It was a little past noon when Eli heard from Harry Levinson. Angus and Eli were eating again when the call came. They were sharing ice cream cones from a food truck in the park. Angus knew little about Eli, except he played drums and taught kids the basic techniques. He seemed to have lived in the same vicinity as Angus for some years, so it was weird they hadn’t met before.
“You gotta go?” Angus asked as Eli ended his call. They traded ice cream cones once more. Eli had decided he liked the toasted coconut better than the double chocolate, but Angus wanted the coconut again.
Eli looked over at some kids shooting a football back and forth in the distance. “Yeah. I’m trying not to get too excited. I’ve been disappointed before.”
Angus touched his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Eli shrugged. “The pleasures and pitfalls of the business. You must go through it too.”
“More than I want to admit.” Angus worried about what would come next. Whatever happened, he’d go on the road. Steve would take care of the home front. He blocked the thoughts of his sister, Debbie, and his adorable niece, Sherry, from his mind. It wasn’t easy. Sherry was like a daughter to him, and Debbie wasn’t much of a mom to her. Debbie was her own freak show. Half woman, half self-made monster.
He felt the weight of Eli’s stare. “What?” he asked.
Eli shrugged. “I love music, but until I got this call, I didn’t think I’d be able to make a career out of it. I always felt there was something out there waiting for me. I just didn’t know what. Right now, I pick up work here and there. And I take courses. So this gig, however long it lasts, is a thrill.”
“You like adventure?” Angus asked. The thought that Eli had had many lovers on the road suddenly dawned on him. He’d never really cared about that before, but picturing Eli with another guy was not an image he cared for. What the hell is wrong with me? It’s not like I haven’t been with other guys.
Eli took his hand. “You mean sexual adventure?”
Eli cocked his head. “I don’t like the idea either.”
“What?” Angus chuckled.
“Thinking of you in bed with other guys. I don’t much care for it either. Doesn’t make sense. We just met.”
“I didn’t say I…” Angus sighed. “We’re getting off track.”
Eli’s hand tightened. “I’m more on track than I’ve ever been in my life right now. And it’s because of you.”
Angus swallowed. He wasn’t sure what to say. Then his cell phone saved him from saying anything. “Hello.”
“Gus, it’s Mike at the Dune. I’m in desperate need of a band. The one I scheduled for tonight bailed. You guys up for it or are you booked?”
“Ah…sorry Mike. We’re not together anymore. Karl had other…priorities.” He didn’t try to hide the bitterness.
“Damn, that’s too bad. Shit. Look, my cousin plays bass and sings, but he can’t do it alone. I’m not keen on those machines. If you could find a drummer… Shit, I’d owe you big-time.”
“Drummer?” He looked at Eli and grinned. “Think I might know one.”
Eli’s eyes widened.
“Hold on.” Angus covered the phone. “Want a gig tonight?”
Eli grinned. “With you?”
“Yeah, me and a bass.”
Eli nodded. “Let me see how this gig goes today. Maybe it will be short, or maybe it will go all night. I’ll call you when I know how long it’s going to go.”
Angus uncovered the receiver. “You’re on, Dave.” One way or another, Angus would find a drummer. He was keen to play with Eli, but he’d find somebody else if Eli couldn’t make it.
“Pays three hundred dollars and all the booze you can handle,” Dave said.
“We’ll be there.”
Eli and Angus exchanged hot kisses and phone numbers, and Eli left for his gig.
* * * *
“Some people go, some people stay. I’m staying.”
Eli had loved those lines when he read S.E. Hinton’s book Tex
as a teenager. They resonated with him. Every word of that damned book was his life. Back then, when he was thirteen, he knew he was going to go. But he hadn’t left California. He’d stayed, not that he’d done this intentionally. After his amazing night with Angus, Eli was starting to believe in miracles again.
He hurried to the big, sprawling property in the middle of Concord that he still called home. The tiny attic room in the house owned by Mrs. Damford had been his refuge for eight months. In exchange for mowing the lawn, walking her sweet but ancient dog, Louise, and doing minor repairs on the house, Eli had free rent, and, because she was deaf, got to play his drums all day if he felt like it. Both he and Mrs. Damford thought the arrangement would last longer, but she’d had a visit from her daughter who flew in from Baltimore one weekend, and now the house was sold. Mrs. Damford was moving into what she called “the home for wayward boys and girls.”
The news had been devastating to both Eli and the old lady. But at least she would be allowed to take her beloved Louise with her.
Eli had four more days to find a new abode, but so far had found that mentioning he was a drummer had the same effect as saying, “I’m radioactive pond scum.” Available apartments suddenly became occupied. Right after his gig, he’d find someplace. He had to.
He scaled the front stairs up to the house, alarmed when he found a soft spot near the top. Maybe it was a good thing the house had been sold. Homeowner and dog must have been sleeping, because when he opened the front door, the place was in darkness. He opened some curtains and went to the kitchen. A note lay on the kitchen table written in Mrs. Damford’s shaky, spidery handwriting.
Eli, we’ve gone to the retirement home. My daughter had the electricity cut off early. You’re welcome to stay until Monday. There are candles next to the fridge. Please come visit. Mrs. D. x
With some dismay, he realized he wouldn’t be able to use his laptop and cursed Mrs. Damford’s daughter, who’d sold the house for a small fortune, not caring at all that her mom loved her lifelong home and felt safe in it. Mrs. Damford had lengthy, imaginary conversations with her dead husband in the kitchen and even longer ones with Eli out on the front porch.
He raced to the bathroom and took a quick shower. In his tiny bedroom, he opened the blinds and was relieved to see he still had juice on his cell phone. He accessed the Internet. A fast investigation revealed that Harry Levinson had signed a hot new duo, Hunter Rondeau, to his Halo label after their self-produced single, “Wolfen,” had blown up YouTube and iTunes. The singers were California residents according to their scant online biographies. Did that mean they’d be recording right here in lil ol’ Concord?
Eli shared his last name with Kevin Borich, one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Eli was certain it was a good omen. He even fantasized he’d get to play with the legend himself sometime.
At night, Eli could still believe in the dream and almost hold it in his hands. By daylight, the truth returned. Ugly and hurtful. The really hot bands would never choose him as their drummer, because he wasn’t a big enough name, and the weekend warriors always turned out to be flakier than a bunch of puff pastries. Band members dropped out. Some wouldn’t show up to rehearsal because their girlfriends wanted them to go shopping with them at WalMart. There was always some dopey excuse. Memorial Day weekend barbecues. One guy even said Johnny Appleseed Day was a sacred family vacation.
thought he’d be the one to stay.
As a kid, he’d longed to be part of the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, “one of the best corps out there,” as Harry had pointed out, yet the group maintained its humble origins in Concord. He preferred rock and roll though, and set his sights on a different world stage.
Maybe Levinson was working with a new act. Eli checked his watch. He still had twenty minutes to get to the studio. Plenty of time. He wished he had electricity so he could make a cup of coffee. He was the only guy in the world that liked instant coffee. He could sure use a cup right now. He clicked on the link for the video of “Wolfen.” He worried that he’d be late if he didn’t go over to check on Debbie now, before he headed to the studio.
The video, which had some panache, had been a surprise hit with the two lead singers prowling a night club dance floor howling like wolves. Female dancers writhed around in cages hoisted high above the stage. But what if these weren’t the artists for whom he’d be auditioning? He had four drum kits and had agonized over the decision on which one to take all night. Hard to believe that his best “office” had been stolen four years ago, and he still pined for it. One day, he’d replace the 1964 turquoise sparkle Trixon Speedfire. His parents had given it to him for his twenty-first birthday, and it had been a prized gem even then. He’d looked after the kit, polishing the sparkle portions with a gentle hand. The kit had been notorious for its color fading, but in the five years Eli had owned it, the color on his remained true. The last time he’d looked online, a similar kit had sold for %4,500. And that was with a faded sparkle.
Dad would die if he knew that kit was stolen. I still can’t believe somebody made off with our gig truck with everything but two guitars inside it. It is sacrilegious as well as illegal to steal a band’s gear from a bar mitzvah!
Eli swallowed the welling emotion choking him and chose his small Ludwig Gigster kit with the thirty-four-inch kick. It was an awesome, super-fun office on which to play. He’d bought it from a jazz drummer who’d advised him that the kit was perfect for intimate settings such as jazz clubs. Yes. And recording studios too.
Packing his Ludwigs into the car excited Eli. Made him feel like a real musician again. It had been months since he’d had a paying gig, and that had been an Irish pub band that had hired him to work a St. Patrick’s Day show at the Starry Plough Pub over on Shattuck Avenue. He’d rehearsed the bouncy Celtic tunes with the band for a week beforehand, but somebody should have warned him about Irishmen and their St. Paddy’s tinted beer. Eli got fifty bucks for his efforts, peed green for a week, and never heard from the band again.
Eli drove to the nondescript, gray studio with hope pounding away at his soul. Studying the exterior, he parked the car, then turned off the engine. He gripped the wheel, taking in the well-manicured shrubs and smoky, black glass front doors. It looked like all the other office spaces around it, but lacked the faux cottage-style roofing and latticed windows the others did.
It’s now or never. Just remember. Relax. Don’t overthink things.
As he hoisted his drum kit out of the trunk, the crackle of electricity flowed out to him from behind the glass doors of the studio. Something serious was afoot behind them. Good music. Eli was certain of it. When he walked in, he glimpsed the usual sofas, coffee tables, and easy chairs in the outer room and beyond it, a soundproof room. He spotted a drum kit already set up in it, but his gaze flew to the framed artwork everywhere, which depicted some of the great musicians of the world. Louie Bellson, his favorite drummer of all time, featured in a large black-and-white photo. Eli gulped. His dad had been to this very gig. He’d shown a similar photo to Eli.
Eli blinked. How weird. It seemed to be the exact same photo. No. It can’t be.
It had been an unusual gig to be sure, but many serious musicians had been there that day, according to Eli’s dad.
Where is that photo? Dad gave it to me. Somewhere in the house. I need to look for it.
He studied the image of an ecstatic-looking Louie Bellson pounding the drums, wowing a roomful of kids at Professional Musicians Local 47 auditorium across the street from Pro Drum in 1964 Los Angeles. The very place Eli’s dad had bought the Trixons. He’d kept them in storage for years, giving them to Eli for his birthday. Now they were gone.
Eli let out a sigh. I’m getting paranoid. Nobody stole that photo from me.
He took a look at his surroundings. The studio oozed money and talent. He would give up a vital organ for the chance to work here.
DJ Manly & AJ Llewellyn