Chapter 8: Rehearsal
"Hello?" September in the midwest. Hot. Humid. Still. The children were bored and squabbling. They fought over everything they did, spilled everything they touched, and hated everything I suggested they do. We were all ready for school to start again, though none of us would admit it.
"Have you washed your feet today!!!" screamed a voice on the other line. I smiled. I only knew one voice like that: Bill's.
"Hello, Bill. Yes, I have washed my feet. Why do you ask?"
"Well then! Let me tell you a little story!" Bill launched into a detailed monologue about the history of his Fear of Feet, while I fixed Britty a snack. Where, I asked myself, did he come up with these ideas? I waited until he paused for breath and said, "Bill. Was there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about?"
"What? Do you have anything better to do than listen to the wonders of feet? I doubt it, or at least I know I don't!"
"Bill.... I wiped up the juice Britty had poured on the table, collected a palm-full of graham cracker crumbs from her chair, and mopped juice and crackers off her hands, face and t-shirt. I tried to think of something cool to serve for dinner.
"I was wondering if you'd like to come and see a live recording session?"
"A live what?"
"The Gland Puppies are recording a new album." At this Bill snickered.
"A new album? I didn't know they had an old one."
"Well, they do. It's pretty bad. And it isn't really an album, it's a tape. But it is new, and they are recording it, and I'm going to be a guest performer. I'm always a guest performer. Maybe they'll let you be a guest performer, too. Anyway, they've come a long way and I've a feeling that this time they'll go straight to the top of the charts!" Bill's voice built to a shattering crescendo. I gazed absently into the refrigerator. Everything looked limp and tasteless.
"Number one with a bullet?"
"Besides, John is going to be there."
"John? How's his summer been? I've been thinking about him, and of course about all of you." I shut the refrigerator door and remembered my dream.
"Oh, yeah? How was Wisconsin?"
"Wisconsin was beautiful. We had a wonderful time. But it's a relief to get home and away from my dad. He's kind of wearing. What have you been up to?"
"Funny you should ask. I've got a car now. My parents drove it up here from the Bahamas."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sorry. Little joke. I've been trying to keep John out of trouble. It's been a full-time job."
"Is that right? I seem to remember that it was John who got Rob arrested.
"It wasn't his fault. They never should have been arrested in the first place. It's not like they hurt anyone."
"Yes, I agree. But tell me, what sort of trouble have you been keeping John out of?"
"Let's just say John has a new friend named Jack."
"As in Jack Daniels."
"Ah, I see. Yes, that is too bad. Are you his designated driver?"
"Oh, sure. I'm his designated big brother, too. It's always the same. We go to a party. I meet some nice girl. He starts drinking, and just when I'm about to - well, you know. He gets into some fight. Or he goes upstairs with someone else's girlfriend. Or both. Then it gets ugly, and I have to drag him away. But I can understand where he's coming from. He's got problems at home."
"I'm so sorry to hear that. Are you able to tell me?"
"Don't tell him I said anything, because no one is supposed to know. But I can trust you."
"I don't want you to betray his secrets. But if you think it would be in John's best interest, I can assure you that what you say will be kept in strict confidence."
"OK, sure. Well, see, John's dad is sick. He has cancer."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Is he in the hospital?"
"No, not right now. He's getting radiation and chemotherapy. It makes him pretty sick. I don't know if they expect him to get better or not. He has a brain tumor. It's pretty scary. Anyway, he'll be at the rehearsal. John. Not his dad. His dad can't play guitar. Or at least, I've never heard him play guitar, so I don't know."
"Hrm. Funny, I'd have thought Rob would try to stay away from John after all that happened."
"Then you may be surprised to find out that John is now a
member of the Gland Puppies."
"Really?!" I remembered the boy with the withered arm, and Cousin It. "Didn't John have his own band? Dunkin Doughnuts?"
"METAL Doughnuts. They broke up."
"What instrument does he play?"
"The guitar? But I thought Ben played the guitar...?"
"Not anymore. Now Ben plays keyboards. Ben's a musical genius, you know."
"Yes, so I've heard. Mr. Boyd says he's never seen such an accomplished cellist. I had no idea that he was so versatile. Does he play anything else?"
"Ben plays everything. In fact, Ben is the only essential member of the band. But who cares? John, however, also plays the saw. Not very well, but how many good saw players are there?"
