The Continuing Stories Of…Houses of the Holy


    CoS_LedZeppelin feat alt

    Booze, druids, the blues, silly hair, tattered cloth, stoic mythologies, really though does anyone remember laughter? Houses of the Holy may not be the marquee Zeppelin album, but why not? “The Ocean”, “No Quarter”, “Over The Hills and Far Away”, these are places fit for a euphoric soul, and thus they are a place for nerdy fan fiction. – Luke Winkie

    “The Song Remains The Same”

    The West End is what William said was the “hot” part of London, so to the West End they trudged, William and Stanley and a not so sharp shooter with a bristling head of red hair, Patrick, but they called him Pat. William, who only Pat called Willie, served as ambassador because he had been stationed in the city for two months already, and from the sound of it was a master not just of local custom and nuance but also the ins and outs of finer culture and dining.

    “There’s a restaurant down here – you get a good steak and Guinness for five bucks all told. You guys had Guinness yet? Real capital stuff.”


    At this idiom Stanley and Pat exchanged a quick, knowing glance. Their incredulity of William’s ambassadorship to England was one of a few things they shared, other than the same brand of cigarettes (Tareyton – “Dual Filter Does It!”) and of course their service. Other than that, Stanley’s adolescence through the maze of Detroit felt far removed from Pat’s reminiscences of cattle farming and heat in Texas, but here they were all aliens. Except for William, of course; the man acted like he was basically raised with an accent.

    “Hey Willie,” says Pat. “You met the Queen yet?” Through his snicker you could still make out William’s quick retort – “Hey pal, she’s a stone fox but still don’t got nothing on your mamma.”

    Pat and William exchanged mock blows while Stanley stood sharply at the cross of something that looked like Oxford and Baker street.


    “Hey numbskulls, do you know how to get where we’re getting?” Stanley yanked a Tareyton from its pack and into his mouth. He ran his hand over his nearly bald head, his black hands glowing in the light of a street lamp. The city streets were not crowded, just a few quick buried faces walking to and fro as the early evening accepted the night. A few pubs they had passed murmured with the inviting sounds of beer and revelry.

    “Say man,” Stanley exhaled again. “It’s around here, right?”

    “No doubt, brother,” came the over-enthused reply, resulting in another knowing glance between Stanley and Pat. “And I told you, you’re gonna be having too good of a god damn time to even mind the walk once we get up in that place, anyhow.”

    “Whatsit,” rejoined Pat sarcastically, still bobbing and weaving at William. “The Crocodile?”


    “The Flamingo, and it’s a place where even a square can have a ball,” came the rejoinder, suddenly serious. “I’m saying, they like our kind of music there, and the women are niiice. Problem is, there ain’t a chicken fried steak in the whole place. Think you’ll starve, Pat?”

    This resulted in more jousting. Stanley smoked philosophically and surveyed the intersection. His was a wild card among two jokers.

    “They got good music here,” continued William. “Soul, like back home. Pat, they don’t have any square dancing but you’ll do okay.”
    “You know it,” said Pat, strutting across the street. “As long as I can get close to some honey I’d do the monkey if I had ta.”


    “Ain’t no one doing the monkey,” said William severely.

    The two leapt ahead of Stanley, and through the light fog and falling light they eventually made it to an almost non-storefront that William made a big show of directing them toward; a door and then a flight of stairs down, and William could hear what unmistakably the organ lick of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” as they headed into the husky heat of what he imagined would be a very tiny space.

    Instead, the interior of The Flamingo was full of bodies and smoke, but not for want of room. The space looked as though maybe it had been a bingo hall at one point, and the walls were abnormally tall. A gaudy chandelier hung above the dance floor but let off an almost imperceptible amount of illumination, and instead Stanley’s eyes adjusted to the sight of fifty or so lit cherries of fifty or so different cigarettes, cigarillos, and the occasional flare up of a match. The room was hot and full of movement. Severely dressed young men in suits with long hair and tight pants and the stomp of boots; women also in boots, cropped, bobbed hair and dark eye makeup. In the corner two men in tortoiseshell glasses appeared to be arguing over which record to play next.

    “Beer!?” Pat was already looking for a place to escape as they came to the foot of the stairs. White arms and unblinking strange eyes flashed before them. William gave them a sign of “wait,” and left them there awkwardly. Sam Cooke sang “Twistin’ The Night Away” while they stood stock still, Pat starting to twitch just a bit. Stanley’s eyes adjusted to the scene, his hands in his pockets as he swayed slowly to the music. What they said about British fashions were true, and Stanley felt suddenly itchy and staid in his dress greens. Still, he’d heard women love a man in uniform, and there were lots of women here, wiggling and moving with an ease he couldn’t recall from the States. Then again, there was a lot to take in, and the smoke was playing with his eyes, and his memory was never that great to begin with.


