The Devil’s Dandruff (fiction)

“I was born and raised in West Aliquippa, a town north of Pittsburgh,” Pastor Blake Summers said.  “My dad worked at the town’s main employer, the J&L steel mill.  Everyone’s dad worked at the mill.  When my friends graduated from high school, they went to work in the mill.  When I graduated from high school, I went into rock music….You decide who made the better career choice.”

The audience chuckled.  Pastor Summers was speaking at a two-thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraising dinner for the Righteous Inheritors in September 2008.  The Righteous Inheritors were one of the newest and most influential conservative Christian groups in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“After graduating from high school, I moved to America’s most glamorous city, heh heh, Los   Angeles, to become a rock musician,” he continued.   “Let’s skip over the years of struggle and get right to the fame and fortune, shall we?”

The audience chuckled.

“For those of you who don’t know, during the 1980s, I was in a Los Angeles band called Asgard Viper.”

Scattered applause from the audience.

“A few headbangers in the audience.  How nice.  Anyway, true fact, I came up with the name Asgard Viper.  You see, I liked reading comic books, and my favorite was Thor, about these Norse gods who lived in a kingdom called Asgard.  Needless to say, these were mythological gods, not like the real thing, God himself.”

Applause from the audience.

“I added the Viper part because I thought it sounded cool.”

Laughter from the audience.

“So, anyway, we released four albums from 1984 to ’89, all smashes.  Our singles always made the top-ten.  Our videos always played on MTV, back when it played videos.  And we had extremely successful tours.  We had once played in crummy bars to audiences of five people, but now we sold out entire stadiums.  We even sold out Three Rivers Stadium, our proudest achievement.”

Applause from the audience.

“So you’re Steelers fans, huh?  I knew I was among friends.”

Sustained applause from the audience.

“All right, thanks, but back to my story….By 1989, we had reached the height of our fame.  We had it all.  Correction—my bandmates had it all.  But as the lead singer, lead guitarist, and chief songwriter of the group, I had more.  I had more money, much more money; in retrospect, I have to say thank God for the Reagan tax cuts.”

Vigorous applause from the audience.

“I owned eight limos, a different one for each day of the week, Beatles-style.  Get it?”

Sparse laughter from the audience.

“I lived in a mansion, one of the largest ones in L.A.—twenty-four thousand square feet, plenty of room to party.  I had marble floors and gold chandeliers and a giant wine cellar.  I even had a Jacuzzi that could seat the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and their cousins.”

Laughter from the audience.

“Though the Jacuzzi tended to have groupies and strippers in it instead.  Sorry to disappoint you choir music aficionados.”

The pastor sipped his bottled water.

“So anyway, in 1989, our group’s latest album, Sticky Situation, had reached number one, our first and only album to do that.  Its lead single, ‘Babe University,’ had reached number one, our first and only song to do that.  I wrote that song, and I actually felt proud of its sleazy, sinful lyrics.  Today that song is G-rated compared to the other stuff on the radio, but back then, I wanted to bring the culture down to my level, so I wouldn’t feel lonely in leading a licentious lifestyle.”

Scattered laughter from the audience.

“In 1989, at the very height of our fame, or infamy, we were about to launch our latest and greatest world tour, complete with the latest and greatest lasers, more lasers than Floyd night at the planetarium.”

Scattered laughter from the audience.

“But then—”

Pause.

“—the Behind the Music stuff began.”

Pause.

“I’d like to quote a Biblical passage you might find familiar….‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?’ ”

Applause from the audience.

“Wait, there’s more.  ‘Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.’  First Corinthians, chapter six, verses nine and ten….Well, when I was a rock star, you couldn’t call me effeminate.  And you certainly couldn’t call me an abuser of mankind, if you know what I mean.  But otherwise, that passage from First Corinthians perfectly describes my behavior back then.  If I told you all the depraved things I’d done during the Nineteen-Eighties, we’d be here until the Twenty-Eighties, but since you have this hall only for tonight, I’ll try not to go into too much detail.”

The audience chuckled.

