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Chapter 8: Turtle

 

 

Janet climbed passively into the passenger seat of Bill's car and he roared out of Portillo's parking lot. After an amazingly short ride, Bill pulled into Ben's driveway. "I thought you said they were in hiding," Janet protested.

"They are hiding. They're hiding in Ben's basement. Ben won't come out. He thinks the rest of the world has disappeared. Rob's hiding from his parents. He ran away from home. I don't know why John doesn't leave. They're all down there playing with army guys and eating junk food. Boy, does it stink. Everything is all greasy. It's really disgusting. In the middle of the basement, there's this big pile of garbage. A huge pile of shit.

"Stay here," said Bill. Janet followed Bill to the basement window, where Bill jumped lightly into the window well and rapped on the window. "Hey, look at this! They've got their uniforms on!" All three boys were wearing bathrobes and long johns. Rob and John were crouched next to a large pile of trash in the center of the basement making minute adjustments to several battalions of molded plastic military figures. Army men with rifles, bazookas, bayonets and cannons were perched on and around the candy wrappers, patch cords, textbooks, a gaping guitar case, a few microphone stands, and an uncountable number of empty tape boxes. The pile of trash towered over Rob's head as he crouched to straighten his line and jostled a guitar leaning against the refuse. He meticulously aligned his regiment of green warriors while John's more chaotic arrangement of tans swarmed around him and over the pile. Janet could faintly hear John exhorting his troops to "Take this ridge, boys!" She smiled to herself. Bill knocked again. Rob looked up.

"What? Bill? Are you Bill?" Rob inquired fatuously.

"Hey, Ben, it's your friend," said John.

"All those army guys are mine," Ben warned them. "So don't move any of them." He replaced his headphones and made adjustments to his keyboard.

Rob made frantic shushing gestures toward the window and indicated that he was going upstairs to open the door. He noticed Janet standing behind Bill, resumed his oddly crouched stance and scuttled up the stairs.

"Hiya, Bill. Dr. Dawson. Er, you need to be kinda quiet. Ben's family is asleep. I don't think they're very happy about having us here. I think my mom called Mrs. Benson and told her that I ran away. But Mrs. Benson never comes down to the basement any more, so she doesn't know I'm here." Rob tittered. "But I got her to buy me some Vaseline by telling Ben it was good to eat. Bill? Did we eat yet? What's for breakfast, Bill?"

"Rob, you fag, you sound just like Ben. What's that sticking out of your longjohns? Is that your cock or what? Boy, are you ever a mess. You're all - ugh - greasy. Don't you ever wash?"

"I've got something in here for you, Bill." Rob made a uniquely Ben-like gesture, shaking his right hand downwards at the wrist so the forefinger pointed at the large erection extending the crotch of his encrusted longjohns.

Janet kept her eyes resolutely above Rob's waist. "What does it say on your shirt, Rob?"

"It says `I'm a Stupid Eunuch.' These are our uniforms. Bathrobes, Stupid Eunuch t-shirts, and longjohns. We're trying to grow our hair into Afros, but that part isn't working too well. You all want to come downstairs?"

Janet reluctantly followed Rob down the basement stairs. Bill was right. The stench was appalling: an amalgam of unwashed bodies, dirty sox, rotten food and onanistic sex. Janet stopped on the fourth step from the bottom and surveyed the scene.

Ben looked up from his headphones to smile delightedly. "Hi, Dr. Dogshit. I wrote a new song for you."

"Ben. Hi."

"Would you like to hear me lay down the voice tracks? I have to get the sound just right. So please don't make any noise." Ben put his finger over his lips. "Shhhh....."

Janet looked more closely at the pile. "Isn't that your old mixing board on top of that pile of garbage?"

"Garbage! Where?," John made tidying motions around the basement but somehow never actually picked anything up. "I'm trying to keep this place as clean as possible. Rikki Rockett's such a slob, though. He lets these cords and wires and tapes and stuff just lay around all over the place. Someone needs to pick up after him. We're trying to get him to go home, but he won't go. So I'll be his mom."

