New Year’s Eve
In the spare room of my house at the end of a narrow cul-de-sac, in one of those old, quiet Sunset Terrace neighborhoods, I bleed out. I’m sitting at an old wooden table that came with the house. My wrists stretch over a ceramic bowl into which I have already poured a tincture of autumn mandrake and pure grain alcohol. The razor blade lies next to the bowl.
I’m staring down the life that now drains from me. I’ve had some great times, so it’s not for contempt of life itself that I do this. What burns inside me instead is the struggle against a great silence—a lasting silence born of the brutality of chance and time, severing me from what I had once been.
Dal Agostino’s the name. Yeah, the drummer. One of those guys who got tagged as an architect of the Tulsa Sound. A workhorse with a true respect for the art. I’ve recorded and toured with the greatest, from Leon Russell to Ry Cooder to John Lee Hooker. Strong blues-rock pedigree, as you can tell. I’ve tangled myself in leggy blondes at an Amsterdam hotel, eaten bangers and mash in London, stood before Guernica in Madrid.
None of this happened, of course, without prerequisites. My quick sticks and cute face got me into the shit dives and titty bars around town, and my smart mouth got me tossed out of them just as often. In June 1970, I told the other three guys in that sad sack outfit Rusted Nines that I had come down with food poisoning. I wound up at the Tulsa Assembly Center with a backstage pass I had scored from a guy I worked with; his mother dated a marketing honcho at Carson Ticket Agency. After a set of twelve or so songs by the main act, I popped the sophomoric question, “What’s the best advice you can give a nineteen-year-old musician?” Jimi Hendrix smiled, took a drag off his cigarette, and replied, “Just bang it out as hard as you can, brother.” And for four decades, I did.
None of that figures in the fabric of now. It’s all memory, filler, as uncelebrated as the dickless wonder who crashed his Escalade into my custom GT on US-169 during the blizzard of 2011, leaving the bottom half of me dead. Long story short: Tad Pinnerton, the boy in his dead daddy’s pocket posing as a developer. You’ve seen the outcries in the local media from time to time, about all the hardworking businesspeople he and his posse have kicked to the curb, just because they had the money. Keeping in style, Pinnerton came out of that blinding white hell with hardly a scratch.
A YouTube video surfaced, with Pinnerton crooning to some luncheon crowd that his survival of the accident was “one of those blessings reserved for the true warriors of a great class”. I got a pittance of a settlement to stack up against the nightmares, the depression, the months of hellish therapy that wasn’t going to bring my legs or my cock back to life, no matter how much it hurt the rest of my sixty-plus self. I tried the kick-free kit thing, and some digital hardware, but technology couldn’t reinvent me. I knew it couldn’t.
Say what you like, but we’re all too different. I have no book to write, no motivational charlatan shit, no appeal to the footnotes that record small triumphs, defining tragedies, the journeyman’s legacy. For the moment, my wheelchair speaks the loudest. But this move, executed solely by my own hand, will end that. An old beat returns to me from long ago, one I never laid to tape but kept in my head. It hammers there, a rapid-fire dialogue for perfectly tuned floor toms: ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM, ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM-bop, over and over. Pure and primal, just like the isolated drum tracks of Moonie, Bonzo, Peart, et al., that people put on YouTube for kids to learn. A rite of things joined, reactive, interactive.
The blood falling into the bowl from the openings forged in my wrists will absorb the beat. Blood to speak, mandrake to amplify, alcohol to anchor. And the rhythm will unite all—Ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM, ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM-bop. Dal Agostino’s finest performance in a long time.
My personal assistant knows what to do. I’ve laid it out in explicit detail. If anyone can pull off a task demanding both the discipline of a trained combat soldier and the grace of a ballerino, it’s Gene. I knew Gene was pretty sharp when we first struck up a conversation at Arnie’s Bar. You see, he’s been on the other side, too, having lost it all when building supplies tanked in ‘08. He never questioned me when I decided the course of things. I know he’ll be a good steward of my house, money, and assets. And as long as he does the precise job I need and doesn’t slack off, he gets my protection.
