You Can Play
Here’s another story I wrote. It’s a bit different than the first. Enjoy.
The great city on the east coast stands alone
aloof and distanced from all neighbors
like a man standing on an island
afraid to tread with the deadly sharks
or through the seaweed
that they believe makes up
the rest of the world.
Excerpt from Joseph E. Erlaub’s
“A Tale of Tall Cities”
If I hear somebody fucking say “I love New York” one more time, I’m gonna punch em in the god damn face. Now now, don’t think I’m saying I don’t love this city. I do. I’ve been here my whole life. I love this town, you know that. You know how much I care, man.
I just get sick of these punks from outta town acting like they own it. They come in, move to Brooklyn and start strutting around like kings. Wearing those shirts. You know the ones. I hate those shirts. I tipped over a cart with all those shirts on it the other day and took off. Yeah, in Manhattan. You don’t see those shirts in Queens. Or, god forbid, the Bronx.
You been down there since you got here? The Bronx I mean. I go through there once in awhile, sometimes when I’m visiting my cousins. It’s looking bad, I tell you. Queens though, Queen is always the same. To me anyways. I never want to be there and can’t wait to leave. Like most good New Yorkers, I come from Brooklyn. Salt of the Earth. I swear, salt of the Earth. Like you and me, true blooded New York bad asses.
Born and raised right? Never left this town till we were what, 20, 21? Old enough to drink and stupid enough to drive. That’s when the great tours started. Back when we’d jump in the back of your van and drive all around town. Playing crappy music at crappy shows to crappy crowds in crappy venues. Remember Hoboken? God, what a dump. Anything in Jersey, any show. Always shouting for Springstein covers.
“Born to Run! Born to Run, man. Nobody cares about your originals!” What a pile of shit. New Yorkers, that’s all they want to hear. They don’t care if you can play like somebody else. Like you can play other people’s songs. There’s a million bands on a million blocks that can play a million covers that sound exactly like everybody else. You gotta be original.
And that’s why I love it here. We’d throw together some chords, throw on some weird squiggles on the keyboard or the saxophone and call it a song. Some simple, stupid base lines. Pounding drums, smashing cymbals. Holding down on one chord for hours. Hahaha yeah man that was the life. Remember how much money we used to get? I used to pay rent just by playing shows.
Not any more. Venues don’t pay as much any more. It’s harder to get gigs. Those fake “Noo Yawkers” come in with their guitars and their midwest accents and sing about how hard it was living on the plains. Fuck that. They still get the gigs though! Or at least enough gigs that it made it harder for local guys. I haven’t played in years.
Christ, I need a drink. I get pissed talking about these punk poseur fake guys, dropping their drawl and trying to talk like “they from Brooklyn.” Like an accent is a badge of pride. Like you’re automatically cool because you talk like Deniro or like a dipshit. Christ, I didn’t choose to talk like this, you know? I can’t help it. I notice your accent seems to have disappeared. I can understand being out in Iowa, who wants to talk like this? You’d stand out like a sore thumb out there. Especially as a teacher, you know?
Enough of this kind of talk! Let’s just go sit in this bar here. Yeah, that’s the one. “Tony’s.” This is a good bar. Right, it used to be “The Dry Dock.” Closed down about two years ago. Dude, I know tell me about it. Remember when we used to play here? I met Jessica here. Remember, she came in wearing those dark black, goth clothes. Yeah she was all “dark and mysterious” back then. Her and Betty. Came in together, looking like something Robert Smith dragged in, like Siouxie Sioux or something. Boy, did they change after that.
Anyways, let’s not dwell on the past. It seems to be all I’m doing. Right now, this place is the best. Notice how busy it is? Dollar shots on Wednesdays. Yeah, that’s why I go out on days like this. The booze is cheap. And you can usually find a good table. Like that one there. Nice. Relax for a minute, I’m gonna go get the shots. What you want? Jack? My man. I’ll be back here in a second, here.
Right. One, two, three, shoot. That’s the good stuff. You look pale. Hahaha yeah man, you can’t take it can you? I understand. Let’s take it easy for a second. Me, I come down to this place two or three times a week. They have good bands, sometimes. They got some band playing tonight, “The Tunsington Tree.” Whatever the hell that is. Back when we ruled this scene, we didn’t have bands call stupid shit like that. That’s just an annoying name, you know?
It’s good to have you in town, man. Good as hell to see you. Can’t believe you’ve been gone five years.
The rest move in, like vultures to them natives
to swoop down low and take over for them.
But when they try to snare the invaders
they end up only trapping themselves
and watch the rest rule the land.