"Shut up, Rikki Rockett. Yes, Janet, our record company has set us up with a fine, state of the art 24-track mixer. No need for the old clunker. I thought it would be hard to work, and it is, but Ben seems to understand it perfectly. It's very, very sensitive. Like me. So you have to be very, very quiet." And Rob put his finger over his lips and said, "Shhhhh."

Ben smiled a delighted smile, took a deep breath and began to sing.

 

Retards are my happy helpers

They like to help me when I do the thing I do

And when I do the thing I do I rub myself raw

And when I do the thing I do rubs myself raw

I rub myself raw when I do what I do

 

Do what I do what I do what I do

Rubbing myself raw is the thing I do

Retards cannot stop me

They like what I do

When I do what I do what I do what I do

When I rub my retards totally raw and red

 

Once I thought this guy was a retard

But he was really not

And when I started rubbing him

He got really hot

He got really hot

 

Do what I do what I do what I do

Rubbing myself raw is the thing I do

Retards cannot stop me

They like what I do

When I do what I do what I do what I do

When I rub my retards totally raw and red

 

Janet recoiled. "That. Is. Vile."

"Yes," said Rob. "He didn't have any Vaseline, or he wouldn't be so raw." Rob stuck his hands busily back into his longjohns.

"It's called `Ben Benson's 12-inch Penis is as big as my dick,'" said Ben proudly. "Wanna see it? I've got twelve inches right here for you. Bill?" Ben noticed his shoelaces and once again lost himself in the mystery of the bow knot.

"No thanks, Ben," said Bill. "Maybe some other time."

"I want to fuck you up the ass, Bill," moaned Rob, pumping himself vigorously. "Ogod...."

Janet cleared her throat. "I don't think I'll be able to stay very long," she began. "I just wanted to clear something up. Is it true that she was pregnant?"

Bill stepped hastily in front of Janet and handed John an armful of cords in a vain effort to distract his attention.

"So what? Sure she was."

"She was???" Bill gasped. John and Janet both ignored him.

"She deserved to die. She was a dork. She was boring. She never had any good ideas. She thought she was funny but she wasn't. And let's face it, she just wasn't smart enough. The gene pool is alot better off without her. I would have killed her myself, but it was too much trouble. I have more important things to think about. Like taking this hill, for example. Should I send my Blue Platoon or my Yellow Brigade to die for Hill #44?"

Janet entirely lost her temper. "I finally see the problem. How could I have been so blind? What an idiot I've been. The problem isn't Eagle Hills. It isn't that teenagers are discriminated against. It isn't modern life or the breakdown of the nuclear family or any of that. It isn't even Leon Busboom, that pathetic jerk. It's YOU. It's Rikki Rockett and his whole demonic cult of meaningless hopelessness. You, you three pitiful, socially retarded misfits are responsible for all the pain and suffering in this community. You and your attitude. You think you're so cool."

Ben chanted happily, "We're so cool. We're Rikki Rockett. We're the powermad riffsters. Bill? Breakfast?"

"Do shut up. You've been strutting around Eagle Hills, flaunting your mannerisms and pretending you don't care about anything. But I see through you. It's all a lie. You're second rate. You're less than second rate. You're nothing at all, and deep inside, you know you're nothing. So you build up this huge contemptuous facade to hide your insecurities and your fears, even from yourselves. Face it. You are nothing."

"I am so. I'm Rikki Rockett."

"No. Shut up. You are not Rikki Rockett. Rikki Rockett is nothing. Nothing. Rikki Rockett is nothing but a sick, perverted, demonic delusion the three of you have constructed to hide behind. Rikki Rockett exists only in your minds."

"Whatever that is."

"Cram it, John. I'm sick and tired of all this shit. Look at you." Janet pointed an accusing finger at Rob. "Look at you, covered with Vaseline, both hands in your pants. Is that how you want to live your life? Masturbating in some filthy basement?"

"I have no choice," Rob protested, not missing a beat.

Janet turned towards Ben. "As for you. Whatever promise you might have shown has disappeared entirely. You can't even tie your shoes!"