    Stanley had just lit a cigarette and offered one to Pat before William returned, hustling both other boys into an anteroom where a tight-faced lad was staring into a strangely ornate mirror, teasing the line of hair that fell just over his eyebrows. Stanley produced, with much ceremony, three white pills.

    “The hell are these?” asked Pat.

    “You take this, and then you don’t have to drink.” William said. He handed out the pills and popped his immediately. Stanley popped his as well, but Pat seemed unsure.

    “What, I’m just supposed to swallow it like this?”

    “Whatsamatter, you’ve never taken a pill before?” said Stanley. He hadn’t. Feeling suddenly bad, he turned to the gaunt British boy. “Uh, say there, you don’t have any drink on you, do you pal?”


    Without so much as turning, the boy produced a thin flask from his jacket. “Cheers,” he said. It took an embarrassing amount of time to coach Pat into swallowing the pill without choking or coughing, but finally the deed was done. The flask returned to the lad, “Cheers,” he again said, even more deadpan, and the visitors made their way back into the main room, the full force of Eddie Floyd convulsing the dance floor. At that, the trio took an unspoken cue and split into different parts of the room. Stanley moved his arms and they led him into the back, his hips swaying to this comfortable, familiar music. The pill, whatever it was, made his head feel inflated in a pleasing way, and his limbs didn’t so much twitch as spread. He looked around at the room, and felt as though maybe the white pill was something everyone else knew as well, as though maybe they were dancing inside that white pill, one big new earth with a new dusty smell and better movement.

    Stanley stared forward. In his bobbing he thought he caught a vision of Pat’s red top, but that may have been the light of twelve close cigarettes. Like a beam of some kind, he stared straight ahead, and into the faraway eyes of someone. This someone was shaking herself, her long blonde hair dipping across her arms. Across the way other, faster dances passed before him, and she was gone in a whir of cashmere coats and thin tartan ties. She reappeared, closer; she cut around him, dancing and smiling, and for a second he was unsure of himself and his place here, and then the song turned to Lyn Collins and “Think (About It),” and it was like they were conversing, the music a familiar topic and their dancing to it the way some people shake their hands when they get emphatic about something or other.

    She was a good dancer. Her straight black dress held to her close, and she engaged him with her arms and body without touching him or indicating at him, but as they moved he knew he was moving with her and she with him. Then she did speak. “Got a smoke, love?” Stanley almost forgot his arms but found in his breast pocket a cigarette and handed it to her and lit a match. She held his hand with the match in it to light her cigarette. He opened his mouth to say something but the music came on even louder than before and she just grinned and began to move, so he moved with her. “That’s How Strong My Love Was.” She was still smiling when he took her hand in his and twisted her around. They were having fun; she laughed at him and turned him around likewise, and he had to duck under her arm because he was a good foot taller than she.


    “What’s you name?” he asked her.

    “Veronica. And you?”


    “Stanley! And how long are you here?”

    “Four months.”

    “Do you like England?”

    “This is my first day on leave. I like it so far.”

    The rest of their conversation was dribble between dance beats, and he got less shy with her and took her hand more often, and he thought he could see an outline of his friends dancing somewhere in the artificial dusk, and he felt at home for the first time since he had left. They danced and danced, and occasionally she would leave for a minute or two but she always came back. As “Dearest One” faded down, though, she whispered-spoke at him: “It was nice to meet you Stanley. Enjoy England.” Her lips grazed his cheek and she turned. Behind her he could see the man from the restroom, his coif now unmanaged and nearly mangy. Stanley gave him a nod and a smile and was surprised at the cold in the boy’s eyes. For a minute he danced alone, and then like a shock he realized what he was doing. He all but leapt through the crowd and nearly collided with a bedevilled Pat being led out by William. Pat was shouting aggressively and William was pushing him away from the crowd. After some gesticulating with Stanley it was arrived at that they should all go upstairs, and out of the Flamingo. Outside the sky was velvet dark and the wooze of the music and warmth and drugs dissipated a little in the cold air.

    “What the hell is wrong with you two?” asked Stanley.

    “We can’t take this fool anywhere,” said William.

    Pat looked genuinely sulky. “I’m doing my thing, right? And I’m moving like you’ve never seen and this fellow starts shouting that I stepped on his Italian loafers or some business. You’d have thought I asked his girl to meet me in the coat room or something by the way he huffed and puffed.”

    “Yeah, but with the way you were leaping around the dance floor it’s a wonder they didn’t toss you out to begin with,” argued William.


    “What can I say? I was feeling real good.”

    Stanley wandered off a bit from the conversation, training his eyes around the street corner. The turn of an engine arrested his attention, and from a distance he could see Veronica on the back of a scooter, clutching the boy from earlier while she swung her hair back.