Gene’s probably sitting at Arnie’s again tonight, blind and deaf to the joys and amusements of those around him. I told him to go easy because he had better be in top shape for the coming hours. I’ve drilled him on how to deal with the first responders and the police. My cremation. And most important of all, what to do with this bowl of joined, reactive, interactive things I’ll leave behind.
I’m free of pain and all of its friends as I fade out now. Blood to speak, mandrake to amplify, alcohol to anchor. Ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM, ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM-bop. Happy New Year.
The residue of a hot day hangs in the darkness. Traffic ebbs and flows on Riverside Drive during its graveyard shift as a conduit linking greater Tulsa to its downtown destinations. A man with a painted face stands in an area recessed from the streetlights along the bike/jogging trail. Little breezes hold together a mask of deep plum red, interrupted by a white half-moon encasing his nose and eyes. Six months of after-dark mystery shopping, and it’s incontestable that this is where the rough ones come to buy their goodies.
Nerves poke at Gene. The Torchy’s Tacos from earlier this evening begin to flip-flop in their acid soup. The banner flying high at every turn screams: This Is a Very Precise Deal, and It’s All About Dal.
A large figure plods along the trail. He exits the light of the tall lamps and heads toward Gene. He stops just short: a big bruiser kid in jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap.
“Whatta you got?” he barks.
Gene holds out a tiny clear packet. It’s unmarked, and the sugar cube inside it looks as plain as it should.
“Your ticket, that’s what. The ticket no one else in your life is going to write you. Forty, firm. No more, no less.” Set in stone. Dal-approved.
The kid tugs at the tail of his T-shirt and grunts. “Forty bucks. For what kind of ticket?”
Gene smiles. “The kind only you could want.”
“How do you know what I want?”
“Well, if you need some detail, then let’s just say this one amplifies you.”
The kid chuckles. “The fuck’s that mean?”
“It means just that. You’ll never feel more alive, and you’ll never get more done.” Gene leans in. “And it’s so good it hasn’t got a name yet. But I’ll leave that to you, should you decide to march to the beat.”
“Again,” the kid says, “what are you talking about?”
“Just an expression. You have to experience it for yourself. I mean, if you’re really—”
“You say it’ll amplify me. Well, so will Peruvian flake. And plain Okie backwoods tweak.”
Gene nods. “All fine stuff, if you’re either hanging with suits at the Mayo or looking to rot your teeth out of your skull.” He holds up the packet, jiggling it a bit. “This is so much more, my friend. More organic, no outside shit, no funnels or tubes involved. Just real, like you and what you’re all about. I wouldn’t—”
“Dude,” the kid snarls, “you’re working my last nerve, with all your psych talk from behind that bullshit mask of yours. What are you, some kind of clown therapist? Look, I’ve been in my share of the shit lately. The job, the woman, you name it. I ain’t gonna go into it, ‘cause you don’t look much like a shrink to me. But let’s get one thing clear right now, buddy, I buy that shit and it ain’t all you say it is, I’ll find your ass real quick.”
No way. Dal, you weren’t kidding around when you said you’d look out for me. Think he’s a good one?
“Yeah, I gotcha,” Gene says. “I’m standing here, listening to you, and I can tell you’re way out of the bush league.” He holds up the packet again. “This’ll see you through. That is, if you let it.”
He moves in for the close.
“You’re not lost, my man. And far be it from me to make you do anything at all. But I’ll tell you this: Ten years from now, when a few more people have found out how to undo the things you’ve accomplished, to keep you from doing what matters to you, you’re going to find yourself older, scratched raw, and eaten from limb to limb. You don’t strike me as someone who wants that. So if you’re with me, let’s make this happen.”
The kid sighs, looks down, grabs his wallet. Crisp notes crackle in the darkness as he produces them: a twenty and a pair of tens. Transaction made.
A quick breeze blows by. There’s a sharp and distinct chill to it, something not felt during an average Oklahoma July.
