Midnight in Akron, by Jessica Bonder


Hear me out: What happened last night at the show was in some ways my fault, and in other ways it wasn’t. At the end of the day (I know you hate that phrase), what happened was really just me doing my job just a little too well. Come to think of it, I find it super funny – haha! – that me just doing my job just a little too well is the thing that got your panties in a hot twist, is the thing that unleashed your oh-my-goddess outrage, is the thing that got me on-the-spot fired, Get your shit and leave before we call Security, your cosmic joke of a directive, as I am Security and you just sacked me, so thanks but I’ll see myself out. What is burning a bridge but me cranking an angry bird in your morally superior faces, or trying-but-failing, realizing a broken middle finger is another one of my consolation prizes, another cheap treasure in a goody bag of hematomas, black eyes and split lips, compliments of The Pelts, don’t get too excited now, oh lucky me.

What an insult: I don’t even get to keep the SECURITY t-shirt, what really was the coolest part of this sucks-ball job, the only perk/benefit being an American Apparel crew neck, black with white across-the-chest letters spelling SECURITY, a 100% cotton permission slip to kick ass and take names, and most times not even bother with the take names part, just stick to the good part, the kick ass part, why I took this low-rent gig in the first place, a cool t-shirt and an excuse to punch flesh, why I said, Yesterday, when you asked me how soon I could start, then what size shirt I take, me saying XL but I can swing an L if need be, you saying that’s exactly the kind of positive attitude we need around here.

Hey Courtney? Fuck you.

Correct me if I’m wrong: What people say they want and what people actually want are two very different things. Completely different, are the things you expect out of this life and the things it actually serves up, like a coconut cream pie hitting your clown face. What a fool I was to think The Pelts were any different, that here was a girl band with its shit together, no drugs and an above-board manager (Gene, I’ll miss you buddy), no back-of-the-bus shenanigans, bunk bed mayhem, least not when the ragamuffins were around, little well-adjusted mistakes seemingly fine with the road tour life, not missing things like school or friends, dads whose faces they’ve never seen.

Hey Gen? Have fun telling Lilysweet where Roundhouse went, when it’s lights out and she’s crying for Goodnight Moon.

News flash: Who really loses in this situation is you. Clearly you didn’t think this through. Finding an overnight replacement, what with you smack in the middle of your Dumb Middle Americans Tour, what with your castle-in-the-clouds list of must-haves for shit-pay (Commercial Driver’s License, no crazy exes, abs), good luck with that, is all I’m sayin’. Coachella? Is gonna blow. Bonnaroo? Don’t make me laugh.

Just so you know: I left the SECURITY t-shirt on your dressing table, folded neatly between your stage props (can of mace and airhorn, what you call – and I’m air-quoting this – “bits of showmanship”), just to show you how much of a gentleman this bag-of-dicks can be, how much grace under pressure this disgusting pig-of-a-man has coming out his ears, how a lipsticked mirror message will not read FUCK YOU CUNTS or SUCK IT BITCHES, things I bet you expected from this asshole the size of Montana, but instead, when you stage-retreat, vanity-stumble to makeup-remove, won’t you be surprised – shocked! – to find NO HARD FEELINGS winking back at you, NO HARD FEELINGS with the cutest-ever smiley face, and maybe even a little heart-and-star action thrown in, because that’s just the kind of rising-above-it saint you threw away today, ladies.

Side note: Where I rubbed the t-shirt before I left it folded, is a place so dark it makes Satan blush. Take a good hard whiff. Inhale deep. Nuzzle your muzzle where it doesn’t belong, I hear you’re into that sorta thing. Talk about the pot calling the –

Here’s an idea: Why don’t you Concept Punks stick to playing your imaginary instruments and let Roundhouse do his job? Because unlike you anti-music musicians, you anti-sound soundscapists, you charade-smashing guitars non-existent, you mime-beating figment drums, you silent-screaming into microphones muted, raging sea of Peltheads left to interpret meaning, raging sea of Peltheads getting off on capitalist denial, $500 a ticket literally paying to see nothing, how Roundhouse earns his bread is not theoretical: an upside-down urinal has real world implications. To Roundhouse, a tipped-over porta-potty ain’t a Duchamp. It’s another dirty chore on his Saturday Night To-Do List.