Ben looked despairingly at his shoelaces. "But... Breakfast! Bill? Rikki Rockett! I don't have to tie my shoes; I'm Rikki Rockett!"

"You are NOT Rikki Rockett! You are Ben Benson."

"I have a twelve inch penis!"

"I sincerely doubt it. You are Ben Benson, a very ordinary, skinny high school boy who happens to have some musical talent. What makes you important, what makes you YOU, is that you are the son of Richard and Louise Benson, loving brother of Meg and Steve Benson. All this Rikki Rockett business is just made up. It's imaginary. It doesn't matter."

"Nothing matters!"

Bill spoke up, "Feelings matter. I matter. My feelings matter. You and me matter. Rikki Rockett has no feelings. He does not matter."

"He does matter," John protested. "I don't know about feelings, but Rikki Rockett definitely matters. He's our drummer."

"You don't have a drummer, John," Bill interjected sarcastically.

"Oh, but that's where you're wrong, Bill," Ben rejoined even more sarcastically.

"Oh, no, I'm not! You guys made up Rikki Rockett right where that pile of garbage is sitting. I remember, I was there."

"I thought Rikki Rockett made us up," Rob replied.

"Rikki Rockett is a construct. You made him up to fill the void left in your lives by your total lack of social skills. But he's - I mean it's - gotten entirely out of hand. This construct has acquired the ability to hurt and to kill innocent people."

"Rikki Rockett is my dad," beamed John. "Besides, no one is innocent. She deserved to die."

"No one deserves to die like that. No one. Inasmuch as Rikki Rockett was responsible for her death, I hold you, John Francis Christ, responsible also. And, by extension, you, Rob Sullivan, and you, Ben Benson."

"We are?"

"You are. You have to stop. It has to stop right here, right now. This minute."

"Stop? Stop what? We're not doing anything."

"Stop writing music that is degrading to the human spirit; that shows no respect for the sanctity of human life; that tries to persuade people that there is no meaning. Life has meaning. It's your duty to undo the harm you've done. You are responsible for an untold amount of pain and suffering. But it is never too late to change. You can reverse this process before anything worse happens. You must repudiate this Rikki Rockett nonsense. Ben, Rob, John. I call upon you, I exhort you, I require you to write music that is uplifting, that enhances the human potential for growth, that is truly beautiful and meaningful."

"I'm not Rikki Rockett?" wondered Ben.

"No!! There is no Rikki Rockett!" shouted Bill.

John sneered, "I am Rikki Rockett. Why don't you two go somewhere else? Like the bathroom. Don't you have a family to preside over, Janet? Don't you have a broken heart to contemplate, Bill?" John kicked over a line of Rob's army men. "Dammit! I'm sick of all this Rikki Rockett shit! Why can't you just leave it alone? Why do you have to struggle? Deal with it, let it be. There's nothing you can do about it, so just leave it alone. It's out of your hands. It's out of our hands. Give up."

Rob knelt by the pile and reset his troops with his free hand.

Janet pleaded, "Haven't you caused enough misery? Don't you see what you're doing, John? It's so obvious. You've got to give it up. You've got to change. For all of us, for your friends."

"Rikki Rockett doesn't have any friends. You don't have any idea what you're saying. I don't have any idea what you're saying. Then again, I don't have any idea what I'm saying either, so you may be right."

"I am right," continued Janet, "There is only you. You have to make the choice to make the world a better place. You have to write good songs! Write happy songs. Write songs that people can understand. Write songs with meaning, not about the size of Ben's genitals. No more shocking, violent stupidity, no more despair. Either do it right or don't do it at all." Janet paused as the three band members quietly absorbed her message. No one spoke. "Look, I've got to go. I leave for Washington tomorrow. The Kellogg Foundation is giving me their Distinguished Researcher Award. I have to present an interim report on CO-HORT. I haven't even begun to prepare my talk. Consider what I've said. I know I'm right. I'm positive that if you give it some serious thought, you'll all agree with me. I'll call to see how things are going. I've got to get out of here. I can't stay in a place like this where so many bad things have been created. Heed my warning. If you don't give up this anti-life behavior, something awful is bound to happen. Something worse than any of you can imagine. Something beyond your control."

