Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Infernals Take TJ's and Texting to Town

"Are you guys ready to rock?"

Lead guitarist Chris Dewey stands before the crowd of rockandrollophiles before him at TJ's Bar in Palatine, arms outstretched, fingers flipped into devil's horns, a gleam of defiance in his eyes and lip curled into a sneer Sid Vicious would kill for.

Dimly, electronic chimes jingle. He pauses and looks at an electronic readout.

"Hang on," my text reads. "I'm tying my shoe."

Some of the sneer evaporates, and he shoots me an annoyed look.

Another jingle sounds.

"Ok," my text reads. "Now I'm ready."

I put my phone away. Dewey tries again. “Now let’s get ready to—"

Ding ding!

"Ready to rock, I mean," my text reads.

"Fucking asshole," he mutters into the microphone, drawing a cheer. I look around in aggrieved innocence.

Normally, Dewey wouldn't get any of my texts during his concert. Normally, he'd be so enthralled with the thrill of a live performance, the drunken, admiring sway of the crowd and the delicate scent of buck-a-can Pabst Blue Ribbon mixed with urinal cakes, he wouldn't even notice any of my texts.

Normally, for that matter, he wouldn't even piss on me if I were on fire, whether I texted or yelled to him, "Hey, Dewey, I'm on fire! Ow! Owww!" Normally, if anyone asked who the reporter covering the show was, he'd tell them, "That guy? Oh, that guy is my half-wit cousin from Estonia. He's harmless. Just don't make eye contact with him. And don't put the fire out. He likes fires."

But tonight, the Infernals, suburban Chicago's third-most-popular children's-folk-turned-grunge band, are demonstrating the benefits of 21st century technology and what they can afford when they give up beer for an hour: a Text-o-Tron.

This digital monstrosity consists of a twenty-square-foot screen above the stage, emblazoning text messages sent from adoring fans, right behind them. Every message sent to 3-INFRL, it displays in fiery neon above the heads of Dewey, bassist Bryan Park and drummer Leo Salinas.

The machine has been busy. In the past half hour, it's been beaming requests, adamant orders to play louder, and the occasional Christmas gift wish. The band has incorporated all of this into their act with their accustomed ferocity, and it's truly been a sight to see.

Of course, Dewey isn't displaying proper gratefulness towards me for my text asking him to hang on a minute while I tie my shoe. Nor has he expressed gratitude for my other texts, sent in the middle of one of his guitar solos, reminding him to take out the garbage when he gets home and asking him where the restroom is. (Sometimes, I wonder why I bother writing these fricking reviews. I never met a musician whose fame didn't go to their head and make him too good to be interrupted by texted penis jokes during a show.) The band debated shutting the machine down after my text complaining that Park kept making funny faces at me, but Dewey nixed that suggestion after noticing a reasonably attractive blonde in the front row who may or may not have been making eyes at him. Even now, after three successive messages from me about whether or not the bartender had any more pretzels, he seems to be holding out for one from her. One expressing her devout obsession with the band, particularly him, and giving helpful tips on musical performance and her own measurements and her own proclivity for leather underwear and bondage.

Whatever. Texts and easy blondes aside, the show has completely captivated the crowd. Everyone from the middle aged brokers shooting darts towards the back to the bickering married couple near the jukebox seems to agree: These guys play music that sizzles. Their lineup tonight has ranged from growly originals like "You're Shallow, I Hate You, Die" (composed, according to legend, during one of the band member's honeymoons) and retooled covers of blues classics like "Boom Boom Boom Boom" (chosen, according to legend, because of its repetition of one of the few words Park can keep in his short term memory long enough to sing accurately). The band's chemistry has only deepened in the past five months since their last show, and rumors are starting to fly about a world tour in the spring and a line of Mattel action figures available as soon as Christmas.

But merchandise is only a side thought. This band revels in their showmanship.

"This next song is dedicated to anyone who's ever found themselves up against the world," Dewey snarls, preparing to launch into "Troubles," a blues number balancing a sort of adrenaline-fueled moodiness with rage and repressed homosexual frustration. (Or so I imagine. I haven't actually heard it yet.) "You guys may have troubles, but we've always got music to--"

"Tell Bryan those pants make his ankles look fat," I text him. Ding. My message immediately flashes overhead.

"Okay, seriously!" Dewey exclaims, throwing his mike down and glaring at me with the seasoned glare of a public schoolteacher. "Knock it off! This thing is not a toy!"

Humbly, I put my phone away and fold my hands in my lap, reminding myself to throw in a paragraph in my review about how he likes to wear women's clothes. "Sorry, Mr. Dewey," I mumble.

"In fact, screw this stupid invention," he rages, clambering up onto a chair so he can tear it off the wall and set it on fire. However, before he can enact this deep-seated desire, he catches a glimpse of the blonde in the front row shrugging and putting her own cell phone away. As she leans over to unzip her purse, she flashes an impressive display of cleavage. Dewey stares, a thin trickle of drool running down his chin.