Excerpt from Joseph E. Erlaub’s
“A Tale of Tall Cities”
You haven’t been here to see those punks move in. I mean, come on, I get sick of em real quick. They come in here with their guitars and their distortion pedals and they make this awful racket. It’s like the 80’s, man. Remember, all those bands, coming in, blowing their minds off with their amps? Laying right against the damn things and screeching out howling feedback? Hell yeah those were the days.
Now it just seems stale. Like, it’s been done to death. Remember our little band there? We were good. That tour to the California was amazing. Terry though, that shit, couldn’t keep it together long for a whole tour. Kept drinking and drinking. You can’t play if your drummer’s drunk.
But yeah, these guys come in and play that same old stuff. Those same old chords. Sing the same old lyrics. You know it gets old, man. I can’t handle it. I haven’t played since that last tour. It was too hard. I almost had to go to my folks house. If they’d have let me. I was just lucky to get that job, you know?
You’ve been teaching, right? That’s great to hear, man. We were glad to hear you were going back to school. Get that second degree you know? Luke, he went and got a degree in massaging. He does that now, traveling around with a board. Yeah just like in Seinfeld. Oh trust me, he’s heard all the jokes.
Married yet? No? Woman? Me neither. I just haven’t had the nerve to even try. Not since the tour, man. Sure, I was in and out a few things but nothing that counted. No focus. No drive or desire. It’s kind of like I completely forgot how to woo a lady over the last five years. A few drunken encounters and swapping spit with random skanks can’t really count. Who would ever think that could replace the real thing, you know?
Look, guys like that. No no, don’t look. Just wait for them to walk by. There they go. See what I mean? They got the clothes, they got the smirk, the look, the style…but it’s all wrong. It’s fake. They can’t pass themselves off like me and you. They don’t got the real New York style. We got it in spades.
I can still see it in you too. Even after five years of being gone. You still got that look, that “been everywhere” look. Been there. Done that. So those things. Just because you’re out in Iowa, doesn’t mean you ain’t still here. I can see it in your eyes too.
Haha you won’t sell me on Iowa man. I don’t care how many corn fields or whatever they got. I don’t give a fuck about corn fields. I’m a city man. You know that. I love the look of the buildings blocking out the sky and the sun. The smells. The people, pressing against you. It never gets old. There’s something to do all the time.
Agoraphobic? What the hell is that? Oh. I dunno man. I’ve never really been in any wide open spaces. Not sure how I’d react. Last year, I was a janitor at Yankee stadium. That’s kind of a wide open space. It didn’t seem to bother me.
That’s funny eh? I guess you’re right. Nope, never seen no miles and miles of emptiness. Closest I’ve seen is the ocean. That doesn’t count I expect. You don’t miss the big buildings, the big city, the hustle the bustle? The ladies. Come on, how many great ladies can there be in Iowa? All wide ass, corn fed farmer’s daugthers I bet. That’s not my style, man. You know that.
I guess though you know that well. You know my style. The kind of girls I like. We tend to share the same taste. Now, come on man I’m just saying. No need to get mad. That stuff, that old stuff, that’s ancient history ain’t it? I don’t think about that any more. Do you?
Bullshit? I don’t man. I try not to anyways. Those times, with the band with those girls. Those are long gone. They ain’t real to me any more. Sometimes I can half remember how I felt, half remember what we sounded like. I threw away all our CD’s, deleted the files on the computer. I don’t even think I could play the songs any more.
I haven’t even seen those people. I couldn’t tell you where any of them went. I mean, I guess Betty, what, she was in some video wasn’t she? Come on man, I’m just asking. She was wasn’t she? Like some rap video or something? That’s probably about it for that old crew. It’s so funny to think, that out of all of us she was the one who “made” it. As far as that can be called “making it” I guess.
It makes you wonder. Are looks all that matter? I mean, Betty had plenty of those, no doubt. Not a lot going up stairs but…aw come on man I’m just fucking with you. And you know it’s true. She wasn’t that bright. Sarah, Lanie…Jessica. Now they were bright. Good looking, bright but dull. Not like that wild child, Betty. She was something else.
Sit down man! Come on don’t be like that. I didn’t think you’d still be sore about that. It’s been awhile. It is ancient history. You’re not still hung up on you are her? You say that, but somehow I’m doubting it. Why would get up to leave if it didn’t still bother you? It’s okay man just fucking let it out.
No? Look, if it makes you feel any better, I got burned on that whole deal. We all did. Jessica? Yeah of course she left me. Would I be sitting here otherwise? You think I avoided a trip to Iowa because I hate empty spaces? Ha. She didn’t want me going. She finished her degree though, man, went off to Italy. Good for her, I say. Good for her.