"So. I'll come and pick you up."
"What? Now? I can't go now. I'm making dinner. There's no one to leave the children with. I'm busy. I can't go now."
"But you are going, aren't you?"
"Um. Well. Let me think. It does sound like it would be interesting. I don't want to do any guest performing or anything, but why don't I give you a call after we eat dinner?"
"Just come over to Adam's when you're done. We'll be there."
"Adam's house. Where would that be?"
"Do you know where Oleson is?"
"Yes, of course."
"Just take Oleson to Gartner. It's the fourth house on the left. You'll know it by John's car."
"What's so special about John's car?"
"It's a white Ford Fiesta."
"There must be a hundred white Ford Fiestas in Eagle Hills. How will I know it's the right one?"
"You'll see. And I'll see you." He hung up.
Hmmm, I thought. Salad. Crackers. Milk for the children. Iced tea for me. Coffee for Dirk. Dirk. Oh, dear. Dirk is NOT going to think this is a good idea. He doesn't like the music, he doesn't like the boys, and he definitely doesn't like Bill. But it's been so hot, and the children so tedious. It will be fun. I'm sure he'll see my side of it.
But he didn't. He came home from work tired and irritable, and poor Nick made the mistake of singing a song he and Jason made up about the engineer of the Bible Train who was a stupid jerk. That set Dirk off, heaven knows why, on the evil of indifference. Nick, not being one to back down from confrontation, started in with this "I don't care" act currently fashionable in the third grade. Under the circumstances, it didn't seem prudent to mention that I was spending my evening with the highest evolutionary form of the "I don't care" ethic, so I invented an errand at the library, leaving Dirk to affirm his commitment to the dinner dishes.
I had no trouble finding Adam's house. Bill was right: This was no ordinary Ford Fiesta. The sun had barely set when I got to Adam's, but I could have found my way by the light of John's car. It was nearly incandescent. I thought at first that it had been spray-painted, but this was nothing so hackneyed. These were - what? Stickers??? Stickers. Bright orange food-store stickers, saying things like 'Kids Favorite,' 'As Advertised,' 'Banana,' `Take me home, I'm delicious.' Someone, I thought, must work at a grocery store. These stickers spelled out a variety of slogans. On the hood was an enormous, elaborate EAR, done in hundreds of stickers of varying messages and colors, bright orange predominating. Three goose decoys perched proudly on the roof, and in front of them a harmonica. There was a hood ornament made out of forks shaped into a pair of horns (very Texan, I thought). One side panel said "Food is God" and "Eat Fod." Fod? On the other side, there was a sign that said "Food" with an arrow pointing to the gas tank. I glanced in the window and recoiled. The inside of the car looked exactly like the inside of Nick's closet. Boys will be boys, I thought, and walked up the sidewalk to ring the doorbell.
I heard loud music inside. No one responded. Assuming that they couldn't hear the bell, I tried the door, found it open and went in. I followed the music to a door off the kitchen, and walked down the stairs, peering ahead of me. It was always possible that I had stumbled onto some other band, but no, there was Bill, and John, and Ben, and Rob, and Adam. Adam and Rob had their backs to me, but Bill and John looked up and grinned. Ben looked up, too, but didn't seem very pleased. Adam waved haplessly. I suspected that my invitation had stemmed not from the band but from Bill alone.
"Janet!" Bill said, and zigzagged across the room over instrument cases, electrical cords, and art supplies. "Ahem!" he said, and touched his ear.
"AHEM!!" he said, and pulled his ear harder.
"EAR!" "EAR!" "EAR!" they chorused. Ben didn't speak, but disgustedly put his headphones on. I walked into the room.
"Hello. I killed Felix! Welcome. Dr. Dawson. Ah. Janet. Come in. We're about to record our new song here. You're just in time to hear John's debut performance with the Gland Puppies."
"Hi. Congratulations. What happened to Dunkin Doughnuts? What's this?"
"I ate them," said John, tuning his pink guitar.
"I have a doughnut for you right here," said Ben.
"I wrote the words," said Adam.
"METAL Doughnuts," said Bill.
"Check out our tape cover," said Rob. He held up a line drawing of a hand emerging from a toilet, grasping what appeared to be an uncircumcised penis whose shaft extended past the edge of the page. "See, it says right there on the front?"