"I mean...except for the ladies," he amends. "Especially ladies with platinum highlights and leopard-print bras."

The blonde looks up at him, batting her eyelashes.

"Yeah...because tonight is Ladies' Text the Infernals Night!" Dewey announces, all but falling off his chair and grabbing the mike again. "Ten texts of your bra size gets a backstage photo with the band!"

Park thumps an opening riff. Salinas dives into a solo.

A cheer rebounds around the bar.

The band soaks up the energy and launches into "Troubles."

The blonde shows some leg. Dewey howls and leers at her.

"I think she's a guy," I text him. My message flashes abovehead.

The blonde snarls furiously at me to mind my own business. But nobody else notices. Rock-fueled pre-holiday merriment is raging, and the Infernals, once again, are demonstrating that they can entertain even while they're busy hitting on cheap, easy women who may not be women.

And at the end of the day, isn't that what music is all about?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A potential submission to NPR's Fiction Writing Contest

This is quite possibly the worst entry I've ever written. In fact, this was actually a writing assignment given to a bunch of sixteen year-olds. They had to begin wtih "No one really believed the story at first" and end with "Like all good things, it came to an end." I was going to showcase their work, but decided to showcase my own instead. No, really. No need to thank me.

"By This Rulebook, I Rule"

A tale of danger, discipline and derring-do, straight from the bowels of a public school! Maybe even the one...your kids go to!

No one really believed the story at first. Least of all Dean of Students Hank Thumpkins. It was just too strange: a guy? And another guy? In the hallway? Fighting?

“Nobody fights in this here school!” Thumpkins declared. “My discipline is too stern! They’re too afraid to fight in this here school!”

Hall monitor Jesse Hueber thought to himself of palm trees and beach cabanas: where he would soon be taking his vacation and where he wouldn’t have to listen to the big, sweating, bull-necked idiot in front of him. But that was several hours in the future, and for now, he had the dean to persuade. Maybe this time, he could be persuaded with the facts.

“I saw the fight,” he said patiently. “I broke it up.”

“Stress, m’boy,” Thumpkins said, swiveling back in his office chair and blowing cigar smoke all over the room. “Nerves. Happens to the best of us. I remember when I was fighting in the war--“

“Sir, I broke the fight up, and I brought the two boys in here to get a referral.” Hueber gestured behind him, where the boys sat sulking, bleeding from their ears and spitting teeth into Thumpkins’ secretary’s coffee mug.

“They look like good young Christians to me,” declared Thumpkins. “Good-hearted, too. What do you want to go starting trouble for around in this here school?”

“This one,” Hueber said, gesturing to the taller boy with brass knuckles and a split lip, “wanted to beat up this one,” here gesturing at the shorter, muscled boy with the black belt in jujitsu and prison tattoos, “for taking his lunch money. He said if he didn’t give it up, he’d beat him up.”

“Uh huh. And then what happened?”

“Then he beat him up.”

“Well if he did give up the money, why would he want to go ahead and beat him up? It just doesn’t add up, Jenkins.”

“My name is Hueber.”

“Whatever.” Thumpkins waved a hand. “Now me, when I’m prosecutin’ a case, I like to make sure I have all the facts at hand.”

“I have all the facts, sir,” Hueber said grimly. “I was there. I saw it.”

“Doesn’t mean you have all the facts, does it, Jenkins?”


“What’s that boy’s blood type?” Thumpkins asked abruptly.

Hueber blinked again. “Sir?”

“His astrological sign? Heritage? Opinions about the future of the gold market?”

Hueber stared, his jaw working soundlessly.

“You don’t know? Then how can you say you have all the facts?”

“I don’t…I…sir, he’s bleeding on me!”

“Pure speculation, my boy. Why, that blood could have come from anywhere before it started oozing out his veins. Now ain’t that so? Say that’s so, boy.”


“Won’t have any of this nonsense in this here school, Jenkins. Go wash that boy’s blood off your face. You’re a disgrace to your uniform.”

Hueber started sweating. “I don’t wear a uniform, sir.”

“And you never will, not with that attitude. Shape up or ship out, that’s my motto.” Thumpkins looked at his watch. “Well, now, I think you boys have learned a valuable lesson, haven’t you?”

“Sure have, sir,” said the tall boy, cracking his knuckles and staring malevolently at the other.

“I have indeed,” responded the squat boy, drawing a line across his throat and flipping a pair of nunchuks across his chest expertly.

“Good.” The dean beamed triumphantly. “Now, Jenkins, I suggest you go start your vacation. Beginning right about now, isn’t it? You’ll feel better after you get some time away.”

And Jenkins—er, Hueber, did. He had a great vacation. But like all good things, it came to an end.