at English Nigel's non-descript abode in East Dallas, a place once hidden away but now on the edge of the wave of gentrification spreading from downtown. Matt was there. He's in high cotton as long as the construction boom lasts. And, well, I say usual suspects, but old man Clint was there too in a very rare appearance. I had no high hopes for this evening knowing from long experience what happens when you do something because you have nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.
Nigel was part of a touring band, Jeckyl, way back in the day. He lives off a steady drip of income that affords him this very modest house. I envy him, of course, because he's out of the game that tortures me each and every day. Also, Nigel had a life at one time and his stories are great if bittersweet memories of a life gone by. He's sort of our elder statesman.
"It was a riot! Harley would start booing the waiter as he's giving us the heave-ho over Darnell. If only we had video in them days."
"I just can't believe racism was so strong even into the 70's. Can't imagine getting thrown out over a black guy eating with you."
"Listen, mate, we played some backwater towns, we did. Anything for a gig. Those Southern states of yours are mighty dark."
"But didn't the waiter get all pissed off and shit?"
"Oh, he's trying to ignore Harley but failing, then Henson gets up and calls the waiter a nigger-lover to confuse him even further! He runs off crying to the owner!"
"Gawd, that's too funny. I'd like to think I'd have the nerve to do stuff like that."
"Oh, back in those days we thought nothing of it. When you're in a band it's you against the world."
"And didn't Harley have some really funny English name?"
"Harwell Piggins, it was."
"Yes! That's right. No wonder he changed it to Harley Hogg."
"Shame it had to end. A band loses its soul then you're scattered to the wind."
"At least you had a soul for a while. What would you do if you had a soul, Matt?"
Matt's only claim to fame was Jennifer, a girl who lived with him for a while, putting him in heaven many years ago. He screwed it up, naturally, but we still hear of her like a broken record. I wondered if he'd be offended by my remark. He wasn't.
"Be a carpenter."
"You're already a fucking carpenter!"
"That's you seein' from the outside. I just don't...do anything."
"That makes no sense. They pay you to do nothing?"
"They pay me to be nothing. I've seen where the foreman misses somethin' and it's gonna bite him on the ass later. But I don't say nothin'."
"Why the hell not?" That sort of thing just drives me nuts.
"Not my job. I don't want them movin' me up in the world. I'm not at the bottom cuz I been doin' this too long but I don't want no responsibility neither."
"So you just let bad shit happen? Seems like a waste."
Matt took another swill at his beer while answering me in a completely detached manner. To me, it's as if I just told him his house is on fire and all he had to say was "yup"! Back to Nigel.
"Hey, Nigel, I always wondered how a band breaks up. I've seen some stay together forever."
"Been my experience a band is always on the verge of breaking up. Looks cohesive on the outside but inside it's easy to drift apart and start doing your own thing."
"That what happened to you?"
"We just got stuck. And bored. Things can't stay the same. It's a tad unseemly, you know, when you're 62 and you still want to boink seventeen year old girls."
Well, that put a new perspective on things. Clint, who's more a living fossil than anything else, hadn't spoken a word. He was just listening and nursing a drink. We all knew why - but I had to bait him, especially considering the alternatives.
"What ya thinking about over there, Clint?"
"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got - and all he's ever gonna have."
He'd said that (one million times) before but I was a risk taker that night.
"Yeah, we've heard that before. That's all you ever say! Don't you have any more to say than that??"
Clint's eyes came out of his drink to bore into me. Oh, fuck.
"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. The world turns cold and grey, you can't find the sun."
I'm kicking myself but this is the furthest he'd gone and we sat mesmerized, both curious and terrified what he might say next. His eyes started hitting each person's in the room.
"You think you're on another planet. You don't feel connected to the flowers or the grass. You're afraid to. Walk by a place you've walked by a thousand times before and you see it with stranger's eyes, like it's your first time upon it. Nobody wants to know your name, not even you. You think weird things, like gravity's going to stop and you'll float into space and be gone forever. Happens every time. For a while there, you think your mind is never coming back."
Clint took a long sip at his whiskey. Whatever he'd done - and no one dared ask directly - he'd not made it out alive. He was marking time in his own private hell. But weren't we all?
"What about you, Harry? Where's your soul?"
Fucking Matt. I get under his skin somehow so he feels he has to fuck with me.
"Oh, I eBay'd it. Didn't sell. Others are better at that than I."
"So what you doin' over there? You goddam writing this down again? You're worse than one of those NSA spies!"
"But for whom would I be spying?" I coyly ask with a smile.
"You put it all on that secret blog of yours. Always trying to make everyone look like an asshole."
"Hey, if the shoe fits." Not a politically wise response, I know.
"I oughtta come over and rip those notes up!"
I didn't want that so I had to deflect with a legitimate answer.
"Well, of course, if I'd had a soul I'd of made the movie from my novel. I've dreamed it ever since I started."
"If it's so good why don't you get it published?"
"If you're so right why don't you become foreman?"
At that point I couldn't help but think: "What would the world think if they could see this sorry lot?" Four men slouching in misery, no plans or prospects, no decent woman would give us the time of day, just shooting the shit while rotting in hell.
Nigel knew the importance of an audience. "Does anyone read that blog of yours, Harry?"
I noted he wasn't asking to read it! "No, not really. Most of my hits are for hot babe pics I posted. My Bonnie and Clyde posting gets a steady stream. Every once in a great while I actually get read and someone pokes around in my archive. Only steady reader I have is some guy in New York. He's the exception that proves the rule that sooner or later I say something that makes everyone break off with me."
"Any idea who your loyal reader is?"
"Some TV producer, probably looking for ideas he can coopt for scripts. It's really hard to find original thought these days." I'd rehearsed that line long ago and this was the first time I got to use it. I impressed myself with the nonchalant manner in which I delivered it, giving it a ring of truth as if I could truly know.
"Well, mate, I always said: As long as you've got an audience of one you've got a reason to carry on."
But the verdict was in for us: 0 for 4. We are zombies walking among the living (though the living become more sparse every day), each ashamed of our present position in life, repeating our "Could of have been a contender" speeches in a Kabuki theater of pretended life.