"Turn it up, Jim!" Double J said to me over his right shoulder. I didn't. Instead I stood near the amp, holding a hammer and a giant piece of sheet metal stiff in my hand. I stared at the Iron Maiden skull on the back of his jean jacket, which seemed, almost, to be pulsing like a turtle's heart. I thought about that pack of mini-thins he'd gobbled in the parking lot, washing them down with a two liter of Mountain Dew. "Jim, turn it up, I said! These deaf old pricks can't hear how talented we are!" I didn't move. Double J threw down both microphones, unison screeching volleying forth when they hit the ground. "Fuck it!" he said, stomping over to the amp and cranking it with one quick clockwise jerk. The noise made my eardrums feel like they'd been punctured with a needle. Punk Rock Steve stood with a wasted guitar slung around his neck and tried to straighten his Mohawk, clenching it between his palms above his head and pulling up, hands clasped there as if he was in prayer. The way he looked at the exit was sad; he looked like he was ready to cry. Even in his thick leather jacket with the metal studs on the shoulders, he looked helpless.
Considering our plan, there could have been a much friendlier place to have our first gig than a rowdy piss-smelling biker bar by the highway. I pushed doing it at a college party or something. The plan was simple: get booked somewhere as a band, don't play music, tune your instruments for as long as you can get away with and berate the audience from behind a wall of feedback that would make your teeth hurt from the inside out--the more noise the better. Double J called it 'Jerkcore.' Jerkcore came to him like an epiphany while he was drinking a giant bottle of Jolt Cola mixed with vodka in the forest preserve about a week before. My job was to bang on a giant piece of sheet metal with a hammer. Double J had just gotten a new step-dad, this born-again Christian with rosy cheeks and the sort of disposition that makes you want to smack those cheeks. He'd been down, depressed. Otherwise I'd never have agreed to it. He tricked me.
Double J ripped the piece of sheet metal from my hand and started smacking it violently onto the stage, moving his arms up and down. The sound was discordant, I guess is the word. It made the big vein on the right side of my forehead feel full, ready to burst. I took to glancing at the emergency exit, too. I wanted out. Double J threw the sheet metal on the floor and picked up the microphones.
"We got to get out of here," Steve said, leaning towards my ear and whispering loudly.
"We got to get him out of here, too," I said. He looked at me wide-eyed, scared; his Mohawk drooped again.
"He'll never go peacefully," Steve said.
"What's the difference between a live prostitute and a dead prostitute?" Double J asked the sparse crowd from the lip of the stage, behind a cloak of amplifiers feeding back on their own feedback. No one answered.
"About five minutes!" Double J said, clutching his stomach, baring his teeth and laughing obnoxiously. "Get it?! Five minutes, see, 'cause that's how long it takes to strangle the bitch...is this thing on?" Double J pounded the microphone four times into his forehead. The crowd, still, did not respond. Double J quacked like a tortured duck, then breathed heavily into the mic like he was Darth Vader.
From the stage you could see the bartender. He wore an eye patch, a gold chain with a rifle bullet at the end of it, and had cotton white hair combed up in a vicious pompadour. He dished out drinks to surly bikers and discontented rednecks.
"I'm just kidding," Double J said, wiping his sleeve across his sweaty forehead. "The difference between the live prostitute, AKA your mom, and the dead one, AKA your sisters, is the live one never met me!" After saying this Double J made a repeated stabbing motion with the mic in his right hand, waited, then fell into hysterics. He laughed for about a minute straight.
We'd been on stage, doing this (tuning instruments, berating the audience, making a racket) for about fifteen minutes; by we I mainly mean Double J. There were only three people left in front of the stage--standing there on the sticky booze-covered floor--who seemed dumb enough to think that we were ever going to play some music. This was Double J's invention. Anyway, Jerkcore started off as just a comical way to pass the time but soon snowballed into this:
"Hey you faggoty, faggot homo-curious, vaginal warts, I'm gonna dedicate this song to your mothers, wives, children and God, it's called 'Is it true that you need a small cock to drive a Harley?'" Double J was pissing them off. He stood, straight-backed and furious-eyed at the edge of the stage, staring down the room, throwing clenched fists into the air and bellowing into the microphones. People shuffled and held their ears in the back of the room where the bar was. The bartender stood behind the bar underneath a decapitated deer head.
"Fine fine fine," Double J said. "You don't like that song, how about this one: It's by a guy who's old, covered in lice and scabies, and hairy like an ape. He's into adolescent girls and killing living things. Know who I'm talkin' 'bout?" Double J paused. There were no guesses. "NO! Not your father, stupid. I'm talkin' 'bout Ted Nugent!" Double J sang "Cat Scratch Fever" in a voice that sounded like his tonsils were wrapped in barbed wire and at that very moment the wire was being unwound by a methed-up dentist.
Punk Rock Steve gave me a concerned look; when Steve gave you a concerned look it was time to worry, as he's over six-feet tall and weighs almost three-hundred pounds. He had long ago stopped pulling on the broken strings of his guitar; it lay limp around his shoulder. His mohawk drooped to one side.
"I guess you fuckers just ain't hardcore enough for me," Double J said, jabbing himself in the chest with his thumb. He began yodeling. He yodeled for a long time. I was getting dizzy from the feedback, the fear of being squashed by bikers and the floodlight that flashed into our faces. I couldn't see what was left of the crowd very well. But what I could see was not at all uplifting. "Get off the stage!" I heard someone say. I still held the hammer and sheet metal in my hand; I was so scared it felt invisible. I hadn't been doing my job for a good five minutes. We'd only been on stage for fifteen minutes or so. Double J stopped yodeling.
