I lay my right Van down onto my tuner and the lights quit flashing. I'm in tune. Or I'm close enough. The guitar will sound good, I'm sure of that. The room is full and the people are loud and this is all there is for now. The guitar is a gun, the safety is off, here we go.
We do what we always used to do but haven't done much in a while. I stare at my brother and his eyes meet mine then dart away. He smiles but it's vague. We are where we belong in a sense, just a few feet apart from each other on a stage not all that far from where we were both born.
My nerves are nothing. I'm firing squad cool/lips dry/condemned and down with it/hinged to the fact that it is what it is. All is lost, you know. I tried to fight it. I wandered for years far from the music, from the band and the songs. I used to revel in every afternoon van mile, in every early stupid November post-nasal drip pain-in-the-ass I'd simply choose to ignore.
Staring at myself in St. Louis motel room mirrors/in Barcelona mirrors/in Austin mirrors and London mirrors, in tiny interchangeable rooms where the nicotine paint would flare up as soon as the hot water steam rose up to lick its face and the shock of the transition from some caffeinated day running an interstate to nothing but my own reflection, that all became as comfortable as any sense I had ever experienced. Years went by when I couldn't imagine myself not being in the band. And then new years unfolded all around me, years in which I couldn't imagine ever being in the band again.
And now tonight. I have no idea what anything means anymore. I finger my pick as my brother turns to the drummer and I imagine myself up against the wall, saying 'Fuck you' one last time to a firing squad who will eat meatloaf or whatever at home with their families tonight while I set out across the universe on a idiot mule, bound for some distant alpine mountain ridge wilderness across the stars that I will chase but never catch for eternity.
It's a mindfuck, but so it goes. Life or death.
My brother counts us in with the familiar slide and pull of three or four notes on his guitar and then we are off. Everything comes down out of the sky when you kick it all in with a band, first song of the night. You are shot thirty times at once, the rifle bullets tearing through your face and your chest, ripping across your heart and shattering your ribs/shredding your armpits/slamming through your spine with the force of a trillion wild sheep who have been running you down since the day you were born.
It is the most perfect way to die, kicking into the opener is. It is the most beautiful life-affirming feeling I have ever known because it is such a goddamn beautiful way to get shot in the eyeball/die/get reborn/and start living again, but this time with all the cocksure sway of immortality firing through your veins.
To be up here again now is my decision of cards flung high in the air. I get a little scared. I feel a little sad. I wonder if I'm alright. I hope I find my groove. I stare in people's eyes. They stare back from the crowd. They break into smiles.
I catch a fistful of screaming bullets and I hold them in my fist for a long long second or two while the firing squad boys try and figure out what the fuck is happening. Then I drop them down on the prison yard stones- clink-clink-clink-clink-clink- slow-clink-clink-pausing before I drop the last one- letting it go- not watching it fall-staring straight into the frightened doo-rag masky eyes of the men who tried to kill me- quiet-quiet-quiet.......
That's what it feels like for me tonight.
Dude. That is me kicking into song one.
In the box are more boxes and I have them scattered all over my summer kitchen floor. The first thing the satellite TV companies do is try and get you to stay. Don't cancel your account, they tell you. You have options. But if you refuse all the options and you don't answer the 8 or 9 times they call your cellphone over the next week or so, then they finally give up on you and send you a box of boxes.
Pack your equipment up and send it back to us, they tell you. Or we'll hit you with charges. Fair enough. I flop the boxes down onto the floor and root around for the directions they send along to show you how to pack their shit so it doesn't get busted rolling around on it's way back to them and you don't end up getting hit with charges. Charges is why I'm doing this. But there are charges for canceling charges.
I lift up the black receiver thing that has sat atop my TV for the last year and a half and I try and figure out where it it goes. I haven't erased anything off the DVR so there's still a lot of me and the kids in there, I guess. So many movies I recorded and never watched. I remember that I had the Today show recorded from when I was on it last year. They invited me on to talk about an article I'd written where I listed reasons I was a shit husband. Whatever. I never watched it. I've never seen me on the Today Show. Who fucking cares.
I was always down to like 9% space available for recording stuff, but I hardly ever watched any of the stuff I was recording. And charges all along.