She was never that wild either. Not like we were, back in the day. You remember snorting those lines and playing for ten hours? Just switching instruments and playing our own shit? That was the best man. That was an amazing tour. Just the six of us, playing for hours every night, in four or five different bands with different sounds. Oh man those really where the days.
But…you know, women really get to you after awhile. It’s hard to deal with. I love em a lot like, I can’t deal with not having one around sometimes. But sometimes you just can’t have them around either. I can’t figure it out. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to deal with these girls. I got a few around sometimes, you know…like I’m banging this one right now. But there isn’t much interest there. I played her a song at a party one time…that was it. It wasn’t even a good song. One of mine, yeah. They were never that good. Just a few basic chords.
And she was all over me. I hate that. It was fun but…a waste. An absolute waste. I can jerk off for 20 minutes and feel just fine. And then I don’t have to deal with the problem of dealing with the girl…like, I don’t want to have to talk to her after. Normally I would but…not with girls like that. What a waste.
Another shot eh? Of course. Shit, let’s do two. A piece. That’s right, why not get good and hammered? You don’t gotta work tomorrow. Yeah, I do but I’m used to this. This is my Wednesday routine. We can even scrounge around for some girls later right? There’s always girls in this town looking for some guys like us.
Especially if we hit up those karaoke bars. I’m sure I can still belt it out like the old days. We can belt out a duet. Ha, imagine that man, just the two of us going for broke. Singing like wild men. Hell, you should just come stay at my place tonight. I still got the old guitars around. I can dredge up a keyboard or violin for you. You might have to tune the instruments but you know. We’ll have a good time.
I mean, this is New York right? It’s not like Iowa, where everything closes at eleven. Everything is open all night here. We never sleep here. I mean, I don’t anyways. There are so many things to do. We don’t even have to stay here to watch this shitty band. Oh God, look man, a mandolin! Can you believe it? I haven’t gotten mine out in years. We should jam some folk rock shit tonight. That’d be great.
Busy? Come on man, we’ve only been out an hour so far. It’s not that late, it’s only ten. This is our night, man. You said you had one good night to hang out with me. It’s been five years. Don’t be a bitch like that. We used to tear up this town till five in the morning, go home, sleep for two hours and then work for eight hours at that god damn factory. Then we’d do it again.
Christ man, I know you got stuff to do and people to see. But it’s been five years. All that stuff that happened, all those years ago, the girls, the band all that shit. That’s ancient history. That shouldn’t matter. History man. This is now. Tomorrow is the future. Don’t worry bout what you got going on tomorrow. We’re having a good time right now. That was the band motto wasn’t it? Have a good time right now?
Okay fine. We aren’t in a band any more. We’re not exactly the same people we were five years ago. I get you. I understand. You have people to see. Things to do. I suppose you need sleep. Yeah. I know man, you haven’t seen your parents either. I understand. I get to see mine regularly. They started talking to me again. It took awhile. But they did.
I’m sorry to come across like this. I’m sorry. We don’t need to dwell on it. No. You don’t have to apologize. I understand. Why don’t we get one more shot? You’re taking a cab aren’t you? Just one more man, for the road. Nah, that’s okay. Go ahead. I’m gonna stay here. I’m gonna take a few more shots and go home. It was good to see you too. Hopefully we can do this again when you have more time.
Yeah thanks, man. Yeah, I will have to get out the guitar again. Record some chords. Maybe send them to you, so you can do something with them. Play some piano on top? Or violin or even some drums? Are you serious, you don’t play at all any more? God, that’s a fucking shame man. You could really play back in the day. Better than any of us. You could really play back then.
I wrote a five …
This post is part of a new series of posts that will focus on creative “artsy fartsy crap.” This will include musical pieces and stories that have been written by contributors. It’s a place for them to show that they are capable of creativity as well as criticism. Videos will also be integrated into this section as well. Upcoming video series will include movie and music reviews as well as comedy sketches.
I wrote a five page story today that I thought I’d share with the blogging world. It’s a bit of a character sketch and a tad modernistic although the ending is a bit of a give away. Let me know what you think. It’s romantic (duuur). Kind of…
“Can I kiss you again?”
He leaned over her body and moved his head towards her face. She smiled a crooked smile as he moved closer. They lay on a bed in a hotel room. It was late, past midnight. The only light came from parking lot lights, shining in through the window. They kissed for a moment as he moved on top of her again.
He had broad shoulders, short dark hair, a thin beard and hair up and down his body. His body was pudgy, out of shape, with a large belly pushing into her body. She signed and gripped his back. Her small frame, nearly half of his, disappeared underneath of him. Long blonde hair spread out across the bed, the pillows and fell off the sides of the bed. Her glasses sat next to the bed, undisturbed. They both sighed with their eyes closed.