“But I have to tell you, as First Corinthians would put it, I was a drunkard.  A sloppy, obnoxious, puke-on-my-shoes-and-pass-out-cold drunkard.  It didn’t matter what I drank, as long as I could drink lots of it.  I guzzled enough booze every day to float ten Titanics and even more booze every night.  And of course, it wouldn’t be the Eighties without cocaine—oh, dear God, the cocaine.  Coke, the devil’s dandruff, made me energetic and confident at first.  Then it made me crazy and paranoid.  I had epic tantrums.  I got into fistfights with the other band members.  I got into fistfights with total strangers.  I kicked dogs—no, really, I kicked dogs, I’m sorry to say.  Any dog would do, though the small ones, like Chihuahuas, tended to cover more distance when I booted ’em, which filled me with a sense of accomplishment.”

Not a sound from the audience.

“And worst of all, I even seriously thought the Lord God himself envied my talent and wanted to steal my song ideas.  The Lord God himself.  I mean, really.  What would someone like him do with my dumb rock-and-roll songs?…Plus everyone knows God prefers country music anyway.”

Laughter and applause from the audience.

“So anyway, in 1989, two days before our tour would start, my bandmates staged an intervention.  They gave me a choice: either go into rehab, or take a permanent hike.  You can guess what I did.  The record company put out an official press release saying I’d left the band due to that old favorite, quote, ‘creative differences,’ unquote.  But it was pretty much an open secret that the other band members had kicked me out because I was an addict who had grown way, way out of control.  But I didn’t care.  At least I had more time to party.  However, the more I partied, the worse I felt, and the worse I felt, the more I partied.  That’s what they call a vicious circle, as in circling the drain.  This went on and on.  I didn’t work, but I spent money like a maniac.  It didn’t take me long to lose all my money, just a year in fact, and when I did, I lost my so-called friends.  And as for the groupies and strippers, hah, they disappeared even faster.  No help from anyone to pay off my debts, and I had a lot of them.  I paid off whatever I could by selling my limos, my mansion, my guitars, and almost everything else I owned.  Buh-bye, Jacuzzi.  I moved to a squalid motel room outside of Hollywood, where I barely survived on record royalties, and I continued to party every night, alone.”

The pastor sipped his bottled water.

“Then one night in 1992…It was three A.M., and I was in my motel room, alone as usual. It was the hottest night of the year, and the air conditioner had broken, of course.  I was soaked with sweat as I lay on the floor naked, freaking out because I didn’t have any booze or coke, because I didn’t have a cent to buy booze or coke or food for that matter; I hadn’t eaten in two days.  I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t have any friends or career.  I didn’t even have a guitar anymore.  I didn’t have anything.  Well, I kept freaking out, trying to think of a way to solve my problems.  Then it hit me.  I wouldn’t have any problems if I didn’t exist.  So I decided to end it all.  Sure, why not?  I was just a has-been.  No one would miss me.  Might as well get wasted with Satan for eternity.  But how would I commit suicide?  I didn’t have a gun.  I didn’t have any pills.  There wasn’t anything to hang myself from.  And the motel was one story, so I couldn’t jump.”

Pause.

“The razor blade.  I could slit my wrists with the razor blade I used to cut my coke.”

A gasp from the audience.

“I got up from the floor and picked up the razor blade from the nightstand.  I ran a hot bath and sat in it.  I held the razor blade with my right hand.  The blade pressed into my left wrist.  Remember, cut vertically, not horizontally, I thought….Okay, might as well take one last look around the bathroom, the last things I’d see on Earth.  I looked at the toilet, the sink, the bar of soap on the sink, the empty towel rack.  Then my eyes moved to the small framed picture hanging on the wall in front of me, to the side of the tub.  Someone must have wanted to class up the place.  The picture was this full-color drawing of a blurry desert landscape, lots of blinding sunlight, a few cacti, with some jagged cliffs in the background.  Typical motel art.  I must have seen it a thousand times.  But now, as I sat in the tub, about to open my vein, I…I kept looking at that picture.  The more I looked at it, the more something just, I don’t know how to put it, illuminated my mind.  It was like the sunshine went into my soul.  I wasn’t religious, but for the first time, I knew for sure God was speaking to me without saying any words.  God spoke to me for just a few seconds, but they were the best few seconds of my life.  He told me I had so much to give.  He told me not to throw away everything I had.  He told me to embrace his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to help others embrace Jesus.  In short, he, God, told me to live….I didn‘t slit my wrists.  Instead, I placed the razor blade onto the edge of the tub.  Then I sat in the tub and cried for thirty minutes, tears of joy, because I knew I was born again.”

Sustained applause from the audience.