    “Veronica!” he yelled and waved, and she turned back and dangled her fingers behind her. The engine of the scooter roared and the vehicle leapt into gear. The growl of it was loud, but not so loud that Stanley couldn’t make out the distinct, gravel-voiced slur thrown back at him – “NIGGER!” – and the voice seemed to hold in the air even when the sound of the scooter disappeared. Pat’s wounded pride and William’s aggravation were forgotten. For a second no one moved, and then William took a cigarette to his lips and said, “Come on,” and the three boys moved away from The Flamingo and into the London night.

    They were quiet, and then Pat said, “He didn’t have the guts to say that to your face, pimply twerp.”
    Puffing, William added softly, “They ain’t usually like that, Stanley.”


    Stanley stuck in the silence. He was a fool to think a different place, a darker room, a different girl, and things would be different.  The same. The same.

    The same.

    “The Rain Song”

    The main character’s name is Finn. He is in his twenties and Finn was a popular baby name in the first decade just after the millennium, the one that people still can’t come to a consensus on what to call. So assume that Finn was born in that era, he’s in his twenties, and that makes this the year 2020-something. Approximately.

    So it’s the future. Not much has changed. Brazil turned itself into the world’s first openly libertarian plutocracy and something really bad happened to Washington, D.C.  Like so bad it’s not there anymore. Brazil is doing fine.

    Finn is sitting in his car. It doesn’t fly and it still runs on gas, which is rather expensive, but it’s a normal car aside from that. It was made in the People’s Republic of New Burma. Cheap, but fairly reliable.


    Finn is listening to “The Rain Song.” It’s being performed by a band called Led Zeppelin that was into the occult arts. And also underage girls. Finn doesn’t know if that’s why this song is part of a cheat code, but then again, he doesn’t understand much about the mechanics of cheat codes so who the hell knows. Maybe the mystery is what makes them fun. But probably what happens after a code works is what makes them fun.

    Forty cents worth of assorted change sits on the seat next to him. Three dimes, two nickels. The dimes were all minted in 1993, the nickels in 94. This is important.

    “The Rain Song” is streaming off one of the eight or nine devices in the car capable of streaming music. Finn hits refresh on the dashboard control, and the song starts over, again with those sad, lilting guitar strums.


    Finn calls them cheat codes. Other people on the Forum call them spells, a few call them “pops.” Finn hates the name pops, is alright with spells, but greatly prefers cheat codes.

    He found the first one on accident. That’s rare. Most people stumble across the Forum, read about one of the easy codes like Cheers S06E05 or Three Carrots, and then skeptically give it a try. When it works, they either come back to the Forum hungry for more, or freak out and spend the rest of their life trying to forget what happened.

    The first code Finn activated goes by the name Splash on the Forum. It was his 19th birthday party and someone dared him to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon. For the code to work it doesn’t have to be a tablespoon, just 10-20 milliliters of cinnamon held in the mouth for no less than thirty seconds and no greater than two minutes.


    Gagging on the dry powder filling his oral cavity like a sandstorm of red-hot dust, Finn jumped into the pool. He was wearing a chain he’d inherited from his maternal grandfather. It was gold. It was touching his skin. The gold, the cinnamon in the mouth, and the full immersion into water. Those were Splash’s requirements. When Finn resurfaced, his world had changed. He was experiencing eight new colors he’d never seen before.

    “The Rain Song” reaches the 4:51 mark and Finn hits refresh for the thirtieth time. Only two more to go.

    When he found the Forum, for the first time since he’d crawled wet and gagging from the pool, Finn felt relief. Understanding. An absence of total and complete terror. Not only were there other people experiencing these new colors no one else in his life could see, but they had gained the ability using the exact same method. They’d refined it to a science. They’d even named the colors: Ultragen, maroove, shunder, deep red, bleen, soral, denenin, and magestica.


    Finn started attempting other codes. Three Carrots was uncomfortable but easy. The effects were mellow, not as profound as Splash, and not as long-lasting. The eight new colors wore off after about a month. The afternoon Finn did Three Carrots, he could stop time for thirty seconds at a time. He couldn’t move in the frozen time, but he maintained awareness. Passively watching everything and everyone simply stuck within an element whose consistent flow is taken for granted. The next morning the power had worn off.

    Refresh. One more to go. Finn picks up the change, palms into his mouth, and swallows it with the assistance of a large gulp of Strawberry Coke. Coke comes in fruit flavors now. Blueberry is the best but 7-11 was out.

    Finn is wrapped head to toe in plastic wrap. He’s cut mouth and eye holes, which is allowable, but he still looks like a shrink wrapped mummy. The plastic wrap keeps the sodium bicarbonate in contact with his skin. Sodium bicarbonate is more commonly known as baking soda. Finn has taken ten aspirin in order to thin his blood.


    There are nearly two hundred verified codes on the Forum. Maybe another hundred that haven’t been verified to group satisfaction, some members reporting wild success while others speak of nothing but failure. Finn has completed eighty-seven codes. This will be his eighty-eighth.