But hey: Do what you want. It’s your call. Numb your clicker finger with raw footage playbacks. Bleed your orbs with eyewitness cell phone vids. Pump bystanders for deets until the hormonally whack cows come home. What do I care. I’m out of a job, it’s midnight in Akron and I have nowhere to go. Last place I lived was a punk house in Asbury Park, not sure if it’s even there anymore, probably it’s not. Hefty bag of a life slung over my shoulder, me thumbing on the corner of the half-mile-back Mobil, this not the life Ma envisioned for me, Ma for me nightly bedside-praying, putting in a call to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, an extra fiver pleading in the collection plate for a nice girl and me married, us homecoming to Ma’s for Sunday dinner, me and Pops watching the Giants, the girls doing the dishes, a surprise announcement for dessert, We’ve got a baby on the way!, Ma clasping her tiny blessed medal and jumping for joy, or jumping as much as Ma can jump these days, which is not much at all, what with her arthritis/bad knees.

Again: Haha! Here I am to you such a threat, to you such a danger, to you such the Big Bad Wolf in the room, oh you ladies, oh you Pelts, oh you #11’s on F Magazine’s list of Top Girl Bands to Watch 2019, oh you not even top 10 breakings, oh you actually needing talent to do thats, oh how much of a beating have your knees taken to get to where you ares, oh the hypocrisy spitting out your privilege-chapped cocksuckers, oh the poseur spittle dribbling down your safespace chins, oh the special snowflake melt in your hyperbolic spotlights, oh the chow-downing on patriarchal knuckle sandwiches, oh the biting of the meaty hand that feeds you cheating vegans, oh how can you even take yourselves seriouslys, oh do you even hear what you sound like right now, Courtney/Gen/Lisa?

Clearly you don’t. Maybe you should get your hearing checked.

(Lisa: Not you, your actually being deaf, your being the scene’s most celebrated deaf drummer, your basically being my hero, obviously, not you.)

Because tell me this: How could a man who everso loves his Ma be – in your phraseology – “a threat to the band’s physical safety,” or “a liability untouchable with a ten-foot pole,” etc.? How much of a menace can one man be, one man who catches spiders in a juice glass and sets them free, one man whose guilty pleasure is the I Love Lucy marathon on New Year’s Day, one man who knits beer koozies to calm his fried nerves, one man who to his own goddamned arthritic and bad-kneed Ma can’t even bring himself to say, without bursting into tears: I love you Deirdre, you know that, but pictures of grandkids to showboat at Tuesday afternoon mahjong, that train has left the station.

So too has the tour bus.

Red tail lights growing small on a rumbling-away rectangle is my six-month home saying hasta la vista. Diesel fumes coughed in my grill, nice knowing you. My crap piled curbside, goodbye.

Even transients get homesick, is the wedgie of a thought I can’t unpick, me for-real fired and parking lot abandoned, me choking on exhaust, on lung-clinging clouds of kicked-up dirt/dust, me huffing the burnt rubber stench of your outta-here tires, six big rubber circles hauling ass, you trucking it to the next forsaken city, the next ill-equipped venue, good riddance Pelts, y’all don’t come back, y’hear? Still: You miss the things you never had, even miss the things you hate. Take away my t-shirt and ID badge and what am I but a sadface muscle clump, asphalt hugging, highway lonesome.

Truth is: I hated The Pelts as much as I needed them. Which was a lot. I needed them because they needed me. Or I believed they did. Wanted to. So I put up with their shit – isn’t that how it works? For what do we live than someone to need and someone to hate, best case scenario, stars in alignment, that someone is one in the same? What is more a life focus than shooting your love/hate at the same target?

Wait: one in the same or one and the same?

Fuck I’m tired.

It’s been a rough 24.

What comes next: I don’t know and never did, which is maybe why the aching now, granted some of it physical, from injuries sustained during last night’s blamed-on-me brawl (unconfirmed reports: 18 injured, 1 in critical condition, 0 fatalities, NBD IMHO), but most of it not, most of it an aching something deeper, the used-up me inside mourning the loss of some missed exit twenty years ago, when a 17 y.o. me – young dumb and full of cum – fell in love with nowhere and never fell out of it. I’m getting old, is the point. Can’t do this forever.

Fingers crossed for a trucker. Truckers take pity on lost souls. They know.

What I tell myself: At least I’ve got my dignity. At least I know, in my heart of bruised hearts, that I acted in the only way I knew how, the only way that has kept me alive this long, the only way that has helped me survive this many wanton years, this many bad turns, this many unlucky breaks – what else should I expect of myself? Anything else would be unfair. What is also unfair: Dignity don’t pay for wrist splints, elbow stitches, Greyhounds back to Ma’s.

