Griff sat in the heat of his empty apartment, the windows open and shades pulled back. There were boxes all over the room indicating yet another change of residence. He sat on a milk crate, polishing his trumpet and occasionally smirking at his reflection looking back at him fro the bell of the horn.
“I wish I could do something about Jeffrey”, Griff wondered aloud.
“Don’t worry about him,boy. He made his own Hell….” his trumpet quietly rasped back at him.
“He’s living on the street, hungry and homeless…it sucks!”
“You’ve got a very short memory, don’t you? Do you remember what happened just a few years ago? Well, let me refresh your memory…”
“Jeffrey Chandler was doing well, no, better than he’d ever prospered in his miserable life…Studio work, big band teaching jobs at City College…more students than he bargained for…do you remember?”
“What’s wrong with that? He paid his dues, didn’t he?”
“Several times over, indeed…then his stupid, empty head got big, a little too big…he doubled his price for horn lessons.”
“Twenty dollars for a half-hour lesson?” Griff cried, “I can barely make ten bucks per lesson!”
Jeff wiped his glasses, “I’m a very busy man, Griff, I’m really in demand now. Sorry pal, but I can’t lower my new rates just for you, then everyone else will expect the same deal”.
“But I’ve been taking lessons from you for a few years already”.
“I would if I could but I can’t”.
“Well, then I guess this is it”, Griff scratched his hair, “You’re too rich for my blood. Thanks for all the laughs”.
The rasping of the trumpet continued. “The next time you saw him you were happy to see him, you smiled but he snubbed you like a stranger…the bastard…wouldn’t even talk to you…the jobs slowed down for him, hahaha…big surprise…and look at him now, there he is, on the sidewalk, begging you for a dollar….you have surrounded yourself with weasels, my friend…your kindness is wasted…”
“…Wasted…” Griff pondered in a trance.
“You are an artist and there you stand in the presence of thieves and liars…”
Trixie Andersson nervously tapped her foot on the sewing machine in front of her. Making cool clothes didn’t make her nervous but the tall man in the room glaring at her, her soon to be ex-boyfriend, did.
“What’s with all this stuff? Where did you get it from?”
“These books, the videos, the records”, Lenny Mulligan sourly gestured at bookcases filled with paperbacks, punk rock LPs, film noir videos and more, “This is all great stuff. You never had this stuff before! WHERE did it come from?”
“Oh, I was going to tell you, Lenny, but –“
“You can’t afford any of this shit because you don’t have two nickels to rub together. I always have to pay for dinner, and –“
“Let me interrupt your interruption”, Trixie stopped sewing and picked up a pair of scissors, “…all this stuff belongs to my new boyfriend”.
“I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I KNEW IT!” he stomped his feet angrily like a child.
“I was working my way up to telling you, but-“
“I don’t want to know his name, but just tell me one thing. IS HE BIGGER THAN ME? IS HE???”
Trixie smiled to herself, “Well, come to think of it, he’s very good in –“
“DON’T TELL ME I DON’T WANT TO KNOW! I KNEW IT I KNEW IT!”
“Lenny, he’s moving in. We’re probably going to get our own place in a month or two”.
“Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect this”, Mulligan calmed down. “You never did appreciate the art shows we went to…the Serial Killers playing card show…the Charles Manson solo exhibit…the Nazi Memorabilia art fair…AND you never did appreciate my highly prized gun collection! Huh, well, you’re black, you’ll never understand culture”.
“Neither will you and you’ll never understand girls, either”.
Mulligan got his back up again. “So, where did you meet this bum? Under the bridge? No, let me guess, The Free Clinic?”
Trixie got up from her chair and threw her scissors at the tall white man. “GET OUT! TAKE YOUR TINY DICK AND BULLETS AND MANSON SHIT OUT OF MY HOUSE, YOU PIG!”
Ricardo Torres, former drummer of Garbage Truck, pulled up slowly by the chain link fence of the playground at Calvin Coolidge High School. He espied a 13-year old girl goofing off by the jungle gym with her 12-year old friend. Torres rolled down the passenger door window of his Honda Civic.
“Hey! Hey! Bamablina! Whassup?” Ricardo half-whispered, “Wanna party like a rockstar? I got some soda pop, check it out, with some tasty extra flavas, know what I’m sayin’? Hop in the coach and we can jam out”.
The 13-year old girl stopped her fooling around and walked up to the fence.
“Oh, hey, it’s you again”, she squinted her eyes and then yelled, “HEY FREDDIE IT’S HIM THAT CREEPY GUY AGAIN!”
Ricardo turned around and noticed a badass Olds Delta 88 ramming him from behind, a big gangbanger guy running up to his car and banging his fist against the window. “YO BITCH OPEN THE FUCKIN’ DOOR I’M GONNA BURY MY BOOT UP YOUR LITTLE PUNK ASS YOU FUCKIN’ PERVERT!”
Ricardo freaked and stomped his foot on the accelerator, racing through a STOP sign, then another STOP sign, barely missing a collision with a van and an SUV. The Delta 88 was in hot pursuit behind him, honking its horn endlessly, ramming the Civic in the bumper, but it was no contest. The Civic couldn’t outrun it for shit.