    4:51. Refresh. Again, the sad guitars. It’s not raining outside of Finn’s car. It’s early morning and the skies are clear. Four minutes and fifty-one seconds to go. Finn is nervous. He has forty cents worth of metal in his stomach. He pulls a stun gun out of the backpack on the backseat and sets it on his lap.

    Finn’s thirtieth code, better known on the Forum as Backwards Batman, has been his favorite so far. He has only done it, “activated” in Forum speak, a couple of times because an experienced moderator warned him that the effects dwindle with repeated back-to-back activation. “You gotta let it recharge,” the moderator said.


    Backwards Batman sent Finn screaming out of his skull, astral projecting at 88 mile per hour, exposing him to the energy fields that radiate outwards from every living creature and a select few rocks. The first time, he’d circumnavigated the globe twice, tried to enter the body of a Parisian woman, and hovered in a professional sports franchise’s cheerleader locker room. The second time, he attempted a voyage to the Moon but ended up zooming monotonously through space for 150,000 miles before being sucked back into his body.

    Like its name implies, the 200K Streetwise Stun Gun is capable of delivering a 200,000 volt electrical shock. “The Rain Song” is at 2:34.

    Finn almost stopped doing codes after Ulysses, named for the James Joyce novel that contains it. It was not only a painful and difficult code to activate, but it forced Finn to live the entire life of a gout-ridden merchant in 16th century China. After a literal lifetime of pain, swelling, and rice for every meal, Finn returned to his standard existence and promptly wrote a three page critique of Ulysses on the Forum, warning against it. Of course, the similar warnings he’d read hadn’t stopped him.


    “The Rain Song” is at 3:32. The same whining tones and waning crashes echo throughout the car on their thirty-second, and final, reiteration. The plastic wrap squeaks against the leather upholstery as Finn brings the stun gun up to the bare spot on his chest, above his heart. He flips the switch to on. A red LED lights up.

    His skin itches from the baking soda. He stares at the drawing of the three overlapping triangles he printed out from the Forum, letting his eyes unfocus. Page or Plant, whoever was the singer, wails in the background. Three dimes and two nickels sit uncomfortably in his stomach. The digital display ticks on: 4:48, 4:49, 4:50.

    There is no great build up. No soaring guitars or primal scream of vocal intensity. He pushes the metal prongs into his skin. This is the code that has tantalized and terrified him since he first found the Forum. Finn breathes in. Then out. 4:51.


    “Over the Hills and Far Away”

    Honestly, the only thing I remember is the incredible pressure on my head, vise-like, as the ground rose up to meet me and then fell away, repeatedly, before I blacked out again. That and the glass, which had shattered all over the pavement and was making its way steadily deeper and deeper into my skull. It had been strong, formidable, but it had no chance with the force with which I had been slammed down. I had finally realized how thick it really was.

    They told me later that I’d been lucky, that it could’ve been worse, after all. They told me not to worry. Somebody’d come by to clean up the glass; the city would send someone to wash away the blood. You don’t have to do it yourself, they told me. They always send someone, eventually.

    Two days later they released me, and I stumbled home, only 14 stitches heavier, though maybe a pint or two lighter. Eleven a.m. and I was pouring whiskey into my coffee when the phone rang. “Come on down to Kelly’s,” Jack said loudly. “I gotta get a look at your fucking face!” Ten minutes I told him, skipping the coffee mixer, and got dressed a touch gingerly. With my glasses in pieces, I decided to just roll with the fuzziness of it all. The day was grey anyway, and there wasn’t much wisdom to be gained with clarity.


    “Christ, you look like shit!” Jack cried out as I ambled into the bar. “Coulda been worse though, Hell! — you still got your eyes in their sockets, at least, and the swelling ain’t too bad.” He ordered two shots, knocked them both back himself, then asked for two more, and we took them down together. “That’s what you get for living in this shithole of a neighborhood, anyway.”

    “You seem to like it here,” I said. Jack lived uptown, but he rolled through Kelly’s most every day, driving his pickup up and down the avenues at any time of day or night, sober or otherwise, looking for some type of adventure or another, always searching for the next buzz or the next high or the next girl. I never knew why he stuck to Kelly’s as his base camp — as it was, it was Dive Bar, USA, and in this part of town there were at least three on every block. But when he was around he’d drink with me, and I was grateful for it. Being alone too long will grate on you, no matter who you are.

    “You gotta get out of here, man,” he said to me, ordering another round. “Come crash at my place for a while, or stay with your sister for a bit. What’d the cops say, anyway? Christ they knocked you around a bit.”


    I laughed and didn’t answer; there’d been no cops, and there wouldn’t be. No one gave a shit; not around here anyway. And as for getting out, what was the point? I didn’t have enough money to settle anywhere else, and I’d just wind up back around here soon enough. There are some places in the world, once you find them, you never leave them.

