Garbage Truck were playing in Hollywood at a rapidly decaying joint called The Lounge, which was anything but. The band was unpacking their equipment on stage as the sound man was setting up microphones, and moving in between the musicians setting up mike stands. He glared at Griff, the leader of the band.
“What’s the name of your band?” he grumbled.
“That’s stupid enough to be a band name”.
Fuck you, asshole, thought Griff. If the engineer has a shitty attitude then how good are we gonna sound on stage? We’re fucked already. The musicians finished setting up their gear on stage and stepped out to the bar, hanging out and having a pre-gig drink. Griff got ready to do the same until a huge black guy with a bright yellow jacket marked “SECURITY” waddled up to him.
“You the singer of the band?” the security guard asked.
“Yeah, that’s right”.
“Come down from the stage a second”. Griff did so obligingly, facing the yellow jacket on the dance floor.
“This is the Lounge: You have only thirty minutes on stage, DO NOT play over the time limit, if you do you will be cut off, DO NOT mess my stage up, I want a clean stage after you’re done, DON’T FUCK WITH ME!!!!” He jabbed a finger at Griff’s face. Griff stared at him blankly.
“ARE WE COOL???” the man barked.
“Yup”, Griff mumbled. The security man spun around and stormed off.
Twenty minutes later Garbage Truck played a scorching set and Griff blasted his trumpet a lot closer to the microphone than usual. The faux-groupie looking waitresses winced and yelled at their customers from the shrill horn action, and even the sound man mumbled a few words over the PA at the band, Griff in particular, but he turned a deaf ear to what the man was mumbling about.
Garbage Truck ended their set with “Sweet Sixteen Lucky Thirteen” and Griff finished his solo in the extreme upper register, making sure everyone’s ears bled. Even the monitors registered the torture as the guitarists looked around in pain.
“Well, that’s another benefit performance for us”, Griff told Trev, his bassist, as they both packed up, overlooking the full house in front of them. A benefit performance meant the band would probably not see a nickel for their trouble. The sound man will get paid, the security guy will get paid, the faux-groupie waitresses will get paid, even the janitors will draw a pay check but the band will go home with less money than they walked in with.
“I need a drink”, Griff said to himself as he went up to the dressing room. He was tired and sweaty after playing his ass off for half an hour, and instead of relaxing watched his two guitarists, Bert and Bobby having a heated argument.
“Dude, you don’t own her”, Bobby yelled.
“I met her first”, Bert yelled back. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“She already gave me her number. It’s practically a done deal”.
“What kind of a friend are you? I’m going out with her tomorrow!”
“Well, then she can decide who she likes more”. Oh boy, there they go again. Every time somebody meets a girl they all zoom in on her like a pack of vultures. Ridiculous!
There were a few fans and friends back stage, and some drummer in another band made the mistake of trying to talk shop with Ricardo, the drummer. He shut down the conversation quickly.
“I’m an artist”, Ricardo asserted, “I’m not really a drummer”.
Ricardo was getting increasingly more and more disgusted with Garbage Truck and what they were doing because it was “too rock”, in his estimation. He thought they were becoming “rock stars”, which was almost as absurd as him thinking he was an artist.
Griff turned around from the noisy dressing room into the graffiti-littered hallway to see a short guy with a stubble-topped head run up to him. He had a goatee and wore a big black coat. He double-fisted beers and handed one to him. “I can only handle one beer at a time, how about you?”
“One beer at a time sounds mighty fine. Thanks, stranger!” Griff smiled back.
“My name’s Bradley, by the way. Great set! Your band’s pretty awesome, only there’s one thing wrong with it”.
“I’m not in it! What do you think of three guitarists? It would totally fill out your sound. Just think of it!” Griff scratched his head. “I’ll start thinking about it – hey, aren’t you friends with Bert and Bobby? I knew you looked familiar. How about going in there and breaking up that fight?”
“They’re fighting over that girl Jesti. I think they’re wasting their time”.
“You’re probably right”.
“Yeah, I dated her last month. They’re definitely wasting their time. So, how about that job in your band, man? I just floated you a beer!”
Griff handed the beer back to Bradley.
“There’s more where that came from, brother”.
Griff took back the beer, and killed the bottle. “I’ll think it over carefully”.
Griff walked down to the bar and noticed a scruffy-looking guy dressed in a bath robe and slippers hunched over the bar with his back turned from everybody, nursing some crappy regional brew. Everybody was staring at him, and a few brave souls sauntered over to talk to him, only to be turned away.
Trev was in the program so he had a ginger beer in his hand. “Hey, Griff, I have a few friends that are starting out a coffee house and they want to know if we want to play there”.
“Sure, any place is fine. Coffee houses, hospitals, circus tents…who the fuck is that bum tensing up his ass cheeks at the bar?”
“You don’t recognize him? That’s Chuck from ShangriLa”. ShangriLa were some band from Seattle who sounded like a bad Blue Cheer cover band with pretentious lyrics and insisted they were punk even though they looked like a bunch of ugly hippies.
