There was very little to do in a town like Belleville, New Jersey, especially if you wanted to have fun. That’s why, if they weren’t practicing or writing songs, Gerard, Mikey, Frank and Ray ended up sitting at their usual bar, drinking and wishing they had a gig to play.
“Come on, man,” Gerard groaned for the millionth time. “Let us play here!”
The bartender, who also happened to own said bar, laughed. “No,” was his simple response.
“Why not? What did I ever do to you to deserve this cruelty?”
The man looked at Gerard like he’d gone mad. “Are you serious? You and your little band are here basically every night, and every night you break something. Last night it was the sign outside. Night before that, it was the toilet. I don’t know what Frank flushed down that toilet, but I know for a fact that a person that small can’t take a crap that big. Oh, and the night before that, you lot broke every single light bulb in the bar. I still haven’t figured out how you managed that.”
“Oh, please, hold a grudge much? That’s all in the past!” Gerard argued. “Just let us play! One gig! It doesn’t even have to a long one! One song! That’s all we need! To start with. And if people want us to continue playing after that, well, it’s just good for both of us to let us continue.”
“No offense, Gerard,” the bartender said. “But you guys suck. When you play... I can hardly even call it music. And you know you’d have to bring your own instruments. Do you have them?” A few months ago a band playing there broke every single guitar the bar provided on stage, and after that they had been requiring the bands to bring their own musical instruments.
“Of course we have our own instruments!”
“I mean, do you have guitars with more than one string? Combined?”
Gerard frowned. Sure, their instruments had been bought at a flea market ten years ago, and sure, they were crap. The neck of Ray’s guitar had snapped nearly in half and was being held together only by duct tape, Mikey’s bass was pretty much just a pile of matches at this point, and at their practices, Gerard had to use one of those kids’ microphones with a Barbie logo on the side because they couldn’t afford a real one.
“I’ll make you a deal, Gerard,” the bartender said. “You guys get real instruments, ones that actually work, and I’ll reconsider letting you play here.”
Gerard knew when to give up. They could never afford to get new instruments. They’d need a crapload of cash. And they could get cash if they could play a gig, but... You see the dilemma here?
A group of people entered the bar, and Gerard turned to look. He leaned his back against the bar, a pint of beer in his hand. He watched the bearded man slap the woman’s ass as they passed him.
“Hey, five beers,” the bearded man said to the bartender before noticing Gerard. “And while you’re at it, get a juice box for the faggot, on my tap,” he added, laughing a disgustingly hoarse laugh.
Wes Davis. Gerard went to school with that guy. They had never been exactly friends. He hardly showered, his beard always had crumbs of food in it, and he never bothered to change clothes. He’d been wearing that same worn leather jacket and jeans with biker boots ever since high school. But the girl who was permanently trapped under his arm was a different story. Oh, Gerard knew her very well. They grew up together, but when she started seeing that gorilla in high school, they lost touch. Penina Dayne, her name was.
“Hey Gee,” she said with a smile after her boyfriend and his gang made their way to the table.
Gerard nodded a greeting. “What’s up?”
“Oh, the usual,” she sighed. The glance she shot at her boyfriend told Gerard way more than her words did. “What about you? Are you guys behaving?”
“When have we ever?” Gerard grinned.
Penina laughed. “Tell the guys I said hi.”
By then Wes lost his patience for waiting for his woman, and shouted from the table: “Stop flirting and get over here! Trust me, you don’t have anything that cocksucker is interested in!”
“You’d know all about it, wouldn’t you?” Gerard shouted back at him.
“What?!” Wes asked, laughing, pretending he didn’t hear. To his buddies he added, loud enough for Gerard to hear: “It’s probably difficult for him to speak, with his throat being full of sperm.”
Gerard took a gulp from his beer and spit it right back out, and holding the pint up, he called out to Wes: “Why don’t you come drink some of this so for once you’ll be even partly a man!”
The wide grin disappeared from the man’s face and he stood up so fast that the chair he had been sitting on fell to the ground. It would have potentially led to a fist fight, if Penina hadn’t been there. She simply sighed, and pulled Wes back to the table by his jacket before he could jump on Gerard.
