“I've got a promising situation unfolding but I hesitate because it requires an absolute sell out to everything and everyone I absolutely despise.” The beer was cold, the woman at his side was warm.
“D; what are you talking about?” said Billy, “You sold out long ago.” He sipped his beer and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. A soft purr of a burp slipped from his lips. His lady, Gina elbowed his side and called him a pig.
It was late by the world's standard, way past midnight, but the evening had just begun for them, having shed their shoes and leather pants, rinsed off the makeup and hair spray they now settled into hammocks between softly swaying palm trees somewhere just north of the equator.
“I love Costa Rico” said D's girl. Her name was Tammy, or was it Tiffany? Either way she looked like her name and by the same time tomorrow he would have forgotten her and her name and would be with another Tiffany, Tammy, Amber or Ginger or...
“It's Belize” said D. He sipped his beer and laid it in the sand.
“What's a Belize?” asked Tammy. He saw her face scrunch stupidly and he immediately wanted to toss her from the hammock and take a long walk on the beach alone. In a split second he questioned every single thing about his meaningless life and wondered at the vanity of it all. He remembered the words to a song he had written ten or so years ago, when he actually believed his music had substance,
Vanity of vanities from sun wax to sun wane.
The moon and stars will always remain
Eat drink and be merry, tomorrow we die
Vanity of vanities. I ask ask myself why?
He swallowed his disdain for this talking blow up doll at his side and pretended to be sensitive.
“No baby” he said with the same tone mothers take while talking to their preschoolers. “We are not in Costa Rica, we are in Belize. It's a country.” He squeezed her angrily but with the intent of it appearing affectionately.
“Oh...” she giggled wide eyed. “Who ever heard of a place called Bee's Knees anyway? Who cares. I want another Mai Tai.” She shook herself off the hammock and made her way toward the cabana up the beach in the haze of hanging Chinese lanterns and smoking rattan oil lamps. D swung blissfully alone in the hammock and crossed his hands behind his head. There were many stars, some of them appeared to fall from the sky as he watched. He blinked his eyes, questioned the integrity of the beer he was drinking and settled deeper into the hammock.
“Yeah” he said. “So I get this call from this clown in New York who says he represents some big shot who just absolutely loves my music. Some rich turd who has nothing better to do than sit around ruminating over the sock in my leather pants and some lame guitar riff I stole from an old Spirit song from the sixties that nobody remembers. Who still thinks my hair is long and soft, who still thinks I am the best lead guitar player in the world because the guys who are real good are smart enough to stay in the studio, anonymously, blissfully, inspiringly pumping out their morsels for airplay without pretending they are world shakers and movers, going to work and getting paid...now that's good honest work. No pretense, no B.S. Meanwhile, because I got a great smile and awesome hair I adorn the walls of; not only teenage boys who hate their schools and teenage girls who hate their mothers, but get this...the walls of some world leader who wants me to be his minister of music (whatever the hell that means) Can you see me there Billy? Playing God save the King, or Queen or in this guy's case God save the Queer as this pompous ariodite struts in surrounded by brown shirts in black boots with Ray Bans and Rolexes all for the common good of mankind? While I am somewhere in the background totally bored out of my mind, playing Mendelssohn with a contemporary bounce, just enough feedback, just enough chorus, just enough echo and compression to make it sound really, really corny but to the masses...absolutely fab!”
Billy laughed. Gina looked horrified and asked quietly, “Is he mad about something?”
“No, that's just D.”
“Here we are winding up our great South American tour, I've never seen such beautiful women, (especially Brazil), never played to such huge crowds, soccer stadiums maxed out, I never made so much money or had so much fame and yet here I am, wishing I was back in Jersey playing in my mother's garage again, passing a joint around with my brother and skipping school, you know all that suburban cowboy crap everyone thinks is a drag? Well, let me tell you something Bill, it's not. Those were the best days of my life.”
“Dude, you're crazy” said Billy. “You're just tired, that's all, because if you wound up like every other kid who learned to play a guitar in Jersey, working at Wall Mart or in a factory somewhere, you would have blown your brains out long ago. Don't douse the moment man, these are good times. Just pretend your not David Ben Jesse for one night and stop bringing me down with all your lost highway crap and lamentations about living out the dream. We made it man, that's all that matters. You got people pealing grapes for you man, don't tell me you miss carrying amps around the city at two o'clock in the morning after a dead gig on Bleeker St? Taking the subway, not having enough money for new strings, steeling money out of your mother's purse for gas money? Don't tell me you miss those things, man because I do my best to pretend they never happened. This is it man, these are the good times. I don't care how empty they are. I don't care if we never changed the world, all I know is, this is better than working at my father's lumber yard and I know it's a helluva lot better than working as a truck driver or a house painter or some junk like that.”