The overhead fan spun in a wide circle, creaking faintly with each revolution. It was missing a blade. A light smell of ammonia drifted through the room. Bed springs faintly creaked in other rooms. The carpet was stained, dark and missing large patches. A few roach motels sat around the room, on the floor and the one table. The table was shoved into the corner on the opposite side of the room. Two chairs were stuck underneath. The television had a dial but didn’t work.
They finished. He rolled off top of her and lay on his back. He stared at the ceiling, trying to make out if the dark patch was a stain or a bug. She reached over to the stand and grabbed a pack of cigarettes. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, pulling her hair up into one hand and tying it off with a hair tie. She lit a cigarette with shaking hands. They both coughed.
“I thought you didn’t smoke,” he said.
“Eh. You know. Sometimes. A cig is sometimes…essential.”
“I wouldn’t know.” They stayed quiet. The room seemed drenched in an aura of complete silence. Next door, grumbled moans and shouts could be heard. He looked up at her and caught her eye. He jerked a hand backwards towards the source of the moans. She smiled.
“It’s two dudes,” she said.
“What? How do you know?”
“Listen. It’s obviously two male voices.” He sat up in the bed and turned, placing his right ear against the wall. He closed his eyes and strained to listen.
“My good ear,” he said. Eventually, he made out two voices. They were both deep, dark and smoky. It was certainly two men. He turned and sat down on the bed, putting an arm around her body. It was important to have her near him. She laid her head on his shoulder and continued to smoke. The bed in the next room rammed against the wall.
“Damn,” he said, loudly rapping on the wall. The noise quieted down. The digital clock next to the bed read “12:45.” The sounds of the city moved outside the window. Flashing red and blue lights passed by sporadically, about ten to twelve times since they checked in at about 8:00. The sheets were cold against their skin, the pillows were stiff and the mattress lumpy.
“What is that smell?” she said, taking a drag. He sniffed.
“You mean underneath the cigarette smoke?”
“Well,” he said, “it seems to be… a mixture of scents.”
“I smell cat piss.”
“That very well could be,” he said, scratching his head. He looked down on the top of her head and ran his fingers through her hair. She sighed. “You think a cat could live in a place like this?”
“Sure. People do.”
“But cats have survival instincts. People are stupid.”
She laughed and finished her cigarette. It was only half smoked. “I don’t know why I buy cigarettes at all,” she said. “I can only finish one before I’m sick of them.”
“Huh…to be honest, I think I smell taco meat.”
“Taco meat?” she said.
“I swear. It has that distinct aroma that my mom’s taco meat always used to have. The aroma I could never seem to match.”
“Tacos are easy.”
“Oh I know,” he said. “I can make tacos. I use the exact same recipe. The exact same ingredients. But my mom’s tacos…always seemed to have a scent of their own. Definitely the scent of Taco Bell.”
“I like Taco Bell.”
“It’s fine but..it doesn’t have the smell.”
She laughed. “You’re insane.” She ran her fingers through his pubic hair and he giggled.
“Yeah I know,” she said, frowning. He pulled her into his arms and held her close. The bed began hitting up against the wall again. It was light but noticeable. They ignored it.
“I wonder,” he said, “if those two meet here…like…if they have wives or something.”
“Maybe,” she said, still frowning.
“Like, the only way they can be together…is through elicit encounters in seedy hotels. They’re probably…big shot lawyers or something.”
“Or even better,” she said, “they’re probably politicians. Like the mayor or something.”
He laughed. “Imagine that: the mayor taking up the ass next to us in the sleaze bucket hotel. Having his own dirty, elicit encounter. Imagine the scandal.” She laughed loudly and sat up straight, exposing her naked form. He looked her up and down again.
“While the wives are sitting at home,” she said, “chopping vegetables, cleaning fruits and waiting for them to come back from their ‘business meetings.’ How delightfully sleazy!” she said. “It’s like something out of Harold Robbins.”
“Eh, Harold Robbins? I’m thinking more Danielle Steele. Or that one guy…the ‘Notebook’ guy.”
“No say,” she said. “That guy writes classy books for classy ladies.”
“Is that what you call it? Classy? About like this hotel. Or as classy as your one friend, the one who keeps jumping from guy to guy. Always talking about how classy that is, how she’s like ‘Sex and the City.’ How that is a valid approach to living her life.” A roach scattered across the ceiling as they spoke, finding a hole in the wall to creep inside.
She frowned. “She’s just confused. Young. Trying to find her place. You know how it is.”