Axles were banging against speed bumps making sparks fly up from the cars. Sweat was pouring out of every orifice in Ricardo’s body, he whimpered, “Motherfuckin’ bitches! They always have to have a fuckin’ brother!”
His tinkle began seeping out of his greasy old jeans. He finally twisted the steering wheel until he reached the main intersection.
Two blocks away Jeffrey Chandler, washed-up trumpet player was bumming spare change from people. He clocked the tall, thin white man quickly striding towards a green Taurus Station Wagon.
“Spare change?” Chandler asked in his weak begging voice to Lenny Mulligan, who was already reaching for his car keys. “Please, mister, I could use a dollar, anything you can spare. All I had was a donut last weekend, and I don’t know how much longer-“
“NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME! NORMALLY I DON’T SPEAK TO STREET PEOPLE BUT IN YOUR CASE I’M MAKING AN EXCEPTION! I AM SOOOO SICK AND TIRED OF YOU PARASITE BASTARDS GETTING IN MY FACE BEGGING FOR MONEY I WORK FOR NOT LIKE YOU PEOPLE! YOU TAKERS LIVING OFF US WORKING PEOPLE! OH, YOU SMELL! AND ANOTHER THING!!!”
Jeffrey Chandler wasn’t listening to him anymore. In fact, all he could see was a dirty white Honda Civic with a Delta 88 speeding straight towards them both. Jeff backed away as fast as his limping feet could take him. Mulligan’s face turned red as a beet.
“COME BACK HERE! DON’T YOU DARE WALK AWAY FROM ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!”
The Honda Civic hit Lenny Mulligan so hard he flipped thirty feet in the air, falling on his neck against the curb, emitting a huge crack. He lay supine against the curb, unconscious.
The Civic veered against a line of parked cars, the Delta 88 ramming him and honking its horn, finally pulling over at the sight of a cement mixer pulling out in front of Ricardo’s Civic. Ricardo, unfortunately, turned around to see Mulligan lying in a bloody heap, turning around too late to notice the oncoming cement mixer. It was also too late to slow down as he was easily doing 85 miles an hour.
The cheap white car crumpled like a paper plane against the cement mixer, Torres’ head smashing into his steering wheel, instantly breaking his neck on impact, the entire front end just a distant memory.
Ricardo Torres took his last ride to PreTeen Paradise. He was dead as a dog, lying in a tangled wreck of metal, broken glass, and puddles of radiator fluid, motor oil, blood and leaky urine. It took over an hour to extract his body from the Jaws of Life.
Lenny Mulligan, on the other hand, wasn’t dead, but will probably never have full capacity of his tiny penis, dexterity of his guns, or the ability to fully appreciate his Nazi memorabilia again.
Garbage Truck was rehearsing at Action Rehearsal Studios for the following night’s show at The Glitter House, their biggest ever. The band, newly shortened down to five members, was pretty excited about doing the show. Unfortunately, there was something a little funny in the air that night.
“Let’s do Sweet Sixteen Lucky Thirteen”, Griff called it to the other guys. The band started up the song. Griff sang:
“You just turned sixteen on Friday 13th
Like a black cat you creep…in your sleep
And then you wake…like an earthquake
Like an earthquake…like a mother’s mistake….”
The bridge came up, Griff stepped back and FF Klein, drummer, played an entirely new drum break. Griff made a face and turned around to look at the drummer.
“Stop…STOP!” Griff yelled into the mike. The band reluctantly stopped playing.
“What was that, dude? You totally turned the beat backwards. That’s not the way we’ve been doing it. Play it the same way we’ve been doing it”.
FF Klein glanced over at Bobby Callahan, guitarist, while Griff was talking to him.
“What the fuck are you looking at him for? I’m talking to you, man!”
“Alright, Griff, chill, bro”.
“Yeah, just play it the way I wrote it and then I’ll chill”.
Griff fake bent down to “tie his shoe” and looked at the mirror by the side of the wall and saw Klein winking at Callahan, who smirked and gave him the high sign. Bradley held his mouth to keep from laughing.
The band started the song again and, once again the bridge had the twonky drum change. Griff fumed and threw his arms up, signaling everyone to shut up.
“Dude, what are you doing?” Griff yelled at FF Klein. “Didn’t I just tell you to play it the way I wrote it?”
“Yeah, well, check it out”, Bobby interjected, “We thought we needed a wicked grunge drum break, not so punk, you know. The song sounds kinda old, we wanted to make it sound new”.
“Who cares about sounding new? This is the song I wrote!”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t work, you know. We’re not just sidemen for you, it’s our songs, our band too, y’know”, Bobby got his Irish up.
“It’s your band? Now it’s your band, Bobby?” Griff stalked around in a circle like a panther in a cage, fuming and ready to blow his stack. “Fritz, you just joined, what, two weeks ago, now it’s your band?”
“Dude, don’t be a dictator”.
“I’m worse off than a dictator, a dictator has a country, all I have is four fuckin’ clowns that complain all the time”.