“The next day, God continued to look after me, because I received a royalty check in the mail.  First I got something to eat, then I escaped L.A.’s degeneracy by flying back to West Aliquippa.  I got clean at the Gateway Rehabilitation Center, started witnessing, and today, I’m the pastor of the Great Wonder Evangelical Church, the area’s biggest and best megachurch.”

Applause from the audience.

“I can honestly tell you I don’t miss the fame and fortune, because I feel blessed in infinite ways working as a servant of the Lord.  Great Wonder took a chance, hiring a former rock star like me with such a wild past.  But they knew I could perform my job, because I had sunshine in my soul.  Because I’d escaped a living hell and knew how to help other people escape.  I’m proof that anyone can receive the grace of God.  Anyone.”

Pause.

“Well, okay, the jury’s still out on Barack Hussein Obama.”

Extended laughter and rapturous applause from the audience.

Copyright © 2013 by David V. Matthews

(revised and expanded version posted on September 3, 2013) (and a few more alterations on September 13, 2013)

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Another sheer outtake from DVM’s upcoming book Meltdown in the Cereal Aisle and Other Stories

Another Tom-and-Rachel passage omitted from “Sheer Musical Joy for the Ages”:

Rachel never discussed politics with anyone, because people got upset so easily nowadays; she had never liked causing strife in the world.  However, she had always held conservative views about government, the economy, and (of course) morality.  In 2000 at age nineteen, she had voted in her first election, choosing George W. Bush for president, as she would do again in her second election four years later.  She considered him a decent and honorable man, though she had strong disagreements with him about that whole torture business.  Having lived through 9/11 and the two ongoing wars that had followed, she understood the natural desire for revenge against the monsters who had attacked America and continued to attack it, but torturing a terrorist meant you considered him special, worthy of the extra attention, worthy of the extra effort required for beating, kicking, stomping, waterboarding, forced foot-licking, and other harsh interrogation techniques.  As for using those techniques to gain information that would prevent an imminent attack, the ticking time-bomb scenario happened only on TV; real-life terrorists didn’t deserve any media-related glamour.  The government should remove whatever mystique terrorism had by treating a terrorist as any other criminal, making him do hard time in an ordinary supermax prison, tossing him in solitary forever, driving him crazy with boredom.

On the other hand, Tom probably wanted to coddle the terrorists, having the government pay for luxuries such as cable TV or high-quality legal representation, meaning he probably leaned to the left on the political spectrum; she had never seen him wear Birkenstocks or carry around a National Public Radio totebag, but she did know about his lack of interest in religion—something she’d known about before today, true, but, all right, she had hoped to convert him, because a hunk like him didn’t deserve to get broiled after death.  But to no avail—he remained unconverted.

All right, she would get intimate with him in a millisecond if doing so wouldn’t cause her soul to wither.  Maybe she should show him just enough physical affection, not going too far, proving she can set boundaries and teaching him how to set them.  Maybe just a little touching.  Her soul wouldn’t wither too much if they just touched in a careful manner.

Maybe just a little kissing.  She’d never been kissed.

Maybe just—

No, why would she even consider extreme involvement with him?  His questionable morals had had a deleterious effect on her.  She needed to back away while she still could.  A moment of so-called fun, and she’d foot the bill forever.  No, she could never belong on his team or vice-versa.

And she knew the importance of teams.  Her father had run track in high school and college.  Even today, he still had a lean, muscular physique and still towered over most of the world at six feet, two inches; she’d inherited her tallness and her athleticism from him.

His sophomore year of college, he met his future wife on the campus quad while walking to the dining hall for lunch.  “We met on a cloudy day, but it was the sunniest day of my life,” as he would put it on many occasions years later.  She had just gotten saved and had started witnessing; he was her first witness (or witnessee?) ever.  It was also love at first sight for both of them.  They talked, they started going out together, he got saved thanks to her, and they got married two years later after graduating.

Rachel was born a year after that and had a Christian upbringing.  Every Sunday, she attended the Church of the Shining Light of Garnetville for Bible school and religious services. Every weekday after public school, she watched King Christian on the PraiseHim channel.   Every Easter, she watched the Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments during that movie’s annual broadcast on the ABC television network.  And at bedtime, her parents would read to her from Doyle’s Christian Media Presents the Big Book of Bible Stories for Good Little Children; as an adult, she still remembered the book’s cartoony, candy-colored illustrations of Adam, Eve, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, et cetera.

 

Copyright © 2012 by David V. Matthews