Gene’s customer turns and starts back through the darkness. Just as quickly, he turns back around and thrusts an index finger at him. “I’ll track your ass down. So help me fuck.” The kid charges back into the light of the street lamps, a bull with its head down in the mixed language of the determined and the downtrodden.
The people of Jenks are reeling in shock after yesterday’s brutal slaying of real estate developer Tad Pinnerton. Pinnerton was found dead in his Jenks home, a victim of blunt force trauma and mutilation. Police acting on a wellness check found Pinnerton, 49, lying on a blood-soaked bathroom floor after he failed to show up for a meeting. He had suffered massive head injuries, and his eyes were missing. Smashed furniture was strewn across a living room. Pinnerton’s wife and two children were not at home at the time of the killing, but were located and notified...Police are also investigating reports of a young man behaving strangely at a south Tulsa convenience store yesterday morning, though at this time they are uncertain as to whether this incident is connected to Pinnerton’s death. Witnesses say a tall, muscular Caucasian man over six feet tall, thought to be in his late teens or early twenties, wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, a red baseball cap, and sunglasses, entered the E Z Stop near the corner of 61st and Peoria. He appeared to dance and bob his head. According to the store clerk, the man purchased an energy drink and began beating a strange rhythm on the counter with his palms. The clerk told authorities he asked the man to leave, but the man began pounding even harder and yelling as if he were celebrating something. According to authorities, the clerk said the man then left the store, still moving his head in rhythm…
When I saw it on the local news today, I burst out laughing. Some things work out so insanely well, they’re hilarious.
It’s great to be walking again. And young, at that. More to the point, I’m a wise, traveled old man in a body that’s big, powerful, and young enough to reverse the effects of whatever may have gone into it before. A don’t-fuck-with-me body, with a voice to match. I like the horned succubus inked into my left forearm—she’s hot!—though I could do without the piranha on my right calf.
Gene, what can I say, you nailed it! On the very first try, you sold me to the right one. And you had plenty of backup doses if we had to keep trying until we got it right. You’re a fucking genius, Gene! And I’ve got to give myself credit, of course. When the kid dissolved that sugar cube in his mouth, it was like being shot through a greased portal and emerging as a potent, concentrated storm. I hedged every bet: park down the street, ski mask, gloves, different shirt, and don’t say a fucking word in case the house is wired for sound. Pinnerton didn’t have a chance. See, after you incapacitate a guy there’s a lot you can do with a broken-off table leg. The eyes were a point of artistry—a syncopated fill played with a grapefruit spoon.
Sure, I know there are lots more Tad Pinnertons running around. Just not this one.
Pulling the keys from my jeans pocket, I hopped back into Jared Hager’s battered 2009 Camaro and, using his driver’s license, found my way back to his apartment. Holy shit, this kid lived like a pig! Bugs, smells, scraps of food rotting and molding on dishes stacked in the kitchen sink. And the stains on the bed—I won’t even go there. I put the T-shirt and ball cap back on and nodded out in a huge, torn-up recliner in Jared’s living room. The feeling as I awakened there in the morning light that filtered through the window blinds was something I couldn’t describe. And that rhythm of mine—Ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM, ka-PLOM-PLOM-plicka-plicka-PLOM-PLOM-bop—began to overtake me once again, a very different force than the weed or blow or pills the old Dal had been accustomed to.
Fuck, listen to me—Dal, Jared, mine, his…Good thing I never thought this part would be easy.
I’ve got to take a shower, give this place a scrubbing, and wash some of the clothes that are mine until I can go shopping. Jared’s phone is a bit sketchy, and I can’t seem to find his Facebook or Instagram passwords anywhere. I’ll have to chill here until the smoke clears from Pinnerton, and I’ll go about the business of learning all things Jared, so I can end the lease and bust out of this place without incident and go home.
I called Gene; he could hardly contain himself. He got a kick out of my new badass voice. When I get back to the house, he gets anything he wants—a house of his own, a new car, a trip to the Bahamas, whatever—with the money he’s been managing. And my old set of Ludwig Green Sparkles, that treasure from the dawn of my renaissance, comes out of storage.
© 2018 F.M. Scott