To those who will bravely read this: I like my little story, but recognize that it needs a serious tune-up. I would appreciate any constructive feedback. Thanks.
You must login to vote
The Old Rubber Soul
Steve fidgeted nervously in front of the old warehouse. This was where he was supposed to meet Roy, the guy that had bought his album from him the day before. He had wondered if he was going to get his asking price of five hundred dollars when he placed the ad in the newspaper, but when Roy bought it so quickly, he started to fear he had asked for too little, if anything.
It didn’t matter. He was glad to get the money. There was a time when he had lived check to check, a younger time, when it was easy to be confident of the future, but now, at fifty-two, money was becoming more important all the time. His wife had died of breast cancer the year before, giving him a long look at his own mortality as well. Re-marrying wasn’t very likely, as he wasn’t interested in starting over with someone new this late in life. So he had to take care of himself, maybe for many years to come. The picture of being too old to work and not having enough money to pay his bills loomed before him larger each day.
He had owned his copy of Rubber Soul for thirty-five years. It was time to let go.
He had seen the album cover so many times he had it memorized. There they were, the fab four, looking so cool in their leather jackets and medium length hair. The picture was full-sized, and taken through a fish-eye lens. The Beatles were looking down, of course, as if the viewer was part of the ground instead of a camera. And when Steve bought that record, he was looking down too— at the whole world. His generation was going to put all of the wrongs to right. He gave up long before trying to figure out what went wrong. All he knew now was that he needed the money.
“Is the record in good condition?”
“Oh yes, I took very good care of it all these years. I cleaned it after every play, and started making cassette copies to listen to instead years ago!”
“Okay, tell me where you are and I’ll be right over. If it’s in as good a shape as you say, consider it sold.”
It really was as simple as that. And on the first day the ad was placed, too. All of that worrying over whether it would sell for nothing.
Before the big hand on the clock could get halfway around, Roy was there. Steve had the Rubber Soul album ready for inspection, and Roy pawed out five crisp one hundred dollar bills as soon as he was satisfied it was in good shape. Steve was exhilarated with the suddenness of the sale.
“Believe me, buddy, you will enjoy this record. I know I did. They just don’t make records like this anymore.”
“Oh I know. It isn’t so easy to find these thick ones like this.”
Roy explained patiently, “You know, the vinyl. The older records are thicker.”
Steve was back on track at once, “Yeah, that’s exactly right, young man. The manufacturers made them thinner and thinner over the years, until the records skipped and jumped all over the place, and then they brought in the cassettes and CD’s. I still think they never would have been able to sell us CD’s, if the quality of vinyl had stayed high. There is just something about the sound of a new record…”
“You can say that again.” Roy cut him off while looking at his watch meaningfully, tucked his new purchase under his arm, and said, “Well, I’d stay and chat but I have to get ready to go out tonight.” He looked at Steve as if to size him up and continued, “How would you like to see me debut this record tonight with my friends, sort of to give it a send off?”
Flattered, Steve replied, “Well, sure, that would be great! I could even bring some other records along that you and your friends might be interested in. I have some rare Stones…”
“That will be fine, sir. You know where the old empty warehouse is over on Riverside? We all meet there on Friday night once every three months or so. We’re meeting there tonight, about nine o’clock.” Roy saw the look of anxiety cross the old man’s face. “Don’t worry, nobody will touch you, I promise. We’re all friends, and besides, they respect me. You’ll see.”
“Tell you what, I’ll be there.” Steve smiled broadly, betraying none of the apprehensions he may have felt before.
They said goodbye, and Roy headed down the driveway to his car. Why shouldn’t he go there tonight and meet with the young guy’s friends? They couldn’t be all bad, if they were willing to listen to the Beatles. He had heard of rave parties that lasted all through the night at the old warehouse. He knew about the crazy music, and the drugs they took, the ecstasy drug. But how could that be so different from what Steve’s generation went through, with the summer of love, the acid trips, and the heroin overdoses? And these kids, they had so much going on in their lives these days, with computers, the traffic, and the hurrying. They probably need the outlet, he thought. Sure I’ll go, he thought to himself, wondering if he should bring his pepper spray just in case.