    “Just think about it, man,” Jack was saying. “Come hang uptown for a bit, no worries, I won’t care at all. You can roll with me, we’ll have a good time, get you cleaned up a bit and out somewhere new…”

    I practically crashed into Melissa in the park, her eyes in the clouds and mine in the fog. She was radiant, even I could see that; dressed in the brightest colors and nearly skipping with an excitement she couldn’t repress, it seemed like she was ready to explode when she saw me. She had always been one of my favorite people, though I’d never actually told her that. It was a little bit of a mix of admiration and envy that I felt toward her; admiration of her unquenchably positive spirit, and envy that I could never quite replicate that myself, or so it seemed to me. Every time I saw her smile threatened to overwhelm her being, infecting those around her in a way that didn’t even seem completely possible. But she was in rare form then.


    “Alex, Alex, I haven’t seen you in ages!” she said, eyes alight, glowing. “How’s it going?”

    “I’ve been better,” I said, grimacing slightly.

    “Did I tell you?” she said, now positively bursting, bouncing on the balls of her feet as if she were running a marathon and wanted to get back to the race as soon as possible, cheeks reddening with excitement, clapping her hands together. “I’m leaving — Ben and I — we’re road-tripping out West –” and she was off again, almost cartwheeling, head lost among the possibilities, extending beyond the atmosphere in a way that almost drew me in, that almost made me smile in spite of myself.

    “You’re… leaving? Are you coming back?”

    “I’m not sure!” she exclaimed, now compulsively clapping her hands in anticipation. “We don’t have too many plans… just the open road… just the absolute adventure of it all…”


    It was tough to see Kyle in this position. He was down, head angled toward the floor as he sat across the booth from me, words spat derisively and reluctantly, eyes refusing to meet mine. He was broken, almost — not to the point where he’d given up totally, but to the point that I almost worried he might. When his eyes did rise from navel-level they stared blankly, bored holes in the wall without being there at all, like he’d rather be anywhere but here in this pub with me, but that he didn’t know where that ‘anywhere’ could possibly be. It scared me, to a degree. Hollow.

    “I don’t know what else to do,” he was saying, and I didn’t know what else to tell him. He’d taken a breakup hard; four years of dedication followed by a catastrophic ending that he couldn’t fully grasp, and the man was nearly drowning in his own need for whiskey. As a friend, you give him hope, you give him platitudes, you say things like “It’ll get better” and “things will start looking up,” and you see his eyes just don’t believe it.

    What about that job in L.A.? I asked him, almost anticipating his response.

    “What about it?” he spat. “I wouldn’t be able to pull it off anyway.”

    Fuck that, I said. Have a little faith, now, man.

    “What do I have out there? What do I have here?” he asked, face ablaze yet still refusing to meet my eyes.


    It might help to get out, I said. It might help to have a change of scenery.

    “What help is that? What could possibly make this all worth it?” he asked, and I looked at him, lost…

    I stumbled home drunk, down the alleyways from the pub, following the footpath through the park, striding quickly past Kelly’s and turning down my street. I was tipsy but not lost, drunk but not gone, scattered but not hopeless. It would be better, maybe, I thought, to get some sleep, to not burn the midnight oil tonight, to start fresh again tomorrow. Things would look up in the light of another day rather than under the faint glow of the streetlights as they searched the empty sidewalks. A new day, a new perspective. A new outlook, maybe. Positivity.

    My shoes crunched on the broken glass as I neared my front door. Soon, they said, someone would come, someone would take all the broken glass away, someone would wash the blood from the street. Soon, they said. All the remnants of the entire incident, of the entire situation, would all be washed away. Soon, they said, it’d all be gone.


    “The Crunge”

    This was never how I pictured it. Leaning up against the railing–Lollapalooza ’91. I told my parents I was going to Kevin’s house, but little did they know that Kevin’s pothead parents had a little trip to Tinley Park planned out for us. Perry Farrell’s goofy rasp sparked in me rock ‘N’ roll delusions that took the ensuing decades to shake. But every band can’t be fucking Jane’s Addiction. I learned that quickly in a series of flash-in the-pan punk bands. We never really got along and I never really learned to play guitar , but we did open for Sebadoh once in some grimy, faceless downtown Milwaukee bar.

    Maybe if I hadn’t spent life so landlocked, so restless, or so deprived by  Catholic parents, then this fascination with that one day in Chicago capped by preening punk-funk wouldn’t have stuck as hard as it did. Mom wasn’t a “music leads to dancing drugs and the devil” sort of Baptist monster, but the convictions of her youth left her with mixed feelings about the Rush’s affinity for pentagrams and the general sexual fervor that surrounded so many of the favorites of my early teenage years. Under the pretenses of studying, I wore out Cream cassettes in Kevin’s basement. I read too many Zeppelin bios. I made friends with every employee at my local CD store. I tore up Ten too many times, then did my penance (like any good Catholic boy) of years spent with Los Angeles and countless attempts at learning J Mascis licks. The dream–however fleeting, however ill-defined, however ill-advised–would never slip away completely.