"Does Chicago like to rock?" he asked. No one answered. Double J responded as if they had said yes. "Well too bad!" he said. The only people I could see clearly did not look happy. A bearded biker with legs bigger than Double J's whole self. A biker chick with a crew cut and bleached-blonde hair with her lips pursed angrily. And some Vidal Sassooned Armani suit wearing motherfucker.
Someone in the bar shouted: "Does Chicago hate pussy-ass college boy assholes?" This was not true. We were only in high school. Double J and Punk Rock Steve looked older due to hard living is all; they both huffed household cleansers, drank, and all that a helluva lot more than me.
"WHAT?" Double J asked, falling to one knee and bowing his sweaty head, genuflecting before the gods of rock.
Me and Punk Rock Steve had not only stopped playing our instruments; we had stopped moving, hoping to blend in with the wall like chameleons, I guess. We stood close to the door. Buckets of sweat covered Double J's body. His blonde hair was matted in thick clumps. He turned to me and smiled a snaggle-toothed smile.
Then Double J fell. Someone had chucked a Coors Light bottle at the back of his skull; it smacked into the base of his neck. He lay sprawled out on the dirty linoleum floor for half a minute. The bottle lay on the ground, twirling slowly. I heard applause domino around the bar; peopled hooted. Me and Mike craned our necks, looking down at Double J to survey the damage -- he was down for a good thirty seconds. Then he sprung up with a microphone clenched in his white-knuckled hand. "Which one of you homoerotic, homo, ingrown-tit-hair, assholes threw that bottle?" Double J asked, screaming his words with more fury than before. Spit shot from his lips. No one answered. "You bitches ain't gonna beat me that easy," Double J said. "I'm like Tony fucking Montana!" He smiled and then sneered at the audience. Then, he bowed, putting his right hand in front of his stomach and his left behind his back, very elegant.
In the back of the room, at the bar, two large biker thugs in dark sunglasses stood up. Double J narrowed his eyes at them. They looked like clothed, partially-shaved Sasquatches.
"Was it you two fuckers? I'm not afraid of you apes!" Double pointed directly at them. His finger shook slightly.
Then I heard, "It was me!" as the bleached-blonde biker chick raised her hand. "Whachyou gonna do about it, huh?" Double J stared at her for a second. He scowled, every muscle on his face taut, eyes focused and narrowed.
"I'll fight you!" he said, assuming a pugilistic position, dropping the microphones again and brandishing both fists in front of him like the Notre Dame mascot. She lumbered towards the stage; she was big. If there was a crowd it would have parted for this giant woman. Double J hopped down from the stage to cut her off, fists still balled-up in front of him. She was a head taller than him. She didn't hesitate, just walked up to him, punched him in the nose with a hard right cross and then caught him by the scruff of his jacket before he fell so that she could pull him up, grab him by both of his ears and give him a solid headbutt. A headbutt solid enough to crack a two-by-four in half. Double J hurtled back; his head cracked into the corner of the stage. He wasn't moving. And for the first time that night, we had a real crowd, one that hooted, cheered and gathered round. I turned off the amp. My ears went wah-wah-wah and I heard something like what I imagined a dog whistle must sound to a dog.
The woman sneered and said, "Fucking punk ass, you got a problem with homosexuals you better keep it to yourself next time." She strode, victorious, to the bar. Everyone patted her on her shoulders and back. The man in the Armani suit held a shot glass in his hand. I caught his eye; he raised it to me as if to say "Cheers", winked, and then downed it. Me and Steve picked up Double J. I grabbed him by the wrists, and Steve held his legs by the ankles -- in the middle his body slouched like a hammock. We carried him outside and into the parking lot. We loaded him into the back seat of his Trans Am. His bloodied nose stained the leopard-print seat cover. He coughed, sniffled, laughed but didn't say anything. I drove, and Punk Rock Steve sat next to me; his drooping Mohawk scrunched against the roof of the car. I pulled onto the highway.
Double J sat up suddenly, holding a hand over his nose and looked appraisingly at the bloodstain on his seat cover. He didn't say anything for a while.
"Hey Jim, we might need to make a run to Walgreen's," he said.
"Yeah, I think my seat cover needs some tampons," he said, giggling while the blood trickled slowly from his nose, collecting in marble-sized red bubbles on his upper lip. We laughed, too.
Highway driving is the closest thing I know to meditation; steady rhythm of sights and sounds, the whooshes, the smooth road, streetlights all set up equidistant from each other -- it trances me out. We were quiet for a while.
"Hey Jim," Double J said, "Can I use that hammer?"
"How come?" He held a filthy sock to his bleeding nose.
"I wanna take it home and split my fucking step-dad's head open, that's how come!" He laughed and wheezed. His nose looked like a red, warped egg. "Send his bitch ass to Jesus!" His laughter sounded forced, but ferocious. And I thought that it's sort of funny the way rage can sometimes turn to humor. I watched Double J, sitting up and then miming the way he'd prefer to smash his step-dad's skull, and I looked to my right at Steve's squished Mohawk and started laughing. It was all just too ridiculous.
"Oh shit," I said. "I think I left the hammer at the bar." Double J's back straightened; he sneered.
"Fuck it, man. Let's go back!" he said, then pumped his fist wrathfully and sang "Fat Bottom Girls" over and over again, laughing his ass off all the way home.
Joe Deir is the sole winner of THE2NDHAND's contest for writers in the Columbia College undergrad fiction-writing program, the prize for which is the title of 'bobtailed monkey' and publication here, dears. So, a round of applause, if you please.... Joe lives in Oak Lawn, Southwest of our city. More of his work can be found at www.inkstains.org, where Joe functions as co-editor. And watch for more here.