"Metal Doughnuts," I corrected automatically. "This says Get Out of My Toilet. How interesting. I really liked your car, John - " I began, when Rob hushed everyone. They began to play.
"I ain't feelin too good today
"The nineteen pounds of crap I ate is creeping up my throat
"In quite a strange way
"I just wanted to warn you
"What you might see
"Mixed cranberry pudding
"And a large orange Icy
"Three large pickles
"And one split knee...."
They played for about an hour, then took a break. Bill, who had to work at five the next morning, said good night and went home. There seemed to be a division of opinion about the musical direction the band should be pursuing. Adam wanted to play covers and love songs. John said covers were boring and love songs were lame, and that if they wanted to become famous (famous?), they had to write their own songs. That seemed like a reasonable point of view to me, except that their own songs were also pretty boring, albeit perhaps not lame as I understood the term. Their own songs did have the advantage (considering their proposed market) of being offensive, especially the ones about stupid kids, vomit, toilets, and dogs, and food. Ben and Rob wanted songs that were funny, and I must admit that the songs about food and dogs were funnier than the love songs, although not much.
Finally John seemed willing to make a concession. "All right," he said, "how about we play `Every Rose Has Its Thorn?' It's really easy. We could do it without too much work."
Adam was delighted, and they spent awhile figuring out the chords. It must not have been too hard, because after two or three tries, they seemed satisfied. John was suspiciously pleased. "Great!" he said. "Now let's sing the words backwards."
"Yeah!" said Rob, laughing. "We'll call it the Japanese version!"
Even Ben was smiling, at least until he noticed me watching. Then he sobered and said, "Okay." He busied himself writing out the new version of the lyric, "Thorn Its Has Rose Every."
"What?! Backwards?! That'll ruin everything! Come on, guys, this is a serious song. I don't want to sing it backwards. That's dumb. Jeeze, why can't we just play the song? If it's good enough for Poison, it's good enough for us. God." Adam had worked his way into a petulant frenzy. Rob seemed to find Adam hilarious, which only made Adam more frustrated. The atmosphere was getting tense when Ben said, "OK, let's record it," leaving little doubt in my mind who was the de facto leader of the group.
Adam, trying to be a good sport, suggested, "Let's write a song about dogs."
"Yes," said John. "Or no. Let's do a song about fucking a dog up the ass."
"It would be funnier if it were a retard fucking a dog up the ass."
"A dog fucking a retard up the ass," suggested John.
"A dog fucking your mom up the ass," said Ben, looking pointedly in my direction.
"And then their heads pop like balloons," said Rob. "That would be great. Of course, we can't really sing songs like that, they'd kick us out of school. But it sure is fun to think about it."
"It sure was fun fucking your mom up the ass," said Ben.
"Oh, hey, guys, no way can we do songs about that. Let's get serious."
"Adam, you want to do these songs. Stop trying to hide it," John prodded.
"Yes, and you want to fuck your mom up the ass," Ben insisted.
"You know what would be funny would be if we wrote a song about an exploding dog," said Rob.
"An exploding dog? Is that funny?" Adam was trying to help.
"Yeah! Abe Lincoln's Exploding Pet!" Rob blurted.
"Was a Dog," said Ben, and they all fell about themselves with laughter.
This sounded to me like a good exit line. By now it was nearly one, and I was beginning to feel guilty about my lie, particularly since I knew (and so did Dirk) that the library closed at nine. I didn't think he would have looked kindly on the conversation I had just heard, and I wasn't sure what to make of it myself. These were boys I liked and had felt comfortable with, but I was shocked by the violence of their language, and disappointed in their music. I knew, of course, that I was not one of Ben's favorite people, but.... But that kind of hostility hurts, and I felt a little bruised. I said good night and headed up the stairs. As I got to the door, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and there was John, grinning shyly. "Here," he said, "I brought you a disgusting piece of shit."
I peered at the tape in the dim light. "Get out of My Toilet?"
"Yup. Mr. Poo, he's in you."
"Uh huh. Thanks." Below me, I could hear Adam's nasal voice raised in complaint over some further breach of musical integrity.
John heard it, too. He looked straight into my eyes and made a disgusted face. "What an ass," he said. "He doesn't know it, but I've got a chicken bomb lodged in his right car." He looked at me again. "Later, skater," he said, shook my hand, and went back downstairs.