So much Peppa Pig in there too. I hold the receiver up to my face and I sniff it in but it smells like nothing. The Peppa thing makes me a little sad. It's Charlie's favorite show when he's here at my place. I would always do this whole balancing act maneuver whenever we rolled up from the grocery store or the park or whatever. I'd double-park the car out back in the alley and get Violet and Henry in the house with snack promises as I carried Charlie in my arms. Inside I would hand out juices and milk and swing over to the TV/grab the remote/hit all the right buttons/and have Peppa Pig rolling out into the room in seconds flat.
Charlie is such a beautiful little boy. He always wandered over to the flat screen high above his head and he smiles as he recognizes his show, his pigs. Transfixed then, I'd make my move and go back out to carry in all of our school bags and lunch bags and grocery bags and shit before I'd park the car/run back into the house/open both back doors (making sure I sneak in the one that leads into the kitchen) so I could stand there for a second watching Charlie leaning his bottle back into his face/side-stepping/uneasy swaying/his eyes up on the TV/Violet curled up under the blue blanket/Henry up the other end of the couch, his usual afternoon face down on the usual pillow/his kicks kicked off under the coffee table/his tired eyes emotionless but stapled to the show.
I find where the receiver/DVR thing goes and I lay it down.
The kids aren't here, they're at their mom's. I lay all the Peppa Pigs and Sponge Bobs down. I lay the animal shows down, the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that me and Henry would watch every night after we did our guy's workout on the living room rugs and I drug my dinner over to the coffee table so he could steal hunks of cheese or strips of red pepper off of the cutting board I use as a plate.
I start crying. I swear to God I do.
I know, I know, I know.
But I lose it sometimes. I don't care. I admit that shit. They're here, they're not here. I'm up, I'm down. The shows were part of it all, you know? Peppa lived up in the DVR and she was a part of all this sweet mess we've got going on over here and now I'm shipping her out. It's like I'm shipping our pet pig off to the bacon house or something.
There's only like maybe 4 or 5 tears and then I bounce back: I growl, clear my throat, tough guy shit. I put the remotes in the box. I seal the whole thing up according to their directions. I try to avoid any additional charges. Then I look at the box on the counter and I touch it with my fingertips, like a coffin. Like my dead grandmother's coffin splayed out there in the late afternoon front room Victorian sun shafts.
Oh get it together, rock-n-roller. Just send the goddamn box back and pull yourself together. Goodbye, Peppa. We love you. I'll buy you in an app for Apple TV if there is one.
Yo, is there one?
That show I played, we played...the one from the beginning of this thing?
We killed it.
We fucking killed it.
It's not the guitar or the cartoons. It isn't the words I try and come up with or the fact that I never proof read them enough. It isn't the frozen pizzas in the freezer or the push-ups in the evening or the fantasies in my head or the novels piling up on my nightstand. It's never the awkwardness of forward motion or the hammering resilience of the past. It isn't the slamming of the backdoor and I know it's my brother or the ringing of the phone and I know it's a bill. It's neither here nor there, hardly this or that.
It's not her people showing up in my Facebook feed making me restless.
It's never the last of the milk and I've gotta get more.
It isn't the text message invites or the Christmas lights burning out in the kitchen again or the sour smell in the car upholstery that never ever goes away.
It's not the dog that died.
It's not the things I tell myself. And it's not the things I can't face.
It's everything at once and everything else at the same exact fucking time.
It's nothing really. But then again it's not that either.
It's the shine of the tiles in the gas station bathroom. It's the waking up from a deep sleep three seconds before the alarm goes off. It's the long, strangely elegant toilet paper ribbon 'someone' drug into the bunk bed room. It's the last ditch offers from Direct TV coming so fast and furious for a while there. Now they don't come anymore at all.
It's the little girl eating her Cinnamon Toast Crunch by her plastic cup of lemonade.
It's the pumpkins dying out in the field right up the road.
It's the one dude dressed up like a vampire, eating a banana.
It's the other dude streaming snot down over the smile of God.
It's the silent click of the tuner under my Van, the rush of in tune firing up into my groin.
It's knowing I don't know. It's knowing I will never know. But I know it will snow. So it's the snow, don't you know.
It's these racing days and these long dark nights slipping past me like deer in the morning sliding down past the tractor parked in the colorless mist of yet another dawn not even a half mile from where I sleep the sleep of a man who stared his firing squad in the eye, whispered "Fuck. You.", and lived to tell the tale.