“Yeah. I’ve been there. It was no good.”
“Meh.” She reached for a cigarette again. He frowned and lay down flat on his back again. The bed next door was insistently tapping the wall. In a nearly perfect rhythm: it was nearly metronomic. He was impressed with the stamina and the consistency. It had to be hard to stay in an exact rhythm like that for that long.
The clock read “1:15.” The two sat in quiet as she slowly smoked a cigarette. Smells floated through the room, touching on their nose, offending their senses. He stood up and went to the bathroom door. He stopped and looked at her. She stared at him with wide eyes. He couldn’t read her expression so he went inside the bathroom.
The bathroom had pea green floor tiles and unpainted walls. The light flicked, leaving areas of the room dark and secretive. The toilet was clogged when they got their and remained clogged. He worked the plunger in the toilet to unclog the toilet. Ten minutes passed. Finally, the waste flushed down the toilet. He stood up, pissed and flushed the toilet. It immediately filled up with water.
The sink was stained black. Turning both handles only produced cold water. He quickly washed his hands, dried them on his legs (the towels were nowhere to be seen) and stood there. He didn’t look in the mirror but stood for a moment before reaching for the knob.
Suddenly, he realized he could hear her walking in the room, going through her luggage, pulling things out, talking to herself quietly. She seemed distracted and upset. He stood in place, listening to her move. She seemed to be preparing something, distractedly mumbling and crying. He stayed in place until she grew quiet.
He slowly opened the door and saw her standing by the window, staring outside. Clothes were scattered around the room as was a large rubber band. Match boxes were also littered across the room. She turned and stared at him. The light reflected off the tears underneath her eyes as she stared blankly at him with a smile on her face. She clutched at her right arm with the left.
“No crying,” he said.
“What you do on your own is your own doing. I’m no part of it.”
“I know. It’s my decision.”
“It sure is,” he said. “I can’t help you.”
Suddenly he felt angry. “Can he? Can he help you?”
She turned away. “No,” she mumbled. They stood in the room as she stared away from him. He looked at her severely, unblinkingly and rigid. Finally, he sat on the bed and smacked the bed next to him loudly. She turned and looked at him. He was smiling with open arms.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I just…I don’t know how to…do anything for you.”
“You can’t,” she said.
“What can I do?”
She closed her eyes for a moment. A stream of blood trickled down her arms and dripped to the floor. A cockroach ran to the blood to inspect it and ran away upon discovering it was inedible to its taste. She saw it move across the floor and smiled. He shuddered.
“You like those damn things don’t you?”
“I like bugs…and spiders…and creepy crawlies…” she said.
“They creep me out.”
“I know,” she said. She sighed and frowned again. “Look…you can’t really help me… per se.”
“Okay,” he said through his teeth, “what can I do?”
“I guess…all I really want from you is…this.” She motioned with her hands around the room.
“You want to fuck in a hotel next to the mayor taking it up the ass? Cockroaches around our feet, looking through our bags and shitting in our soap?”
“Not…necessarily that…” she said. “Just…this moment.”
“Yeah, the…feeling of…uh…” she turned and looked up at the ceiling. “Um…look, I don’t know. But…this is really kind of it. It’s all I can get. It’s all I can give.”
“Does it make you happy?”
“No. It doesn’t.”
She said nothing. He said nothing. The fan creaked loudly as the bed next door began hitting the wall loudly. Rhythmically. A siren sounded in the distance as she walked back to the bed and laid down next to him. Their bed jerked away from the wall as the neighbors bed slammed against the wall again and again.
“Listen to them go,” he said. “That’s some fine quality butt fucking.”
She laughed out loud and turned to him. “Maybe…we should answer back?”
“You want to butt fuck?”
“Ew no!” she said, laughing and laid on top of him. They saw the tears in each others eyes and tried to kiss them away. The tears kept coming back again and again. They held each other close as the neighbors continued. They both had big grins on their faces as tears rolled down their cheeks. Laughter echoed through their room uncontrollably. They could stop neither the tears nor the laughter.
It was then that they both understood that nothing permanent could be done to stop the tears from flowing. There was no cork they could use to stop the bottle of their eyes and no off switch. However, that was nothing that should stop them both from laughing in the face of their own imperfections.
Instead, they made love as loudly as possible until they both collapsed, unable to laugh or cry. Soon, the tears and laughs came back until they finally fell asleep. They dreamed of their lives back at home, of the things that made them laugh and cry when they were apart. Both had more things that made them laugh and cry apart from each other than they did together.
Only briefly did they cross the dream land that inhabited the others mind. Each chased the other out until they were apart, when they dreamt of each other non-stop and without fail.