The cliché about haunted houses being situated over Indian burial grounds hadn’t begun to filter into pop culture when we were crowded into the insipid shell of the Puckett-Weltschmerz house, known to virtually everybody in Turbeville as the Shocking-Blue House. Turbeville itself was an ancient Tuscarora town before the colonists slaughtered most of the inhabitants and compelled the remnant to to head north and join the Iroquois Confederacy. Far as I can tell, the only thing they left behind was rats the size of spaniels. Still, if the Blue house wasn’t a portal into this world for pissed-off warrior-ghosts, under our stewardship it was definitely the nexus of some shitty music, and even shittier behavior.
I remember waking up in my room there trying to steal another half hour of sleep, thinking it would help me lose the sensation I was being dogged by my own hungry ghost, always prepared for an opportunity to kick me into an abandoned well or trip me just as I made to the curb of a busy street. Forcing myself out of bed and walking down the hall to the shower was like walking into a documentary about carnival freaks on the eve of some some serious familial violence. A door would open and a thin gray cloud of pot smoke followed Cassidy the bassist out of the room, wound way too tightly in his dance leggings and Jane Fonda shag. He’d be clutching a pint of yogurt, his teeth grinding metronomically against bluberries, or something that sounded like pecan hulls.
We had developed a transcendent mutual dislike.
His antipathy discolored his nature-boy Buddhism, and mine made me appear even seedier than my pack-and-a-half per day habit left me. We were however, partners in a creative enterprise. The other housemates, save two or three, gathered routinely downstairs to practice a kind of free-jazz inflected artpunk. We’d inflict it upon local clubs weekly for a select group of guitar fetishists and other assorted lonely people.
I sang in a piercing register, saying in effect to anyone within earshot “Agggh! My junk is compromised!”
The guitarist dressed like Fred Rogers. He was a true virtuoso, but was deeply committed to “defeating expectations”. People who came to our shows expecting to be entertained almost certainly left with a defeated feeling, righteous anger, or bewilderment. Some even threatened to kick our ass.
The drummer rarely strayed from his room, where he ingested cold remedies the FDA has since determined lead ineluctibly to a state of whack, and smoked pot the way folks these days nurse bottled water. He watched old television shows in morbid silence. When he did come down from his room and take the sticks to his pared-down kit, he was the best drummer I’ve ever been privileged to hear, and probably the sole reason we were never disemboweled by a mob of PCP smoking Marines on leave from camp LeJeune.
As much as we might be ripping at each other’s guts like deranged rabbits, we were protective of each other as well. We lived in the Shocking Blue, after all, and the Shocking Blue had the live-in landlord Schtorr.
The first time I saw Schtorr I knew we had been deliberately ordered, down to our constituent molecules, to effect each other’s destruction. It sucked, but it was clearly the Lord’s business, and who were we to question. Well, I guess it was natural for me to question, since I always seemed to be talking a blue streak of shit to the Lord at the time. But Schtorr couldn’t be bothered to second guess his maker. He’d given him a nice situation, the skin and hair of a high-end plastic doll and a journeyman’s competence at guitar. He’d also apparently forgotten to deposit a soul in his crust, which I figured was God tipping the scales in favor of the rich. Again.
He knew his mission from the start, whereas I was handed my instructions piecemeal by a shadowy group hobbled by institutional paranoia and a long record of failure, who’d long ago ceased to believe their own employees were working for them.
They didn’t even notify me of the day of resolution.
I only had a couple of classes that day, and after rehearsal, I’d be free for the weekend. I’d see if my friend Bettie wanted to help me sample a quart jar of moonshine an old friend of mine had given me, if the guy who sometimes played keyboards for us hadn’t sniffed it out and consumed it (He once even drank an entire bottle of Schtorr’s Midori Melon, sneaking into the kitchen during rehearsal and downing it at one go. No one ever confronted him about it, because he also performed the useful function of drinking the castoffs from parties and the gift liquors no one else would touch).
Sometimes Bettie and I would hang out at the river park and drink cheap booze (fizzy brain necrosing wines, mostly) and share our strategy for assuring ourselves a bleak future. I was fond of Bettie. She laughed helplessly at my stupid jokes until she’d break into sobs, a thing I’ve noticed from other folks as well. We compared and cross-referenced our failures with other humans until she was overcome by sentiment and had to leave to visit her bisexual boyfriend.