“Why isn’t he talking to anybody?”
“He doesn’t want anybody to bother him, I guess”.
“Then why is he in a night club, a crowded one, even?”
“Ask him”, Trev laughed, knowing what would happen.
“Ah, fuck that hippie”.
Griff looked around the club and saw the fanzine writers, the fans, the girlfriends, the other rival bands on the club circuit, some kissing ass for a show and others trying to pick his brain so they can steal his connections, the horny photographers that’ll shoot any girl that played guitar, the fake record company moguls with their crappy seven-inch vinyl single empires, kids scamming for free records, free t-shirts, guest list comps. Standing in the shadows by the corner was Mykela and Pierre, bickering about who knows what.
Mykela stormed off and Pierre yelled, “Mykela!” Griff walked over to him. “Lucky Pierre”, he smiled.
“Not so lucky right now”. Pierre was a chicano punk rock guitar player and his parents gave him a French name because they thought it was classy. “Mykela’s so awesome but she’s always dragging me down, man”.
Griff didn’t see what other guys saw in her, but it wasn’t his problem. Maybe it was the way she held a guitar, but it didn’t matter to him.
“Still looking for a roommate? I think I’m moving out of my brother’s place, he’s getting crazy on me”.
“No shit? What’s up?”
“I don’t know. Every time I come home he finds something new to yell about to me. Everything’s my fault. I’m sick of his shit”.
Pierre put his arm around Griff. “Dude, my door’s always open. We can split the rent $200 apiece. I’m a messy guy but I’m cleaner than my cat”.
“Okay, I’ll call you in a couple of days before I come by. I don’t have too much shit”.
“Excellent. Talk to Mykela for me, willya? I know you won’t put the moves on her. You’re not a buddy fucker. All these other guys I wouldn’t trust, but you’re different, Griff”.
"Where did she go?”
“Fuck if I know”.
“Later!” Griff waved and ran upstairs to grab his horn and leave. Bert, Trev, Mykela, Pierre, all these kids in The Program, some making it and some really struggling. “It’s not easy”, thought Griff. “I tried it just for the hell of it and I couldn’t make it work. I love booze too much”.
The VIP Room was on the balcony of the club not far from the dressing room. Griff passed it and Mykela stood by waving at him. “Hey!” she smiled. Griff stared at her for a second.
Well, come in, quickly!” she rasped quietly over the music booming through the PA system.
“Just for a second”, he stepped in. The VIP Room was much nicer than the rest of the club, a swankier bar, more stylish booths, stylish as in not trampled on by fucked-up rock stars and expensive as hell, etc.
“Hey, Griff, did you see who’s here tonight? Chuck from ShangriLa, did you talk to him?”
“No, but I got a good view of his back”. She laughed. She had a pretty laugh.
“Listen”, he smiled at her, “what’s going on with you and Pierre?”
“What do you think? Nothing!” she rolled her sparkling grey eyes.
“Look, he’s having a hard time staying straight, you know that. He’s really hung up on you”.
“I know, first he’s hung up on junk and now he’s hung up on me”.
“Pierre’s a good guy, you know that, just go easy on him. He keeps telling me how much he’s into you”.
“Never mind him, Griff. I’m speaking at a meeting next week. Can you make it?”
Griff made a face as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”
“Alright, asshole, I thought I’d ask anyway”.
“You need a ride home?”
“No, Linda’s taking me home after she cuts out”. Linda was the bartender at the VIP Room and was also in The Program.
“Later, rock star”, Mykela sniggered, booting him in the ass as he walked out.
When Griff got back to his brother Patrick’s apartment, the first thing he noticed was that the telephone, one of Patrick’s few Spartan pleasures, was gone.
“Hey, what happened to the phone?”
“Oh, that”, Patrick tried acting nonchalant, “there were too many calls for you and I didn’t feel like being your answering service, so I disconnected it”. Patrick stretched out on the floor where he slept in his sleeping bag and pillow.
“But it’s your phone line. What if somebody needs to get in touch with you?”
“It’s not your problem”, he replied, “listen Griff, I want you to start looking for a place cause I want you out of here by the end of next week. I’m tired of carrying you”. He ripped out a loud belch.
Griff quietly considered Pierre’s offer. He didn’t want to live with his brother anyway. He slept with a gun under his pillow since he left the Army and it made Griff nervous.
Patrick only made it up to Corporal in the Army but still had an attitude about it. He punched the floor hard with his fist and then twisted towards the wall with his back to Griff.
“And turn out the light before you go to sleep!” he barked to the wall.
Griff stripped down to his tank top and underwear and got under the blanket on the floor. He paused for a second and thought of the evening’s fun, the echoes of the loud music and the barroom smell of beer and cigarettes. He opened his trumpet case, pulled out his horn, turned out the light, and got under the sheets with the trumpet in his arms, holding it tight and dreaming of a better tomorrow.