David Ben Jesse faded out during his bass player and best friend Billy's dissertation on how good things are since they made it. They had had this conversation many times before, sometimes on the jet, sometimes while walking, but usually when ever they found themselves covered in the cream of their success on exotic South American beaches, in castles converted to recording studios in France or floating on a yacht off the Isle of Lesbos in Greece. One time in the middle of a massage while in a steam room in Reykjavik, Iceland, out blurts David with his lamentations on the emptiness of his success, all the while a smooth blonde with the skilled hands of a stone carver resculped his disjointed muscles and ligaments into a sinewy mash. All Billy could do was comment with an “Ooooahhh” deep from his diaphragm and wonder how David could talk at all let alone reflect on anything other than the dense pleasure of the moment. What motivated such angst? Billy would wonder. It gave him some pleasure prodding his enigmatic friend, but he did have to admit, sometimes it got old. He gave up on trying to improve David's appreciation for all that glitters when he realized it may have been the greatest motivation behind his genius. Everyone knows, especially those who consider themselves artists of any kind, that a well content, fat artist is as good as dead. Without pain, discontentment or anger behind the lyrics and the music it would turn into Burt Bacharak or Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Billy had learned long ago that David had a dislike for the world that went too deep to be alleviated by any form of success or fame. In fact, it appeared all this only served to deepen his animosity toward the system, as if the higher one got, the better the view of the world's contrived superficiality. As the true intent of every stitch in a very large tapestry can only be comprehended when seen from afar, so is the way of the world, each little stitch and fabric interwoven to form a huge convoluted mess that one can feel but not really see until they are brought to the highest mountain and given an honest view. On the great mountaintop, all alone above the clouds but for the sound of bitter wind winding through the crevasses and ominous echoes coming to life as ice falls into space. David found himself there one midnight sometime in April/May twelve years ago, barefooted, starving and not knowing at all how he had gotten there and yet positive of the moment and what to expect: An offering; a still, small unsettling whisper from somewhere behind the glittering morass where he could see into the shadows of decadent empires and gold plated kingdoms. The offering? All this could be yours if you would just bow down and worship me came from nowhere, but somewhere. It was like a stab from an icepick one receives in a nightmare that fades upon wakening, the sting no longer rings but the fear of the moment remains until chased by a prayer or a cross of the heart with trembling fingers and the solemn words in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The offering: Instantly rejected but in that same eternal instant the greatest temptation ever endured to give in to the cold whisper. From Eden to Vegas, every empire seen and felt filled him up and tempted him. This could all be yours in a voice like sandpaper on bare bones shivering through his body, turning it to ashen pumice and his blood to sawdust. He lived six thousand two hundred, forty years in an instant. He was with Cain when he killed Able. He was with Noah when he closed the door of the ark. He was with Nimrod when he killed his first Mastodon. He was with Pharaoh when he lined up the pillars of Enoch and chased Moses across the Red Sea. All this he saw before he could take a breath to say no, in an instant he saw it all, even before he could exhale. And yet he felt a moment of hesitation which left just enough doubt in his mind that he may have hesitated too long and therefore gave the Great Temptor the idea that his heart was not behind the rejection of the offering. This therefore hounded him the rest of his life. Did he almost say yes to the devil when he offered to buy his soul? He knew he said no but, did he almost say yes?
Cracked from his molting gloom by a soft blow in his ear and a flirty giggle, he was reminded he was no longer on the mountain or surrounded by the all the kingdoms of the ages. Only white sand, palm trees and foaming sea. Her face was too close and she smelled like liquor and suntan oil. In the light of the flickering torches she reminded him of a lion held back by a heavy leash, the way she leaned toward him. She had hunger in her lips and eyes, a total disregard for all things demure. He wondered why he chose her after the show. Why her? But she could have been and was, anybody. If he had chosen any of the others they would have been the same; insubstantial floaters-by in his insubstantial world. They served their purpose the way travelers fill vacant hotel rooms, one after another, nameless, voiceless, no past, present or future or numbers on the great wheel of life taken by chance, red or black occasional double zero, popping sounds that dissipate, never remembered again until the rent is due. Another one filling in the gaps like mortar, sand, clay and nails, This all made sense to him; it proved his own insignificance to pair with someone or something so insignificant. She held no greater esteem to him than a past due library book or a quarter tank of gas on a cross town skip. He wanted to turn away from her, to face the endless ocean, something honest, pretend she wasn't there and go to sleep, but he found himself smiling instead and reaching out to cup her perspiring cheek in his hand. She breathed a soft “Hello stranger” and leaned forward to kiss his mouth. He took her in the hammock with the same resignation a sot has for the cheapest, paper bag swill he could find, closed his eyes and swore he would never do it again.