We pulled up to the house around six and double-parked for the load-in. There were already cars lining the road and in the yard. A lot of them were muscle cars, classics.
“Hey, I think I’m going to like these people,” Stephen said.
The house was pretty nondescript, a white ranch-style with some flowers in the front, just like every other house on that street. I didn’t know these people—they were friends of Stan’s. I didn’t know many people in Forrest City. It had a reputation for violence since it was situated on the Interstate near West Memphis. The door opened, and a skinny girl with a mostly-shaved head told us to come in.
“Hey Amy,” Stan said.
We followed him in. The house was bare of furniture—maybe because they’d taken it all out, or maybe they lived like that. There were crosses everywhere, though, not just plain old wooden crosses, or the little altars you got in Catholic houses; these were ornate, stylized black crosses with red accents, I guess to represent blood.
“You sure about this, Stan?” I asked.
“It’s cool,” he said.
There were a few people loitering around, talking. They mostly looked hardcore as hell—there was lots of leather, chains, and boots; tee-shirts for bands I’d never heard of; and shaved heads and piercings. Sure, at a punk show, you got some crazy outfits, though we tended to just wear jeans, but these people looked like they were ready to hear the Misfits. There wasn’t anyone I knew in the house.
“We’ll pass around the bucket,” Stan said. “These guys will be generous. They support each other. You’ll see.”
“How do you know these guys, Stan?” I asked. “They didn’t go to school with us.”
“My cousin,” he said.
We set up in the dining room so people could spill over into the living room and kitchen. There were twenty or thirty people, staring at us.
“You guys any good?” one guy asked. He had a shaved head and was wearing a shirt for the band Tightrope. It had a picture of a noose with the band’s name.
“I don’t know, man,” I said.
“I think you probably suck,” he said.
“We probably do,” I said.
“You don’t play any of that rap shit, do you?” he asked.
“Man, fuck off,” I said. “We’re trying to set up.”
“Hey, be cool,” he said, “I’m just fucking with you.” He held out his hand. I ignored it.”Hey, man,” he said. I took his hand. “All right,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder.
Another guy came up just then and grabbed Stan’s hand and pulled him into a hug like they do in movies. It was his cousin, who I vaguely remembered from school. He was big, now, decked out like all the rest.
“Thanks for coming, you guys,” he said. He shook each of our hands.
“I don’t know if this is our crowd,” I said.
“No, man, everybody’s cool,” he said.
“Yeah?” I said. “What if I told you my mom was black and my dad was Jewish?”
His face froze then split into a smile. “You’re funny,” he said, slapping me on the shoulder. “You guys are all right.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Stan,” I said, when his cousin left. “This is a bad fucking idea.”
“It’s cool,” he said.
“It’s not cool. This is a fucking skinhead party. We’re not fucking skinheads.”
“Look, man, this is my cousin’s house. He’s family. These guys are family.”
“Fuck that,” I said. “They aren’t my family.”
“They’re mine,” he said. He held my eyes for a long moment.
“Shit,” I said. “We’re your family, not these fucking guys.”
“Look,” Stan said. “So there are some guys here who have different beliefs and opinions about the world than you do. So what? Are you going to tell them what to believe? How’s that any different than the fucking Baptists you’re always bitching about.”
“No, man, that’s not—“ I said.
“And some of these guys have been to our shows before,” he continued, cutting me off. “They’ve seen us. It’s the same audience we’ve always got.”
“Fuck,” I said. “But these guys—“
“Just give them a chance,” he said. “What do you think, Stephen?”
Stephen looked around. “A gig’s a gig,” he said. “I mean, it’s not like they’re burning crosses. And it’s just an image thing, right?”
I shook my head.
“Two to one,” Stan said. “Listen, we always do what you want. So here’s one show for me.”
“Damn it, Stan,” I said. “Fuck! Well, let’s do it and get it done.”
It took us another quarter of an hour to set up. We did our sound-check, which consisted of turning everything on and tuning. That’s all the warning we gave them. People flooded into the room as we started playing. Mostly, they just stood and watched with these fucking smirks on their faces. We played our first song, went directly into our second, and they were still just kind of standing there.
Stan was really pushing us, speeding everything up. We were working to keep up with him. We sounded good, though. I tried to tune out the audience and just focus on jamming with my friends, but it was awkward. We finished another song, and it pissed me off that they were being suck dicks.
“What’s the problem?” I said. “You think you’re at a museum? What are you drinking there, a martini?”
A couple of them laughed. We started in on our next song, and they seemed to warm up a little, but not much. People were walking out, going in other rooms. The ones who stayed were standing around, making comments in each other’s ears. It was humiliating, but the whole time, Stan kept pushing us.
After 45 minutes of so, there were maybe 10 or 15 people still in the room, none of them the least bit interested. They looked like we were annoying them by playing so loud so they couldn’t hear each other talk.
“Let’s stop,” I said, when we finished a song.
“We haven’t played our closer,” Stan said.
“They don’t care,” I said.
“Let’s play it,” he said. “Last song. It’ll win them over. Trust me.”
Stephen shrugged and started. I came in, just trying to get through it, but Stan was a madman. He was like Keith Moon, working the cymbals like crazy—he hit rolls for pretty much the entire chorus. After we finished, there were a couple half-hearted, mocking cheers. I turned everything off and started loading out before Stan had even stood up. Stephen and I had the amps and vocal equipment loaded up before Stan started on the drums. We came back to help him, and there was blood on the wall behind him.
“Jesus, Stan,” Stephen said.
Stan’s hands were blistered and bloody. He was just grinning and panting, like the cat that ate the canary. I looked around, trying to figure out if they had a First Aid kit in the house, and just then somebody turned on the stereo, playing some shitty metal with Cookie Monster screaming about dragons. People started coming back into the house, then. I tried to ask around, but nobody even paid attention to me, and I couldn’t find Stan’s cousin.
“Hang on,” I said to Stan.
Stephen and I loaded up the rest of the drums while Stan sat there, trying to catch his breath, holding his bloody hands up like they had stigmata. Nobody from the party even acknowledged him. They were caught up in the music, pushing and punching each other. I took Stan to the sink and ran water over his hands and washed them with the almost empty bottle of dish detergent there. I took him out to the van, where Stephen had found some gauze in the glove box. We wrapped Stan’s hands up. He was weirdly quiet the whole time. I felt really bad for him. We got in and drove away.
CL Bledsoe is the author of two poetry collections, _____(Want/Need) and Anthem. A chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. A minichap, Texas, was recently published by Mud Luscious Press. A short story collection, Naming the Animals, is forthcoming from Mary Celeste Press. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. He is an editor for Ghoti Magazine http://www.ghotimag.com. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere.
All rights for any work used by the Juke Jar are retained by the individual artists. Unless otherwise stated, all other contents are © 2010 Canopic Publishing. No items should be borrowed or reproduced in any form without permission of the respective copyright holder.