    Kevin moved to New York for school and I stayed back in Chippewa Falls for one dumbass band or another. I joined him ten years ago and that was the worst thing that could’ve happened. I gave up on playing right around that time and started hanging with Kevin’s roommates. Days were spent waiting tables and nights passed with those his friends, two drug dealers and a band of sub-Primus slapbass jokesters who spent way too much time between bong rips listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers and “The Crunge.”


    Somehow I ended up agreeing to drive them around Europe (some Italian booking agent severely misjudged their popularity) and if there was ever a final blow to my fucking podunk Wisconsin dreams of indie-rock stardom, this had to be it. I watched  That’s really all that needs to be said on that matter.

    I suppose I should clarify, these guys weren’t the worst band in the world, just the biggest deadbeat in the world, and that relegated my role in their company to babysitter as much as the roadie/driver/guitar tech role that I signed up for. I wasn’t expecting groupies or drunken debauchery involving small sharks and said groupies or fame or fortune. I was there to change guitar strings. To hassle promoters for extra drink tickets. To keep the lead singer from wandering into too sketch an Amsterdam brothel or from killing himself when his girl back home says she’s left him for that curly-haired touring guitarist in M83 (what could she do? She really liked “Midnight City”) But man, I wasn’t expecting this. This wasn’t fun. This was crashing on the floor every night because the band barely fit head-to-toe on the queen size bed in our nightly hotel room. This was being pick-pocketed in Italy while trying to get the bass player (who had both the ego and chops of Sid Vicious) to wake up and let us all into the locked van. This was hooking up with middle aged sound guys in Berlin, or some gutter punk in Estonia, or a couple of aging socialists in Turin. This was getting lost in Glasgow, Paris, London, Amsterdam. God damn “The Crunge.” God damn Flea and fucking Les Claypool for ever hearing those jokey time signatures and taking them fucking seriously and making these fucking four-year olds drag me around Europe for a month all the while wearing out watered down takes on the same sound.

    It was April 16th. Four trustafarians with poor taste dozed in the back seat. I/They/We hadn’t showered in days. I probably should have woken them to tell them how lost I am in Dublin trying to head back to the UK. But Jimmy Page did it for me. John Paul Jones came pumping through the blown out stereo. Robert Plant talked-sang-squealed his way through a couple verses and rouses the bass player who yawned, “Ahhh I fucking love ‘The Crunge'”


    Oh, of course you do. And if I ever find that confounded bridge I’m tempted to drive us all off.

    “Dancing Days”

    Duke: dan do you like houses of the holy

    Lan: 2nd or 3rd best zeppelin stick with the un-numbereds

    Duke: would you like to write a short story about a song–

    Lan: i’m listening to kmfdm and waiting for my lana paradise edition cd in the mail

    Duke: — from houses of the holy

    Lan: is d’yer maker taken i suck at fiction i’m prolly just gonna gchat w someone and change the names to fictional people
    also it’ll prolly just be about kmfdm and lana

    Duke: that would be awesome actually

    Lan: i’ll throw in something about d’yer maker though or the hold steady song “joke about jamaica” do i have to write it in english

    Duke: hahahahaha you have no limits but dyer maker is taken

    Lan: no hard limits. oh. can i write about umm

    Duke: I have the rain song, the crunge, and dacing days

    Lan: trampled underfoot isn’t on there

    Duke: I’d be willing to give up The Ocean, if you really want it

    Lan: idk if you’re familiar but there’s these houses of the holy reissues with a bonus track most people haven’t heard it’s called “m’yer d’aker” i hear it’s really good so i’m just gonna write about that one ok


    Duke: hahaha

    Lan: or i could do dancing days, is it ok if i write about the stone temple pilots version i think most people prefer it but i haven’t really checked

    Duke: …

    Lan: yeah i’ll do that one though i couldn’t help but wonder what things would be like if they had called it “dancing nights”
    i think they’d be preeeeeeeeetty different

    Duke: hahahaha yes excited to read it

    Lan: like i’m pretty sure brostep would’ve been like ten years earlier right after kmfdm just boom right into skrillex no days of the new or anything  so in a way zeppelin kind of actually failed as an influence i wonder how many times lana del rey has played fuck-marry-kill with the three surviving members of led zeppelin


    Duke: twice

    Lan: i bet she kills robert plant a lot anyway yeah i’ll write about d’yer m’aker which one is kitty pryde doing

    “D’yer Mak’er”


    Bath and Body Works stopped selling your face cream. No lie. A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning out my medicine cabinet, sorting through skincare samples and expired Tyenol packets, when all of a sudden it hit me: Your smell. I don’t think it was anything of mine, per se, but something related — actually, you used to stockpile cans of Skintimate shaving cream, right? Maybe that’s it. Whatever the case, I actually dropped into the store and sniffed around for five minutes before I caved and described the scent to the clerk shuffling nearby. She insisted it was something called Everlasting Flower? Is that ringing any bells? If so, I apologize for your loss.