On my way out, I passed Kathy and one of her friends. The girls were exclaiming over John's car, and Kathy was describing in graphic detail the acrobatics required to maneuver around both the steering wheel and the gearshift while simultaneously avoiding the horn and the bag of golf clubs. It sounded picturesque but private, and I moved on. I assumed that Adam and Kathy, like METAL Doughnuts, had broken up to John's benefit.
Suddenly I was very tired. I drove home slowly, stopping often to wipe my eyes. My ears were still ringing from the crashing guitar chords, and my head hurt. I put the new tape in the tape deck, but never turned it on. It had been fun, no doubt, but I was tired, and I felt bad for deceiving Dirk. I resolved to give him an expurgated account of where I'd been when I got home. I was sure he'd understand.
I unlocked the front door of my silent house. Lights were on everywhere except the bedrooms. There were sticky, half-eaten bowls of ice cream on the livingroom floor, and the dinner dishes were still on the table. Britty's coloring books and Nick's GI Joe guys were everywhere. My regret evaporated. I collected the dishes, stacked the coloring books, put Nick's guys in their box and ran water in the sink to wash the dishes, which were now far too sticky to put in the dishwasher. It was after one when I got to bed. I was too angry to sleep, and lay till nearly dawn thinking my own thoughts and glaring at Dirk. I didn't fall asleep until he left for work, only to be awakened half an hour later by Britty and Nick arguing over who ate the last of the Honey Nut Cheerios.
"What in the name of heaven is this?" Dirk came in the door brandishing Get Out of My Toilet.
"It's a tape."
"I can see it's a tape. I'm not entirely ignorant. What did you think you were doing, leaving this in the car? Britty started it while we were driving to the video store. Do you think this is suitable for children? Where did you get this?"
"I think it's cool, Dad," said Nick. "'But wait! What's that I hear? It's a dog! And it's singing! Looks like you got a sick doooog,'" he intoned. "'Looks like you got a sick dooooog.' Then I forget. Then it goes, `It had fluorescent orange poo. And I'm a bean! Fuck you!' I think it's neat. But Dad didn't like that part at ALL."
"NICHOLAS! You take yourself upstairs right NOW," Dirk thundered. He glared at me and followed Nick up the stairs.
"Poo," said Britty brightly. It looked to be another long evening.
I knew it was only a matter of time until Dirk would want to have a LittleTalk with me. After the children were in bed, he confronted me. I was still cleaning the kitchen.
"Honey," he began. "I'm really concerned about your involvement with those boys. I think there's something wrong with that music. I think those guys are dangerous."
"I think you're mistaken, Dirk. They're unusual, I'll grant you that. But I think that somehow they and their music hold the key to this whole phenomenon of depression and despair. If only I could penetrate their defenses - if only I could persuade them to take me into their confidence - I know I could develop insights that would enable me to make a significant difference at Eagle Hills."
"I understand that. You're a professional. But does that mean that you have to go to their parties and stay out till all hours of the night? As for this tape - well, you must admit that cover is disgusting."
"I admit that the cover is a little crude."
"There's another thing, though, Janet. Since you've been seeing those boys, I've noticed a change in you. I can't put my finger on it but you seem - I don't know - indifferent."
Janet crosser her arms over her breasts and leaned back slightly. "If you mean that we don't make love as often as you like ....."
"No. I don't mean that at all. I understand that you're tired, and that you have other things on your mind. You just seem colder somehow. I think the children sense it too."
"Dirk, I've been a nurse for fifteen years. I'm accustomed to working with sick people. Fortunately, personality disorders and maladjustment are alot harder to catch than the croup. I've developed immunities over the years. I grant you this music is pretty raw. I don't think of it as music - it's just data. I was wrong to leave it in the car, though, and I'm very sorry. I was tired, and I forgot. I should no more have done that than left an interview text where you or the children could find it. I'll be more careful in the future."
"I just don't like you going around with these guys. These aren't the same ones who got arrested, are they?"
"Nono, that was someone else entirely. Please don't worry. This is my area, after all. I know what I'm doing. I'm in no danger of becoming enmeshed. Nothing awful is going to happen. I'm just doing what I do. It's my job." I stuffed Get Out of My Toilet into my briefcase and forgot about it.