“I have bad news and good news, which ones do you want first?” Gerard asked, plopping down on the couch. It was Baywatch time, but probably for the first time ever, he wasn’t really feeling up for watching Pamela Anderson’s boobies jiggle on the screen.
“Good news,” Ray said.
“I got permission for us to play at the bar.”
“And the bad news?”
“We have to get new instruments first.”
“But we don’t have any money!”
Frank gasped. “Oh no! Does this mean I’ll have to start selling my body?! Become a sex worker? A street boy? A gigolo?!”
“Trust me, Frank. None of us want that,” Gerard assured, rolling his eyes.
The four young men continued to discuss the problem and convincing Frank that no, he did not need to go work a corner. Don, Gerard and Mikey’s dad, was listening to the conversation silently and he had an idea. A bad idea, but an idea nonetheless.
Needless to say, no one was interested in Pamela Anderson’s hoochies that day.
A few days later Don appeared at the apartment, carrying cases for two guitars and one bass, and a brand new mic that did not have any Barbie logos on it, along with a mic stand.
“Here, guys,” the man said, dropping everything on the couch. “Dig in.”
Ray and Mikey emerged from the kitchen to see what the commotion was about. Frank and Gerard, who had been sitting in the living room, playing poker, stared at the new and shiny stuff with their mouths gaping open in shock.
“Are you serious?!” Gerard shouted, opening one of the cases. Inside there was a completely duct tape-free guitar, shining like it came straight from the store.
“Oh, Papa Way!” Frank squealed, wrapping his arms around the man’s belly and squeezing tightly. “Thank you so much! I know I totally freaked out about becoming a gigolo earlier, but for this... I mean, if you happen to find yourself lonely...”
“Dad, where did you get all this stuff?” Mikey asked, looking concerned and mildly disturbed by the thought of Frank trying to seduce his father.
“Don’t worry,” Don laughed. “It’s yours now. If you’re going to be in a band, you need proper equipment, don’t you?”
That was enough convincing for Ray and Mikey, and Frank had of course been sold the very second he saw the cases, but Gerard was a bit more reserved. While the three were trying out the guitars and bass in their soundproofed apartment, Gerard approached Don.
“Dad... Seriously. How did you pay for those?” Gerard asked. Don wasn’t exactly rich either.
“I loaned some money. Don’t worry, after you get paid for a few gigs, we’ll be able to pay back for them just fine.”
“Who did you loan the money from?”
Before Don could answer, their attention was turned to Frank who, apparently so in the moment, had become so rock n’ roll that he was about to wreck his new guitar. But still, the gnawing worry didn’t let go of Gerard’s mind, and the smile on Don’s face didn’t assure him at all. Something was going to happen. Something bad.
She sat on the couch, legs up, with a bowl of cereal on her lap. She was watching the cartoons, which she loved but rarely got to watch. The TV was usually occupied by her mother. But as it happens, her mother was a bit too busy right now.
“What do you mean you can’t pay?!” the woman screamed.
“Calm down,” the man answered, sighing. “At least don’t shout in front of the girl.”
“I don’t fucking care! If you can’t pay, then you can take care of your bastard yourself!”
The trailer was a small space, so the girl on the couch could hear everything. They weren’t exactly trying to hide themselves, after all. Father came over every week, bringing money for mother to pay for expenses. But this week he couldn’t pay. Mother didn’t like that.
“Next week I’ll give you double,” father said, trying to be reasonable.
“Fine. But if I don’t see that money by next week’s Friday, I’m kicking the brat out. You can fucking handle your own bastard if I don’t get my money.”
The girl jumped up from the couch when her mother sat down on it. The cartoon she was watching hadn’t ended yet, but she knew that all she would get is a slap if she asked if she could finish watching it.
“Come on,” father said to her, taking her hand. “Walk me to my car.”
She obeyed, and they left the trailer, walking in silence to the rusty old van. When they reached it, he sighed and looked down at her.
“I’ll come over tomorrow to check up on you. I’ll drive you to school, okay?”
“Be a good girl, okay?” he said, and when she nodded in response, he kissed her forehead and ruffled her dark hair before getting into his van. She stood on the driveway for a long time even after he had turned the corner and disappeared.