    Anyways, here’s something for your ego: This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about you. For so long, you’ve been the devil in the details, popping up in memories as this nagging lost cause. I mean…there’s a reason why I change the channel whenever Raising Arizona pops up on the TV, or why I still can’t sit through Side A of Hunky Dory, or why I dated a redhead for half a decade post-you. Was it out of contempt? Or resentment? I don’t know.

    I think back to our early college years, the rubber days, when everything felt like such a guarantee. How I’d drive long miles just to spend hours with you. That ill-advised belief that distance wasn’t anything when it mattered — the sort of drivel English majors like myself thrived on. I sometimes freak out when I think about all those wasted hours next to the chilly brick walls that lined my dorm room, where I’d listen to The Nylon Curtain, savor our episodes together like a short story collection, grip any nearby fabric, imagine it felt like yours, and clench my teeth when I could taste you over the phone.


    Sometimes I turn to the recycled thoughts from those bi-weekly drives to Bowling Green. The loose dirt that’d cake the windshield from the surrounding vacant pastures no longer providing for any cattle. How desolate, isolated, and dreary it all felt — the horror that life could be so lifeless and flat. I hated that drive: the faceless truckers, those tacky university bumper stickers, the crumpled granola wrappers that mumbled under my boots, and especially the fairweather sun that burned over the hills and welcomed darkness.

    Though, it’s the end of those trips that hurt the most now. The canyon smiles, the way you would dig your fingernails into my shoulders, and the first kiss that dusted off your neck — we were never more alive in these snapshot moments, our ignorance pasteurized by time, which seemed to rule out any problems at all. Ha, it’s funny how perfection lasts in quick bursts, and quite a tragedy that it’s forever just a memory.

    Remember how long it took for us to get together? How many nights did I waste on the edge of your bed, again? We’re just friends, I urged everyone. You’d later troll me on all those wasted opportunities and you had every right to. We must have watched seven full movies before I felt comfortable to make a move. By then, you were whispering me cues.


    In hindsight, I think I always knew; I just wanted to save every moment. Which is funny since so many dire anecdotes have become lucid fragments in the ether now. How you took my virginity when I was stoned, how I traced the word “love” on your belly, and the way I started shaking as I held you in my car outside your home. It’s doubtful I’ll ever misplace our beginnings, way back to our first hangout in your bedroom, when you rested your head in my lap as we watched our first movie together.

    I knew then.

    What’s poisonous is how the problems fade away as time speeds forward. We argued, we cried, we screamed until our lungs were jerky. In the long run, it all came back to the distance. (You might argue it was my attraction, obsession, and short-term affair with one of my college classmates, who looked all too similar to Nico. Yeah, I’d probably agree.) But, deep down, I think we both knew there just wasn’t enough time for us.

    Twenty years. Christ.

    I just couldn’t write you. Not after your letter. Not after we ripped into each other’s hearts. Over the years, a part of me was content to remember the good times and forget the bad. A part of me still is. A part of me has. Though, the bigger part of me yearns for closure, because now there’s a real chance for happiness.


    That wasn’t meant to spite you.



    In all honesty, I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ve scribbled a few thoughts down instead:

    – When you left, I never stopped crying.

    – I lost and nobody won.

    – Life’s too short for tears and we both know that.

    – I hope I can finally send this to you.


    “No Quarter”

    A narrow road shoots south, across land where no one lives, across land no one wants, past broken trees strung with burned-out lightbulbs and empty bottles, past parts of chain link fences strung with coiled telephone cords and rope, past piles of stained glass and engines and vinyl, past piles of metal, past vacant houses with doors and windows flung wide open.

    Rain falls hard.

    Somewhere, lightning strikes a water tower.

    Rain falls harder.

    A woman speeds down the narrow road, then pulls over to apply black eyeliner and black mascara and red lipstick. She wears stolen clothes. Tight leather shorts. A dark denim jacket with the sleeves ripped off and silver studs glued on the shoulders. Boots laced up to her knees.

    Earlier, she shaved her head with a cheap two-blade razor.

    She collects lost keys and scraps of lace. She stores them in her glove compartment.

    Some nights, she strips.

    When she starts the car again, she turns the radio on. She skips meditation. She skips vibration. She skips electrocution.


    She settles on static.

    She drives faster, because no one ever warned her about speeding in a storm.

    No one ever warned her about spinning off the road and hitting a guardrail and flipping over and over and over.

    No one ever warned her about picking up strangers who wait on the side of the road.

    Once, she picked up someone with long black hair wearing a lab coat stained with medicine, pockets stuffed with bullets.