Bradley piped up. “You know we have our own ideas, it’s our band, too man”.
“Oh, now you pipe up. Did you write the songs? Did you book any of the Frisco shows? Do you design the flyers, the t-shirts, did you even pay for any of these things? No, I do it all, I pay for it all, I got us the record deal - you didn’t. 'Your band'”.
“OUR band”, Bobby pushed.
“Oh, what? You hang out with that fuck face Moish Wilson and you think you’re a high roller in the music business now? I got us the Paint It Black Records deal, Mr. Rock Business asshole. I got all the Frisco bookings, not Varmint Booking. Between you and that dick holder you couldn’t organize a cub scout picnic”.
Trev looked at Bobby, “Tell him, Bobby, tell him”.
Griff glared at Trev, “Tell him what? Huh? Tell him what?”
Bobby cleared his throat. “You know all the songs you’ve been making us play? Well, we want equal songwriting credit for publishing”.
“The songs I stayed home and wrote while you stupid pricks were out getting high? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“WELL THAT’S HOW KITTEN CLAWS DOES IT!”
Griff kicked over his microphone stand. CRASH! The PA moaned large deafening feedback through the speakers. “I’m going out to get some fresh air, and you guys can go fuck yourselves dry. I’ll see your stupid asses tomorrow night, and after that, who the fuck knows?”
Bobby decided to get bold. “Yeah, well, maybe your days are numbered instead of ours”.
Griff grabbed his trumpet case. “Fine, douche, you fuckin’ stand to lose more than I ever will…I don’t care and more importantly YOU FUCKIN’ HYENAS CAN GO PISS UP A ROPE!”
Blind with anger to the point that everything looked red and blurry, Griff drove down Hollywood Boulevard barely paying attention to the traffic in front of him. After almost running a red light in his rage-filled delirium, he pulled over to the nearest bar.
The bar was long and narrow, so dark Griff almost stumbled over a few bar stools. He gravitated towards the bright wall of bottles lined up behind the bar with the bartender polishing glasses, staring at the two Latino boys jumping around on their stools.
“Hi, what’s it going to be tonight?”
“Bushmills Irish Whiskey…and I’ll pop for a round of whatever the guys over there are having”.
“One Mick Express and two Jagermeister shots”, he rapped his knuckles on the bar.
The two boys smiled at Griff. “Oh, thank you, Handsome!” one of them chirped.
They all toasted each other, even the bartender hitting a shot glass himself.
“Look at him, he looks tragic, like he fell off a Corvette…”, one boy said.
“…or a Speedboat, in a bathing suit”, the other whispered.
“Shut up! Did I tell you about Puto Johnny, he got pinched stealing a bathing suit at Target”.
“Stupid bitch it probably wasn’t even his size”.
“To the music business”, Griff lifted his shot glass, “A toast to the memory of punk rock, free jazz and garage rock, may they all rest in peace!”
“Whattsamatta buddy, don’t you like music?” the bartender grinned. “You look like a rock guy to me”.
“I was, but not anymore. It’s all over”.
One of the boys ran up to the bartender, “Shawn, play some Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee”. He jumped up and down like a little kid.
Shawn turned around and flipped a switch. “Miss Peggy Lee it is”. He pulled out the Bushmills and refilled Griff’s glass, punctuated by a rap of the knuckles against the bar.
“This one’s on the house”.
The haunting music started and the two boys slow danced up and down the aisle. Peggy Lee sang:
“Is that all there is, is that all there is
Is that all there is, my friend?
Then let’s keep dancing, break out the booze, and have a ball
If that’s all there is…”
The two boys held each other tight and tried singing along but didn’t know the words, so there was a lot of humming and bickering, “That’s not how it goes, slut don’t ruin it for me!”
“Well you can’t sing it for shit, either bitch!”
Griff smiled at them, tears rolling down his face.
Peggy Lee continued:
“I know what you must be saying to yourselves,
if that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no, not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment,
for I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you
when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath…”
Griff lowered his head, rubbing his eyes, when he heard one of the boys shrieking, “LAND ON ME PAPI, LAND ON ME!!!!”
He raised his head to see the boys still in a clutch but staring at the TV set above them. The TV was showing a wrestling match - it was The Hardy Boyz in the square circle. Jeff Hardy was climbing an enormous ladder, getting ready to jump off and land on his sprawling opponent.
“Shush, shut your mouth girl! He wouldn’t land on you if you had a million bucks tied around your tired balls!” He lightly slapped his boyfriend’s face.
“Look at that flying hunky boy!”
Griff sobered up, watching Jeff Hardy jump off the ladder, a lightning flash of sheer muscle and flying blonde hair landing on his opponent and pinning him down. His back stiffened as if a current switched on inside him. He tossed back the rest of his drink and threw down a twenty dollar bill.
“Hey thanks for the drinks and the music”, Griff rapped on the bar top. “I’ve got some phantasmagorical shit to do. Good night, everybody!”
The couple waved at the scruffy young man busting out the barroom door into the brighter darkness.
Copyright, 1968-Is That All There Is? by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller