Par-TAY!

On a whim, I Googled the name of the first white man I’d ever dated.  We’d dated for a few months during the mid-2000s.  According to Google, he’s now the lead singer for a retro-Nineties ska band called Hangout!, based in Chicago.  He’d been the lead singer for a punk-pop band called Glitterbutt during our relationship; I don’t really like any type of punk, though he did sing well.

Anyway, I downloaded Hangout!’s first and so far only album, A Real Live Political Par-TAY!, from their website. Not a bad album, I guess, though I don’t really like ska, either. (He used to call my taste in music “Starbucks decaf.” For a while, I’d convinced myself he hadn’t meant that disparagingly.)

I did like the band’s song “Too Big to Jail,” about the banks and their role in the 2008 financial meltdown. At least he still had an interest in progressive politics.

And at least he still looked good, judging from the website photos.  I like to think I’ve kept my body and mind in shape.

February 27, 2016

(revised March 6, 2016)

Copyright © 2016 by David V. Matthews

 

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1’s and 0’s (fiction)

 

Going 10 miles above the posted 35 MPH speed limit that frigid February afternoon, the gray Nissan 370Z Roadster skids on black ice in Mt. Lebanon, PA, and smashes head-on into a utility pole.  As the 17-year-old driver lies in the inflated driver’s-side airbag uninjured (he hopes he has no injuries, at least no major ones requiring hospitalization; hospitals represent death factories to him in his death-dealing country) and waits to hear the wailing ambulance siren, he dreads the trouble he’ll probably get into, having borrowed the Roadster, his stepfather’s car, sans permission just to visit his favorite record store to purchase his copy of the released-that-day, limited-to-2,000-copies worldwide LP version of his all-time favorite album, Better Mutilate Than Never by Ze Gross Prophets—2 disks, 180g virgin vinyl, exclusive illustrated booklet with complete lyrics.  As an audiophile, he cannot abide listening any further to his downloaded copy; compressed, sterile, 1’s-and-0’s music makes his temples throb.  He plans, years from now as an art-school student, to regale cute girls and/or cute boys (he’s leaned toward the latter lately) about the time he almost died totaling an awesome car due to his awesome musical taste.  That story should impress plenty of hotties.  Oh, here comes the wailing siren.  Life as a discerning, unzombified consumer, regardless of sexual orientation, has a unique soundtrack.

 

written on the spot

Copyright © 2015 by David V. Matthews

Players’ roster

During the past eight days, I have purchased three consecutive portable CD players: one used model, followed by two new ones, all three from more-or-less respectable corporate entities.  I didn’t want to endure another day at my otherwise wonderful job without listening to high-quality music from my collection.

The first player, from Sony, stopped playing after half a day; the second player, from Craig (a less-respectable company that does produce inexpensive products aimed no doubt at desperate non-tycoons such as yours truly), had tap-dancing-crickets-in-a-hailstorm sound quality and stopped operating after ten seconds; the third player, from Memorex, lasted almost a day before expiring.  Also, based upon additional audio evidence, all three hunks-of-junk skipped more that I did in junior high school.  (You might or might not have despised my adolescent self.)

I’ve owned portable CD players, mostly for work usage, since 2006 but have started encountering substandard ones only in the past two or three years, during the height of the corporately-hyped MP3 revolution, when the iPod people proliferated, leaving behind those pathetic losers who still clung to those often less-expensive contraptions that played, ugh, aluminum discs.  Sony et alia must have consciously decided to manufacture shoddy portable CD players to encourage me and other relics to fork out the simoleons for i-style devices; format changes always result in huge profits for the perpetrators of said changes.  However, considering I like corporeal recording media due to my antediluvian object-centric upbringing, I’ll have to continue my struggle to find a working portable CD player, not that I necessarily believe compact discs offer the ultimate in aural pleasure.  Like those diehards and/or hipsters who embrace vinyl records, I want to preserve the memory of those shiny gray coasters for nostalgic and contrarian reasons.

Copyright © 2015 by David V. Matthews

Nick Morrison: an outtake (written yesterday) from my upcoming novel, Give a Little to Get a Lot

She hadn’t wanted to admit she’d been careless enough to marry the local concert promoter Nick Morrison.

He would purchase the ownership rights—usually pretty cheaply—to some semi-famous musical group from the Fifties or Sixties that couldn’t perform anymore due to age and/or mutual animosity. Then he would create a younger knockoff of that group and send his impersonators out on tour with a slight name change: the New Wombats, Johnny Sparkle Jr. and the Sparkletones, Clawspace 2.0. Several of his new groups had even appeared on those oldies concert shows that the local public-television station, WQED channel 13, churned out for constant broadcast, five or six minutes at a time between pledge breaks.

Lots of people considered him a ripoff artist who peddled fake nostalgia to gullible Baby Boomers. First, fake nostalgia can offer as much satisfaction as the real thing. Second, from what I’d heard, he genuinely liked Fifties and Sixties music and wanted it to continue reaching an audience. And third, he occasionally paid the original group members residuals—not much, but better than nothing.

In short, I didn’t hate his business ethics. I hated his appearance: short, bloated, hairy, and waxy, plus he flaunted his chub by wearing tight golf shirts and tight jeans.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews

Give a Little to Get a Lot: excerpt #3 from a work-in-progress (note: contains swear words)

“You’ll love her song,” I said.

“I hope so,” Ross said.  “Otherwise, I’d have to give you an unbelievably stern look.”

He sat on a brown metal folding chair in Central Studio Number One, my only studio.  I sat on the brown metal folding chair to his left.  Both chairs had brown padded seats—luxury for everyone.  The cherry-red keytar sat on a brown metal card table in front of us.  There was no scenery, just a bare gray cinderblock wall behind the table.

He wore another expensive-looking shiny blue suit.  I wore my best green polo shirt and my best jeans.  I didn’t shine.

“You ready, Thea?” I shouted to my left.

The door to Frequent Zoom Deluxe Dressing Room Number One flew open, my only dressing room.  Nothing very deluxe about it, unless you counted the adjective “deluxe.”  After a few moments, Thea walked out.  No, she shuffled out, slowly and laboriously, staring straight ahead at her keytar.  Halfway to the card table, she stopped, panted a few times slowly and laboriously, and resumed her journey.

Her poufy gray wig had bulky, yellow plastic curlers, probably more curlers that hair.  Her giant brown glasses, larger than even her regular glasses, sat at the tip of her nose.  Her face sported a thousand pounds of makeup, including nine hundred pounds of lipstick and a few fake warts.  Her faded blue housedress sagged under the weight of her pendulous, basketball-sized fake boobs.  Her brown cardigan had several gaping moth holes.  Her beige stockings bunched up around her bloated white sneakers.  You could say she looked like a bingo drag queen.

I myself looked calm, but inside I was furious.  I hadn’t known she would come out like that.  Ross mustn’t have known, either, but I didn’t know how he felt; his face betrayed no emotion.

She strapped on her keytar and turned her gaze toward us.

“Hi, I’m Bonnie Donovic, and I have a rill important song fer yinz to hear,” she announced in a raspy old woman’s voice made worse by a thick Pittsburgh accent, the most grating regional accent ever, like a redneck cat coughing up a steel-wool hairball.

Thea cleared her throat.  She paused.  She started playing her keytar while bellowing off-key, even more off-key that she did in her apartment.

Da national debt / Of da USA / Has grown so big / It can roon our day // We gotta fix da debt / Inn ’at’s a fact / Tell them cake-eaters in Warshington / We’re ready to act // It wohn be easy / ’At’s another fact / But we’ll have so much more / When we give somethin’ back // Give a little / To git a lot / Doin’ ahr share / Now ’at’s rill hot // Give a little / To git a lot / So ahr kids’ll have / What we all got / Innay dohn even hafta redd up their rooms // Give a little / To git a lot / Give a little / To git a lot / Give a little / To git a lot

The performance ended.

“Now ’at was worth three thahsand dollars, woodin joo agree, Ross baby?” Thea asked, staying in character.

Ross baby didn’t say anything.

“Heck, I oughta git dat jest fer lookin’ so young,” she told him.  “In case you haven’t figgered it aht, I ain’t actually thirty-seven years old.  I’m actually forty-eight.  I’m darn prahd to say not too many parts of me flap arahnd in da wind.”

Ross baby didn’t say anything.

“The feisty granny look is big this year,” I blurted.  “Actually, it’s always been big.  Feisty granny characters always do well in advertising.  They have the reputation of always telling the truth.”

Ross looked interested.

“Cute girls may provide eye-candy, but feisty grannies provide mind-candy, and you need plenty of mind-candy if you want to convince hipsters we need to reduce the debt,” I told him.  “Plus even the most cynical hipsters love their grandmothers.  We all love our grandmothers.  Put that love in your ad, and you’ll score big.  You said it yourself—the best ads hit you right here.”  I tapped my heart with my right index finger.

“You pay attention to what I say?” he asked.  “I don’t pay attention to what I say.”

Good—a humorous remark.

“And Thea’s, or should I say Bonnie’s, rather unique voice would make your ad stand out from the other ten trillion ads on the Net,” I said.

“I suppose,” Ross said.

“But hey, I provide more than one menu option.  It would take Thea just a few minutes to transform herself back into a nerd, then sing the song again for—”

“No, that’s all right.”

“You sure?”

“You heard da man,” Thea said.  “He loves feisty grannies.  Ain’t dat right, Ross baby?”

Ross sort of grinned.

“I knew it!  No one kin resist my charm!”

A long pause ensued.

“So,” I said to Ross, “when will—”

“Taffy helped write my song,” Thea said.

“Really?” Ross asked.

“Uh-huh.  Da song woulda sucked withaht his valuable input, excuse da language.”

“Aw, you flatter me,” I said, “but you know darn well I contributed just one line.  You wrote everything else.  You’re the main reason the song turned out the way it did.  Only you could have given that performance.”

“Can’t argue wit’ dat.”

“And Ross?  Could I tell you a secret?”

“Um, sure,” he answered.

“Well, Thea had come up with the feisty granny idea.”

“You tattletale,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, sorry.  I know you wanted me to have sole credit because you’re such a nice person, but the whole world deserves to know about your wonderful creative ability.”  I looked at Ross.  “I told her you supported the nerd idea, and that I supported it too, but Thea, she couldn’t explain it; she simply thought a granny could promote debt reduction better—and not just any granny, but a feisty one.  Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized she had a point.  Sometimes inspiration strikes from the most unexpected sources.”  I looked at Thea.  “You’ve always supported our free-market system, and thanks to you contributions here today, you’ll make it even stronger.  Good work.”

“Thanks.  Hope I dohn git a huge head from all dat praise.  I’ll hafta buy an extra-extra-extra-extra-extra-extra large Stillers cap.”

Ross laughed.

“Well, tell you what—if you give the same performance in the finished product as you did here, you’ll be able to afford that cap, because I’ll pay you the three thousand,” he told her.

“You serious?” I asked.

“Of course.  And I won’t even take the extra money out of your fee!”

“Well, isn’t that good news for both of us!” Thea exclaimed in her normal, non-Yinzer voice.

I laughed.  I don’t know why.

“So anyway,” Ross said, “before we can start shooting, you two have to sign some papers.  I know, I know, but my legal department insists.  They like to feel needed over there.  I’ll have the papers e-mailed to you by the end of the day.  Print them out, sign them, and mail them back to me as soon as possible.  We can’t let another minute go by without letting the young folks know their actions right now can lead to a brighter, more solvent future.”

He said goodbye to us and departed.

Thea still wore her costume and still had her keytar strapped around her neck.

“Not a bad guy for a one-percenter,” she said.  “You can hardly notice his pointy tail.”

“Fuck you,” I said angrily, the first time I’d ever said that to her.

“Excuse me, bro?”  She sounded surprised.

“Fuck you, and fuck your extreme makeover.”

“What extreme makeover?”

“Cut the crap.  If you didn’t want to appear in this video, you should have told me in the first place.  But no, you had to pull that stupid shit and almost ruin me.  Was that your intention, to ruin me?”

“No!  I would never want to do that.  I want to help you succeed.”

“Oh yeah?  Then why’d you turn into an old bag?”

“To protect my identity.   I did want to appear in this ad ’cause I do need the money.  But even if I did want to sell out, I—”

“People don’t sell out anymore.  They buy in.”

“Tuh-may-toe, tuh-maw-toe.  Anyway, even if I did want to whore myself, I didn’t want to associate the Thea brand with those right-wing bastards.  I still had some pride.  So I thought things would go a lot easier if I created a brand extension.  The Bonnie brand.  She’s my polar opposite, my dark half, the half that makes money.”

“Or she’s a smug, annoying political statement, like how no one could support debt reduction or austerity or whatever except for dumb old ladies.  You almost ruined me because you couldn’t resist telling Ross his economic philosophy sucked.”

“Well, it does, but as I said, I didn’t ruin you.”

“You almost did!  I know you don’t care about your future, but would it fucking kill you to care about mine?  Geez, I don’t even know if I want to work with you now.”

“Chill out, Taff.  You’re such a drama queen.  Of course I care about your future and about mine, too.  That’s why I transformed myself into Bonnie Donovic, to make sure our futures are successful.  You know darn well she has that certain something that appeals to the young viewer demographic, as you would put it in your sophisticated advertising terminology.  Ross loved her, that’s most important.”

“Or maybe he felt sorry for me, because you’d made a fool of yourself.”

“What difference does it make?  You’ll direct this video, and I’ll star in it.”

“Hooray.”

“Look, I’m sorry if my surprise performance upset you.  I know I should have clued you in beforehand, but frankly, if I had done that, it would have switched on my rational mind, and I would have lost the nerve to audition.  Then we would have lost the chance to become even more famous.”

 

We did the video at her place, with Thea in her Bonnie Donovic persona, complete with cherry-red keytar.  I used my vintage gear, namely a Nu-View NV-500 VHS camcorder, the height of Reagan-era technology: a boxy black behemoth I’d bought on eBay for way, way too much, but nostalgia doesn’t come cheap.

Hanging on the wall behind her to her left was a gold-colored, plastic bald eagle maybe a foot in diameter.  His wings were outstretched, and his head was bent down between his legs, apparently to nuzzle his junk.  She’d bought him for five bucks at a suburban garage sale years earlier—probably the right price, since he looked in good shape.  She’d named him Quincy.

I shot them handheld to make it seem even more like the pseudo home video Ross had wanted, keeping the camerawork just steady enough to prevent seasickness.  No crew, only me.  She nailed her performance in one take—if anything, her singing and keytar playing had more energy, and her faux Pittsburgh accent sounded even more grating.

 

That night at Frequent Zoom, I downloaded the analogue video into my digital computer.  No widescreen—I kept the picture in its original Eighties 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  I adjusted the color to make it look a little faded.  I added the pictorial fuzziness that VHS tapes develop after constant playing.  I included jenkins.com at the end, white letters on a black background.  Below that, in smaller letters, I put COPYRIGHT © 2013 THE JENKINS INSTITUTE.

Voilà: sixty seconds of sheer perfection.

I e-mailed the video to Ross.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews

Give a Little to Get a Lot: excerpt #2 from a work-in-progress

Please see the previous posting for excerpt #1.

“Five hundred, huh?” Thea asked.

“Not bad for a minute’s work,” I said.

Thea was the nerdiest female musician I knew.  Actually the only nerdy female musician I knew.  We sat at a table in the Guessed Room coffeehouse on the North Side.  She wore a different pair of large, squarish black glasses.  Her white T-shirt had the word DAYDREAM on it in black-outlined letters printed across an oval that had an orange sunrise or sunset in it, with each letter containing little, black-outlined clouds.  Her grayish-green skirt had a crinkly, pink lace hem that brushed her knees.  Her pale-green cardigan had a swirling-leaf design on the front with what looked like actual fake pearls in the leaves.  Her purple hi-top sneakers matched the new highlights in her hair.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Well, for starters, five hundred bucks?  I could earn more holding a yard sale, if I could find a yard.”

“But this is your first digital PSA.  We all have to start somewhere.”

“How much are you earning for this video?  A lot more than five hundred, I’ll bet.”

“Let’s just say my amount’s commensurate with my experience.  I’ve directed PSAs for years.  I know how to brainwash the masses.  And anyway, I know you can use the money, whatever the amount.  Everyone can use a little money, dagnabbit.”

“Yeah, but here’s my other problem: I’d feel unclean working for a bunch of right-wing Republicans.”

“The institute is bipartisan.”

“Well, technically.  Some Democrats belong to it, but it’s controlled by right-wing Republicans.  You know who founded it?”

“No.”

“Dwight Jenkins, a local right-wing zillionaire.  He made his fortune exploiting the less fortunate by running payday-loan centers in poor neighborhoods, among other shady activities.”

“Where’d you hear this?”

“I read it in YoPittsburgh Weekly.”

“Such a reputable source.  Did you read that before going to the she-male escort ads?”

“Taf-fee!”

“All right, all right, sorry for the she-male phobia or whatever, but you have to admit, The New York Times doesn’t print ads like that.”

“So?  That doesn’t mean it tells the truth about everything, either.  And why are we talking about those ads, anyway?  Oh, yeah—you wanted to draw attention away from the fact that your compadre works for a rich scumbag who wants to impose austerity measures on this country under the guise of debt reduction.”

“Austerity measures?”

“You know, slashing government spending and raising taxes.  Countries such as Britain, Ireland, Spain, and Greece have done this, and they’ve had the same results: galloping inflation, high unemployment, and increased poverty.  A government needs to spend money in order to stimulate its economy, to bring in increased tax revenues to pay off its debt.  Not that the one-percent cares.  Financial markets love it when we save money by screwing the ninety-nine percent one-hundred percent of the time.”

“That Occupy crap’s so Two-Thousand-and-Eleven,” I said in a bored voice.

“Yeah, time to move onto the next fad, right?” Thea asked.  “Income inequality is so boring.”

My income inequality is so boring.  I really need this project, Thea.  I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails, and they’re not even manicured.  And you’re not doing any better.  Do you even have healthcare?  Maybe if you get lucky, you’ll be able to afford half an aspirin after you start panhandling a few years from now.”

“What makes you think I haven’t started panhandling already?”

“ ’Cause you obviously still shop at the best thrift stores.  It takes money to look like a homeless new-wave librarian.”

Thea laughed her usual pantomime laugh, her face going through the motions but the sound on mute.  However, this time I could sense I’d pissed her off a little.  Time to soothe her hurt widdle feelings.

“I don’t want you to go broke,” I said.  “Take care of yourself first, Thea.  You can save the ninety-nine percent from capitalist oppression another time, like during your lunch break or something.”

Thea sipped her coffee.

“Or you don’t have to keep the money the right-wingers pay you,” I added.  “You can donate it to some progressive cause.  Or you can buy a vial of Lady Gaga’s sweat.  Whatever you like.”

Thea sipped her coffee again.

“Tell Ross I want a thousand dollars,” she said.

“A thousand?”

“No, tell him I want two thousand, and if he doesn’t agree to that, bargain him down to one.  I know he has a bottomless budget.  Why would his one-percenter bosses skimp on promoting their toxic agenda?  And anyway, he’s your friend, and friends stick up for each other.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Attaboy.”

“By the way, he had wanted someone much younger than you, so I told him you were around my age.”

Thea stared at me.

“Hey, any number’s around any other number if you use a wide enough range,” I said.

“Thanks for the math lesson,” she said a little icily.

“Aw, come on, Thea.  I massaged the facts because I wanted you to star in this video.”

“How flattering, I guess.  But he’ll find out my real age sooner or later.”

“Hopefully later, after you’ve dazzled him with your keytar wizardry.  You do plan to play the keytar in this video, right?”

Thea grinned her crooked grin.

Two days later, I sat on the edge of the unmade futon in her combination bedroom, living room, kitchen, and recording studio.  She’d written her song already; I’d asked to preview and critique it before she played it for Ross.  She stood before me, a cherry-red keytar slung around her neck.

“Nice keytar,” I said.  “Where’d you get it?”

“On eBay,” she replied.

“For how much?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious.  How much did it cost?”

“I could afford it, don’t worry.”

Years earlier, I had asked how things were going in her marriage.  “Just fine, don’t worry,” she’d said in the same soothing tone.

She had obviously paid way too much for that instrument.  No wonder she had such precarious finances.  No wonder she lived in a dinky apartment on the Slopes, the vertiginous hills overlooking the South Side, the hip Pittsburgh neighborhood known for its tattoo places, bars, and tattooed drunks.

She started fiddling with the buttons on her keytar’s imitation guitar neck.

“By the way, I saw something interesting this morning on the YoPittsburgh blog,” she said.  “Greece’s unemployment rate has hit twenty-six-point-eight percent, the highest in Europe.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Spain’s unemployment rate is only twenty-six-point-six percent.”

“Uh-huh.”

Thea looked at me.  She frowned.

“This song could help devastate America’s economy,” she said.

“Well, we won’t know till you start singing, now, will we?” I asked.

She glared at me.  Then she started playing a brisk march, her fingers bouncing on the keytar’s keyboard.  After a few seconds, she started singing in the off-key, sweet, adorable, girlish way Ross had wanted, tentatively at first, then with more confidence as the song progressed:

The national debt / Of the USA / Has grown so big / It can ruin our day // We gotta fix the debt / And that’s a fact / Tell Washington / We’re ready to act // It won’t be easy / That’s another fact / But we’ll have so much more / When we give something back // Give up a little / To get a lot / Doing our share / Now that’s real hot // Give up a little / To get a lot / So our kids’ll have / What we all got // Give up a little / To get a lot / Give up a little / To get a lot / Give up a little / To get a lot

Her performance ended.

“Wow, Thea,” I said as I clapped with enthusiasm.

“Thanks,” she said.

“What a great song.  It conveys its message almost perfectly.”

“Almost?”

“Um…in the chorus, could you change ‘Give up a little’ to ‘Give a little’?  Giving up something has negative connotations.  Plus ‘Give up a little’ also sounds like you’re telling people to submit to defeat.”

She looked down at her keytar for a moment.

“All right, I’ll change that line,” she said.

“Don’t be so glum,” I said.  “Change it to ‘Give a little,’ and the video will go viral for sure.”

“Right.  Have you talked with Ross about my two grand?”

 

“Sorry, but no,” Ross had told me over beers the previous night at an upscale bar in downtown Pittsburgh.

“She said she’d also accept a thousand,” I’d said.

“Well, she’ll have to accept it from someone else.  Tell her I definitely can’t go over five hundred, ’cause my budget’s tighter than my fine, fine ass.”

“You mean your cheap, cheap ass.  Come on, she deserves more money.”

“Are you banging her?”

“No!  She’s a friend, and I want to help her out.”

“Hmm.”  He ran his fingers up and down the side of his beer mug.  “All right, I’ll pay her fifteen-hundred more.  I’ll just pay you fifteen-hundred less.”

 

“Yeah, I talked with him last night,” I told Thea.  “He said he’ll get back to you.”

“Meaning he said no,” she said.

“Meaning he’ll get back to you.  You should have a more positive attitude.”

More massaging of the facts—he would get back to her when he paid her that chump-change amount, five hundred dollars.  At least he’d paid for my beers.

Copyright © 2014 by David V. Matthews