Janet turned and gestured imperiously to Bill, who had been shocked into immobility by John's cruel reference to his broken heart. Together they marched up the stairs and out of the Benson house. Bill followed Janet out the door, which he left standing open, the welcome yellow glow of the hall light making a sharp contrast to the atmosphere of despair and gloom that had descended over the three musicians in the basement.

No one moved. No one spoke. The rows of red and yellow lights on the 24-track blinked silently. Everything else was still, although a faint rustling from the pile evidenced a certain rearrangement of its deeper structures. Three or four of the braver members of Green Battalion toppled from the heights and fell unnoticed to the base of the pile, where they were mysteriously yanked from sight. Rob shuffled his feet and clutched his penis for reassurance. John sat and clasped his hands in front of him, eyes fixed on the floor. Ben was the first to move. He stood up, removed his bathrobe and tossed it onto the pile. "I'm not Rikki Rockett," he said, and picked up the headphones. He turned them absently in his hands, as though unsure where to put them. "I'm not Rikki Rockett?"

"Me neither," said Rob, and he added his bathrobe to the pile.

"Fuck this," said John, and he tossed his bathrobe on top. The pile shifted some more, and the bathrobes blended seamlessly with the rest of the debris. A few more army men disappeared slithered out of sight.

Ben studied the headphones. "I'm not Rikki Rockkett," he said again. He walked over to his father's toolbox and removed a pair of heavy duty shears. He took hold of his hair in his left hand and with his right cut the hair close to the nape of his neck. "He needs this more than I do," he said, and threw the long, thick sheaf of hair onto the pile.

"I'm not going anywhere either," said Rob. He walked over to his jacket and found his keyring in the secret pocket where he had kept it hidden from John. "He's got places to go and people to see," he said, and tossed the keys into the pile. "And I won't be going home anymore."

"This is his anyway," said John, picking up his leather flight jacket. "I don't need it." He threw the leather jacket on the pile. It disappeared between the bathrobes.

"Now what are we going to do?" asked John.

"We need a new name," said Rob.

"OK. What do we do best? Besides destroy people's lives and cause pain and suffering?"

"We jam," said Ben.

"We're the Jammers!" exclaimed Rob.

And so they were.

 

Janet sat on the plane to Washington with her laptop computer open in front of her. She had agreed to speak on "An Investigation into the Roots of Adolescent Alienation and Despair in a MicroEnvironment." She was going to set this conference on its ear! It was painful to realize she had been so naive. She hoped no one at the ceremony had looked too closely at her original proposal. How ridiculous her theories about society seemed now! What a fool she would have sounded, blaming society and the high school environment for Adolescent Alienation and Despair, when in fact the adolescents were both victims and victimizers. Rock and roll! The root of all evil! The fundamentalists had been right all along. Who could imagine? Dirk would laugh himself silly. Best he never know.

"The sample," she wrote, "consisted of the student body of a suburban high school in a midsized Midwestern city. A team consisting of the investigator, several clinicians, school administrators ....." She wrote on almost automatically, quoting from the grant proposal.

"An anomalous pattern of increased suicide, suicidal ideation, alienation and despair manifested itself early in the year. Students closely associated with a musical group, GP, exhibited a significantly higher rate of ...."

 

"I have an idea," Ben announced proudly. He began to play a simple, repetitive three-chord progression.

"Yeah! Keep going! Lemme see if these words fit over that," Rob chimed in.

John sat on the decrepit couch, absently plucked stuffing out of the seams. He shook his head. Every now and then he tossed another army man onto the pile. A tear rolled unnoticed out of the corner of his eye. "Women killed him," he muttered. "Women killed me. They can't get away with it. I'll teach them. I'll show them Rikki Rockett. I'll make them see."

 

Joyful music filled the basement:

"Dinner is ready!

"Dinner is ready!