    Once, she picked up someone with duct taped wrists who smoked cigarettes and crammed four hundred dollars wrapped with copper wire into a rip in the cloth seat.


    Once, she picked up someone with wings.

    She drove the one with long black hair down a hill. Past a field of telescopes, past an old mattress, past a police station still smoldering from an electrical fire. She stopped in front of an airport, closed for repairs but still flaking, still disintegrating, still collapsing.

    She drove the one with duct-taped wrists through the woods, then to a clearing littered with broken teeth and syringes. She stopped in front of a motel, dismantled and bombed by crackheads.

    She drove the one with wings into a war zone.

    Each time, she gave the same instructions, written on envelopes and translated from nights spent in a hijacked ambulance:


    Crush gravel between your shoulder blades,

    Sharpen your long-term memory,

    Stay awake.

    Somewhere, a train derails, spilling gunpowder, pearls, and rolls of undeveloped film.

    Rain falls harder.

    The woman speeds around a curve, then stops.

    A tourist stands next to a wrecked motorcycle. A tattooed tourist. Skulls and clocks on his arms. Vines on his neck. Yellow jackets on his legs. He’s soaked, not just from rain, but from diving into a polluted lake and swimming to the bottom. He’s shaking, wearing torn black tights and a loose T-shirt that falls to his knees.

    He’s holding a dog. A dead dog. A dead hunting dog with a peppered coat and only one eye. A dead hunting dog, dripping with oil.

    He needs to bury the dog inside a helicopter crash, where stalagmites have sprouted and bloomed.

    He needs to find a way home.

    Before the woman starts her car again, she shaves the tourist’s head with another cheap two-blade razor. He only bleeds slightly.


    Somewhere, an alarm screams inside a levitating power plant.

    Rain falls harder.

    Static on the radio.

    The tourist breathes, still shaking. Clinging. Holding the dog against his chest. Tightly.

    Before the woman starts her car again, she cleans the dog’s paws with a scrap of lace, then she slips it between the dog’s teeth.

    She gives the tourist a key. A stolen key. She presses the teeth hard against his palm and mumbles a secret, then a hallucination, then a nightmare.

    The tourist breaks the door and runs, leaving the dog behind. He runs toward the right conditions for a tornado.


    “The Ocean”

    We’ve got four already, and now we’re steady. Our sturdy old wood stays fresh in the jetty. Throw a barrel of rum down the pipeline, heavy on our feet; we’re going through a tight one. We’ve got ticky-tack panels and cast-iron pots, a few healthy cows for our rusty old guts. I don’t know what land is, I’m not of that world, I like the way my foundation swivels on ocean curls. I eat from my hands, I don’t say my prayers, I talk a lot of shit and I put my fingers in the air. I like the way my hat dips right over my brow. Your skull sticks on my horizon, and I rip it straight down. Guns, cannons, rope and ammunition, a gold tooth in my socket and a few more in tow. A pirate’s life for me, a goddamn pirate’s life for me.

    We dock and we loot, I’ll burn this island to the ground. Throw down your pockets, get your mouths tightly bound, and march with me into the sea. God don’t love me, but he don’t love you either. Call me a messenger, I’ll call you a liar. I’ll call you weak. I stand strong on the bow of my ship; I’ve got a peg-leg, hand-hook, and big ambitions. I like the way the fire bounces off our polish and visions. I’ll wrap your body to a turquoise anchor. Let it loose, call it in, stand still til you join the depths of this harbor. I’m a man about ocean, I’m made of water, draw a line in the sand and line up your sons and daughters. But don’t look up, I’m already gone. A pirate’s life for me, a goddamn pirate’s life for me.

    I like being alone, I don’t like this room. My skin prefers rugged wood, not concrete gloom. But we can’t set sail if we don’t have supplies. Guns, cannons, rope and ammunition. I don’t wear my hat, my buckle is loose, but candlelight still sparkles against my golden tooth. I do like the fireflies, the moon and coastal rhythm, I watch my men haul bundled loads as the last drops of sunset falls through our kingdom. I’ll crack open a shell, fry up the abalone, I’m a million miles from anywhere, burn your maps, they serve no purpose. A pirate’s life for me. A goddamn pirate’s life for me.


    Spyglasses and treasure chests, a skull and crossbone, a fat stack of coins and a pile of stones. There’s always another town, always more sea, always a bigger box and always another notch on the family tree. It’s my frontier, my universe, in a crow’s nest or the back of a hearse. I’m infinite, I’m absolute, I’m motherfucking immortal. A pirate’s life for me. A goddamn pirate’s life for me.

    A few minutes later it’s over, memories shudder, I’m colder. I’m older. The world starts spinning and I step out of the ride, but I know I’m a pirate, I swashbuckler my soul, deep inside. I’ve got the ocean in front of me; the beach to my back, my parents won’t ever see my ratty old hat. A pirate’s life for me. A goddamn pirate’s life for me.

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