Night- time arrived, and here he stood in front of the warehouse, waiting for Roy and the others to show up. They were only a half hour late, and Steve figured that was not out of the ordinary for young folks; it was still pretty early for them. He remembered his own fascination with being out at night, trying to recall what was so damned great about it. Approaching headlights snapped him out of his reverie, and he stood a little straighter, yet attempting to appear more relaxed at the same time. Roy got out of the van along with two other young men his age; one with tattoos covering his arms, the other with jewelry all over his face. That had to hurt, all of that pierced skin. Roy strode up and put his hand out, “Steve, I’m glad you could make it! Guys, this is the guy that sold me that cool Rubber Soul record I’m going to play for us tonight.”
They both rejoined with, “Alright! Awesome!”
Steve did relax now. He felt like he could really come to like these guys, strange appearance and all. They went in to the warehouse, and one of the guys found the lights. Roy’s voice echoed in the huge space, “The owner gave us permission to rave here every few months, as long as we don’t get into fights or shootings, or anything. Being in the middle of the industrial zone here, we don’t bother anyone, really, except maybe some of the homeless bums that hang out.” Roy smirked. “Anyway, the owner lets us use the place. I guess he thinks it’s his civic duty.” Roy smirked again, and his two friends giggled absently.
Roy and his companions began setting up the stage while Steve looked around, noticing graffiti on the walls and floors. It was strange to him; some of it art, some of it words, all of it strange. In one corner, he noticed the words, “While they danced the city fell. Who will remember?” On the opposite wall, as if to answer, was, “Who the fuck cares?” In a corner of the floor, he found a huge, colorful drawing of a catfish with the inscription, “All are welcome that enter here, and given digestion.” The catfish loomed up large and lifelike, with the whiskers, the smooth un-fishlike skin, and the black, expressionless eyes. As Steve looked at the fish (it looked so real) its mouth seemed to gape wider, until it was wide enough to swallow everything that lived. He turned and walked away, dismissing his own confused discomfort. He found distraction with another writing about ten feet from the floor, “Submission is Permission.” Someone had to ride on someone else’s shoulders to write that, maybe even stand on them. The irony hit Steve with full force. Who was in submission, the one that wrote this, or the one that held him up? Surely, although the writer could enjoy a supreme position, the guy holding him could simply have let go, or thrown him. But this made the saying even more truthful, because the human mule permitted his friend to stand on his shoulders, and so he was in submission. It started with permission. All of this from just three words! Steve could have spent more time thinking on it, but the warehouse was starting to fill with people.
They were coming in steadily now. Everywhere he saw tattoos, piercing, and crazy hair, mostly on the guys, but some of the girls dressed like that too. There were Mohawks, spikes, and pacifiers. It occurred to him that these kids resembled something like he might see in a National Geographic, in an article about some strange, exotic tribe. As he looked on with a mixture of fascination and repulsion, the kids returned his stares, mirroring his expression. Steve began making his way to the stage; wanting to get closer to the only person he had any familiarity with. He got to the stage, feeling nervous and frazzled, having a change of heart.
“Roy, I think I better go.”
“No, don’t go, man! We’re almost ready here. What? You don’t get out much at night? I’ll tell you what,” Roy fished a five dollar bill out of his right pocket, “can you get me an orange juice from that guy over there? And get what you want with the change. Then, I promise you we’ll have the show going by the time you finish your drink, alright?” Roy was bouncy, exuberant. In one neat word, he was youthful.
“Alright,” Steve gave in, “I’ll stay for the first act.” Roy smiled at the right answer, and Steve shuffled over to the white ice barrel, picking apple juice for himself and an OJ for Roy. Then he came back and plunked down on the stage, waiting patiently for the act to begin. He watched as people filled the room, and in turn they were watching him, amid their own self-absorbed conversations. At first, they stared with wary distrust, but after a few minutes, he was pointedly ignored. Tolerated, more likely. Still, now and then a guy or girl would look at him meaningfully, like he was an exhibit or relic, as if they were trying to reconcile him with their own reality, but couldn’t. Steve laughed to himself hysterically, unable to suppress an outward smile, which unsettled his impromptu audience even further. He recalled the days when he and his friends protested the Vietnam War, civil injustice, or anything else they could. Back then, his parents and grandparents didn’t understand. And what was there to understand? Steve’s generation tried it all and did it all before these kids were ever born. His generation got there first; or did they? Maybe his parents thought they were cool too. They probably did. That was what seemed so absurd, how the latest generation always thought they had done something unique.
Roy ambled up to the microphone, only standing at first, until the crowd noticed him and quieted down for his announcement. After everyone quieted, he began, “Um, tonight we’re gonna do some new routines we’ve been working on. We hope you like it, and enjoy the show. Remember to keep the fights down, and keep it cool! We have a good gig here, and we sure don’t want to fuck it up,” the crowd murmured agreement, and Steve continued, “Anyway, some of you may be wondering who the old guy sitting on the stage is. He was kind enough to sell a record to me, by the name of Rubber Soul. It came out in 1966. It works really well in the mix. I had a copy once before; it sounds proper, so listen up!”
The crowd started cheering as Roy strode over to the turntables. The man with the tattoos got on a drum set they had brought in and started beating a loud, steady rhythm.
Then, with no warning, Roy threw the needle down on the old Rubber Soul album, and started jerking the record back and forth to the beat on the drum. Could this really be happening? Then he was doing something similar on the other turntable. What came through those speakers was definitely not the Beatles. The crowd started going wild, jumping and jerking about to the spasmodic beat, jerking and jumping like the Rubber Soul that was now being destroyed, after many years of careful care.
“They look like they are being electrocuted,” Steve stood thinking. Then, as his anger rose, he wished they were being electrocuted, along with Roy up on the stage, especially Roy, for the disrespect they were showing his old masterpiece. How could they be happy about it? Yet, there they were, jumping around and having a good time, while the Rubber Soul was being destroyed. He should have never sold it, but he really didn’t know what was going to be taking place here. He thought he had met someone with a genuine interest in the Beatles music, but now he stood staring up at an anarchist, a destroyer, who even had the nerve to invite him to see this desecration. That was the ultimate insult.
Fueled by his flash of anger, Steve leaped onto the stage, lunging for the turntables, wanting to destroy what was important to Roy as well. Almost there; but a tall lanky kid, about the age of his own son, tackled him to the floor. Steve lay pinned down, unable to move, and could smell the kid’s sweet hot breath as he yelled in his ear above the noise, “You can’t fight this, old man! So why don’t you just walk away?” Was Steve imagining a hint of respect in the kid’s voice?
He went slack, accepting the truth of the kid’s words- his surrogate son. Of course, he wanted to stop the mindless destruction of his record, but he knew getting rowdy in this crowd would go unnoticed at best.
The young man loosened his grip on Steve, allowing him to get up. He still watched Steve warily, ready to tackle him again, if needed. But it wasn’t needed. The fight was gone from him as quickly as it came, replaced now with an aching disappointment. Once he stood upright, he caught Roy’s gaze, who had never stopped scratching the records, and was alternately hitting dials and switches at a furious pace, while the crowd went crazy. As their eyes met, On Roy’s face was an expression of euphoria. Glee. Steve could imagine his sense of triumph here tonight. Out with the old and in with the new, eh?
He turned and left the stage, walking slowly and unimpeded across the dance floor, the young crowd parting before him like a wake. On his way to the door, someone might bump into him while in the frenzy of dance, but would quickly dart away as they realized he was not part of the crowd.
Finally reaching the exit door, he turned and surveyed the scene, still unable to appreciate the “dance” or the “music.” The warehouse was jammed with people, and they were so close together that arms and legs disappeared into one large mass of flesh. The clothing along with the movement was kaleidoscopic. And the touching, the constant touching and embracing, like puppies in a litter, blindly feeling for the others when one moves from the midst. This group was a tribe, with all of their primal instincts intact, celebrating the bright and fanciful, and the strange, in a sort of mystical frenzy. They no longer seemed to be kids at all, at least on some level.
In this manner and thinking such thoughts, Steve turned his back on them, physically and ceremonially. With no further hesitation, he opened the door and walked out into the night. And the night received him quietly and peacefully.
"We sit here stranded though we're all doing our best to deny it." (Visions of Johanna) Bob Dylan