"Idaho's potatoes

"Back yard's tomatoes

"California vegetables

"Are on the table!"

 

Rob laughed maniacally. "This is great!" he exulted. "It's so stupid! This won't hurt anybody!"

 

John, on the couch, ignored them. He was writing his own song on a crumpled piece of scented notepaper crowned with an ornate A:

 

Women killed him

Women killed him

He did something that made women kill him

Now I know that raping a turtle isn't funny to many people

Now I know when I rape a dog I better not tell any people

Next time when I rape a retard it will be my little secret

Next time when I want to rape some women

I may have to do it because

Women killed him

Women killed him

He did something that made women kill him

Women fucked him

Women killed him

He raped his mom and women loved him

 

"...a local musical group. These students had channeled their fears and insecurities into a construct they called Rikki Rockett, an imaginary member of the band, with whom they all identified strongly. They used this construct to compensate for their own inadequacies. For example, they all protested that Rikki Rockett had no feelings and no friends, an obvious projection of their own insecurities about their isolation and powerlessness. The phrase "Rikki Rockett kicks a__" recurred repeatedly in their conversation. Unlike most harmless transitional objects, however, Rikki Rockett acquired extraordinary force through an unanticipated confluence of external events including the terminal illness of one band member's paternal...."

 

John stared at Ben and Rob in disgust. "This is shit," he muttered. "Is this what Angela died for? What crap. I'm getting out of here. You guys are totally fucked." He stood up, tossed his lyric sheet onto the pile and stalked up the basement stairs.

 

"...songs embracing meaninglessness and hopelessness, culminating in a performance of such astonishing banality and nihilism that a riot ensued. Following this public performance and a more widespread distribution of the music via local radio and record outlets, suicide attempts increased five-fold. Another significant data point occurred when a young woman associated with one band member drank an industrial solvent in the girls' washroom and wrote the name Rikki Rockett across the walls in her terminal agony ...."

 

"Turtle alive was born without a face

"Now I'm God

"Turtle alive gave me mysterious powers

"I kick ass

"Turtle alive

"Thank you

"Turtle alive"

 

"...successful intervention by the investigator and one of the unaffected adolescents was able to reverse the process and, through confrontation therapy, enable the affected adolescents to recognize and address the deficiencies their superego ....."

 

"Turtle alive says Bwahauhk gahh gahh

"This means that he loves you

"Turtle alive says Kill people

"This means rock and roll

"Turtle alive can stand up, sit down, and jump around the floor

"Turtle alive once attempted to push open a big door"

 

Janet reread her presentation one last time. Suddenly she thrust the computer away from her in disgust. "I don't know shit," she said aloud. Her seatmate drew away and rustled her magazine hostilely. "How could I have been so stupid? I've been going along doing individual counselling, making my interventions, having personal relationships. There are no individuals here. I can't have any interpersonal relationships because there are no persons. There's only One. I thought it was a big joke. Ha! Joke's on me this time. There is only Rikki Rockett. One thing. It's like the blind men and the elephant. When I look at just one part, I miss the whole. But I can't see the whole either. There is no such thing as Rikki Rockett. I can't see anything. I don't understand it, yet I understand it perfectly." Janet turned to her seatmate. "It all makes sense," she said. "Rikki Rockett is an emergent property which makes Big Poo Generator far greater than the sum of its parts."

Her seatmate got up and moved to another section of the plane.

"I've been so stupid. It's Ben and Rob and John who aren't real. And me. I'm not real either. I thought I was real. I act real. I look real." Janet turned back to her seatmate, not noticing that the woman was gone. "Don't you think I'm real?"

There was no response.

"I'm not, though. Oh, well. So what? I'm not real, this whole paper is a lie, and Rikki Rockett exists. Why not?"

 

Ben sang on as Rob giggled in the darkened basement.

"Turtle alive says `Bwahauhk gahh gahh'

"This means that he loves you

"Turtle alive says Kill people

"This means rock and roll

"Turtle alive can stand up, sit down, and jump around the floor

"Turtle alive once attempted to push open a big door"



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