by Roland Goity
Back in the eighties, my buddy Tommy and I saw every hair metal band from Los Angeles and beyond. We even formed our own hair band and noise polluted every neighborhood in Reseda. These days we’re empty nesters, and since his wife was away at a conference last weekend while mine was off to a Santa Fe spa retreat with girlfriends, tickets to last Saturday’s Summer of Metal Festival extravaganza seemed like a no-brainer.
Aside from the graybeards and silver hairs among the crowd and SUVs instead of muscle cars in the dirt parking lot, it was “flashback central.” We arrived early, well before the gates opened, and tailgated amid the dust. Tommy brought some edibles that served as our breakfast. Then we quickly emptied the cooler of beers. I hit the portable john at least twice before lining up for the gate.
The outdoor venue was one of those big amphitheaters, with tiered seating under impressive tents and more affordable spots on a sprawling grass higher up and further from the stage. Up there, where our tickets were, it was first-come, first-served; so, once inside, we made a beeline for the lawn chair rentals before staking our territorial claim. Unfortunately, we were so far away on the crest of the grass that the performers on stage looked like miniature figurines, even with Tommy’s binoculars. Still, we were in the best of moods, smiles almost crawling their way to the backs of our necks.
A group of eight arrived during the end of the second act and placed their chairs beside ours. During the set break we learned they were all part of the same family, including a few significant others. The mother hen was younger than us but looked way older—deep crevasses ran up and down her face, shadowy bags below her eyes set in permanence. “I’m a recovering addict,” she would share from time to time whenever conversation stalled. Her addiction had been to heroin, we figured, and not to the margaritas, bomber joints, and bits and pieces of magic mushrooms we watched her consume freely. One son was literally tattooed from head to toe, a winged skull on his forehead and red and black tears dotting the toes poking from his sandals. His girlfriend went the piercing route: eyebrows, nostrils, tongue, belly button; as well as nipples, which she showed us, and clit, which we stopped her before she did.
The woman’s young daughter was surprisingly gorgeous, with big deep-set eyes and long caramel-colored hair. Like her mother, she was much younger than she looked. As she talked about school, I asked how she liked college. “I’m only fourteen” she answered, “I start high school next week.” She was named Hera, and she was the Marilyn Munster of this oddball clan.
Tommy and I got antsy when White Serpent, an old favorite of ours, began its set. I leaned over and asked the friendly hard-partying mom if she could watch our chairs and jackets while we disembarked from the lawn into the seated area. She obliged, and we snuck down without too much trouble until our luck ran out after a few songs and venue staff asked to see our tickets. We had trouble locating our lawn chairs upon our return, but Hera’s mom spotted us and waved an orange sweatshirt like a lasso to gain our attention. We were in good hands.
No one liked the next act much, so Tommy and I got seventeen-dollar beers to wash down nachos. Upon returning, the two of us laughed about how the beer prices were far higher than the tickets costs to shows during our partying heyday, and agreed that inflation is hard to fathom. Then we yakked it up for a while with the mother and her boyfriend, whose son and daughter-in-law were also in their entourage. Soon, my bladder begged for mercy. I waved off for a bit and stumbled gingerly up the hill to the promise of great relief within the confines of a beckoning green-and-white port-a-potty. When I returned, Tommy had scooted his chair a few yards over beside Hera, and the two of them were engaged in deep conversation, neither looking anywhere else except at each other. I tried to get Tommy’s attention, but it was a useless endeavor. Then I withdrew my phone from my pocket and opened an app to scroll through the opening weekend of college football scores, while wondering if I should text my wife to see if she was having as much fun as I was reliving my youth.
Suddenly, without warning, I heard a scream and turned to see empty lawn chairs bouncing around like tumbleweeds and the girl on Tommy’s back, one hand around his eyes while the other was raised in a fist and punching hard. Tommy, staggering like Frankenstein’s monster, fell to the grass and threw the girl off him. People sitting nearby swarmed in at all angles, me among them. “He grabbed my ass!” Hera shouted, “and said he wanted to give it to me… deep.”
“What? No fuckin’ way,” I yelled, but I was pushed away by a big, bearded bastard who then coldcocked Tommy with a real haymaker that sent him to his knees, head in hands.
I rushed to his aid while the bearded fellow quickly made himself scarce and other onlookers began to scatter. Hera just laughed and laughed, as her mother and brother pulled her back. “He was thinking it, anyway,” she said with a grin. Her mother’s face went white as she apologized profusely, saying “She’s 5150, my youngest—there’s no controlling her.”
The ne’er-do-well family quickly fled, and we did too in the opposite direction. The magic of the day had quickly spiraled into descent and reminded us that we weren’t so young anymore. Tommy’s right eye was blackening and his lips split and puffy. On the ride home I told him this would make a hell of a story for years to come.
“Let’s embellish a bit. I accidentally spilled a beer on a biker or something. We can’t mention the girl.”
“Why not?” I said. “You did nothing wrong.”
“Well, maybe not,” Tommy replied. “But like she said, I was thinking it.”
An awkward silence ensued. I wasn’t sure what to say, so said nothing at all. We just both gazed at the taillights and exit signs as we continued down the highway. When I finally thought of a reflective comment that might put context into our lives, some insight into how our minds can deceive us but time always marches on—changing us, aging us, whether we like it or not—it was already too late. Tommy was snoring in the passenger seat like a grizzly in the midst of winter.
Category: Featured, Short Story