“He’s gravitating toward his gay boyfriend, I can tell.”
“So can I. You’re sitting by this river with me, aren’t you?.Here, you drink the rest of this bottle so I can smash it and slit my wrists.”
“So how’s the band these days.”
“Pretty dreadful. I’m going to have to move out, too. Schtorr just upped the rent, I’m barely making enough to cover it now. God, he’s a weenie. You know Mitch?, the guy who hangs out with the photographer”
“Yeah. I think so. Doesn’t he share a place with Jane.? Yeah.”
“He was at the house a couple of days ago, and Schtorr hauls out a bong and starts taking hits with Cassidy and Joe. He offered Mitch a hit and Mitch says,”Can’t really, I’ve got to work in about half an hour.” Out of the blue, Schtorr just snaps, “Well there’s the fucking door, man.”
“I don’t know what’s up his ass. I’m beginning to think Cassidy is fucking his girlfriend, maybe that’s put him on edge. Cassidy fucks everyone’s girlfriend.”
“I haven’t fucked him.”
“Good thing, too. He gave one of the ex housemate’s girlfriends a dose of clap.”
“Really? He looks so clean. Like he douches with lemon juice or something. Ick. Maybe you should just quit the whole band thing. You and Cass don’t get along, and Schtorr is going to bring the cops screaming down on that place. It’s like he’s replaced his bloodstream with bong water. Isn’t he supposed to be pre-med?”
“I think his dad’s bought them off, sometimes. He’s practically selling dope out of the trunk of his car. I have to give him one thing, though. Watching his personality disintegrate made me give up pot for good. Well, that and the fact the shit makes you so fucking retarded these days. The last time I smoked was spring last year. I was so paranoid I walked out of the house and hid in that big wall of shrubs by the sorority house. And the girls started that goddamn singing. “Together forever. Together forever.” Do you have any idea how much that sounds like you’re eavesdropping on some kind of blood sacrifice?”
“You were, in a way. Here. I’ve got a plan. You’re going to quit smoking cigarettes and start saving your money. Two or three months. Then you kill them. Cassidy, Schtorr.
Rat poison. You’ll be doing a lot of jailbait a favor anyway. Then you move to New York. I can crash in your apartment.”
“I couldn’t really kill anyone. Maybe Schtorr. Not premeditatedly. But someone’s going to kill him if he doesn’t stop playing that fucking Weather Report album.”
We’d go on for hours like this until we did something like jump into the polluted river in our underwear, or Bettie would decide we needed to walk it off and we’d wind up talking to her boyfriend on the steps of his apartment for awhile, and he’d either let her in, or I’d walk her back to her house, and then I’d have to find someplace to go. Not the Shocking Blue.
The keyboardist might be there, searching the cabinets for some Galliano, or Joe’s cough syrup. Cassidy would be patiently combing the cat hairs from his leggings, or tricking the skins from some fava beans with an old toothbrush.
But the day i carried the moonshine over to Bettie’s place, it was cold. It had started snowing around noon. On the way out the door, Schtorr stopped me and said “We need to talk, man.”
“Oh yeah. Rent. It’s in an envelope on your desk. My part of the phone bill, too.”
“It’s not that, man. Maureen’s moving in, and I need someone to move out.”
“Alright. I’ll start looking for a place.”
“Better hurry, man. I need you out by next month.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
It didn’t surprise me when we opened the jar of moonshine at Betties’ that the keyboard player had found it, drank it, and replaced it with water. We went downtown so she could listen to me cry in my beers. Seven or eight of them apiece, and I was pretty thin then. This evening she walked me back to the Blue house, and the heavy snow was already starting to drift and cause drivers to skid off the road.
When we got to the house, Schtorr was standing in the picture window by the front door, looking out at the snow, probably listening to Weather Report. He was fondling his little beard.
“Jeez, would you look at that.” Said Bettie. “It looks like one of those sex shops in Amsterdam. It ought to have a sign, “Fuck Little Kenny Loggins! Fifty Guilder.” I cracked up and was bent over laughing when Bettie made a big snowball and pitched it at the window, directly in a line with Schtorr’s head. I stood fully up in time to watch the window begin falling out of its frame in big shards. Schtorr was looking directly at me now, the Weather Report clearly audible now, snowflakes melting on his beard.
“Uh, Bettie?” I said, still looking at Schtorr.
“Oh wow. Damn. I’m sorry.”
“You mind if I crash at your place?”