Just one last thing before I shut up and disappear, tell me something: Was I wrong? I don’t think I was, wrong, but maybe it’s time for Roundhouse to start listening.

Here’s what happened: Gen’s baby daddy showed up in the one place Gen’s baby daddy did not belong, i.e. anywhere near Gen, Gen still waiting on the restraining order, legal system so slow it should be illegal, Gen not wanting Randall anywhere near Lilysweet, Randall never ever to be part of Lilysweet’s life, Gen thus taking extra precautions, slipping me Randall’s picture, what is essentially a mugshot from his last DUI arrest, what is this Randall but a shitfaced gap-tooth, Gen asking could I keep an eye out for psycho? because we’re in psycho’s hometown and she’s getting weird vibes, and I’m sure that’s my job, and Gen’s you rock Roundhouse, and what are we but two high fives on the same team.

With me so far? Gen asked me to keep an eye out for Randall.

So what was I doing when it all started but keeping an eye out for Randall.

Like Gen asked.

So there I am, keeping an eye out for Randall and any other suspect looney tunes, what is me just doing the job for which I was hired, me standing arms crossed at the front of the pit, 250 solid pounds of intimidation and badassery, 250 pounds of me crowd-checking, fan-scanning, suspicion-scoping, The Pelts behind/above me just starting their second set, when who do I see but Gen’s baby daddy – that psycho Randall! – Gen’s baby daddy barricade-crashing Stage Left and making straight for The Pelts – making straight for Gen! – Gen’s psycho baby daddy psychotically scaling a 10-foot speaker – why it’s even there, The Pelts producing no sounds to amplify, is anybody’s guess – Gen’s psycho baby daddy looking like he’s got the outline of a gun in his pocket – OMFG! – Gen’s not even seeing Randall from where she’s air-playing her hypothetical keytar, sightlines and speaker size her view of him obscuring, all this meaning Gen – Lilysweet’s Mom! – what is she but completely vulnerable and inevitably blindsided, just moments away from being shot to death – FUCK!

Still with me?

Gen’s baby daddy showed up to the concert with a gun.

Gen’s on stage, her daughter Lilysweet’s backstage, and not even anyone with her, Lilysweet, pretty sure, I would not be surprised.

So why was I even there but to do my motherfucking job, do it and do it well, proceed to shove/push/trample every man-woman-child blocking my way to Gen’s psycho baby daddy, kick/punch/smack each and every speed-bump with a pulse, jab/elbow/headbutt any and all corn-fed hold-ups, fuck how many faceless plebs were hurt in Randall’s takedown (18), fuck how many pregnant bellies bopped (1), fuck how many toddler heads clobbered (2), fuck how many cell phones were recording at the time (200+), fuck how many starring-me videos were immediately uploaded to YouView (200+), fuck how many virtual strangers who weren’t even there leaving bullshit Comments like my actions were “excessive,” “unwarranted,” “out of line,” etc. (10,000+), fuck how bad the optics looked for The Pelts (very), fuck how many statements Gene released saying “The Pelts do not condone violence” (1), fuck how many times I had to tell Detective Kelly, look, I saved Gen’s life, saved Lilysweet’s mom, that totally grateful-looking celebrity right there? that totally adorable little girl in her arms? see? I mean, isn’t that what you Blue Bloods always say, when it comes to delivering some Grade A Justice, as uncomfortable as it is for the public to watch, Just doing my job, sir?

Oh: In case you were wondering, yes, Pelts’ concerts are “family friendly.”

Strollers, Starfux and spectacles, the sad look of punk these days.

Truth: Sometimes fists do a job better than words. What was I going to do? Say, Excuse me, please? and wait around like a tool for these très thick Peltheads to move their asses, these très thick Peltheads who sure as heckfire wouldn’t, this pit being stake-claimed standing room only, this pit being where prime stage-views were seized way before dawn, this pit being where hardcore Peltheads packed themselves sardine-tight, stood committed AF, seriously, what was I going to do, wait around twiddling my thumbs all Señor Manners while Gen gets shot point-blank? Shot point-blank by a psycho baby daddy whose job it was for me to protect her from, like, in the first place?

No. Don’t think so.

It’s textbook triage. The lives of the famous are way more importanter than the poors’.

So question: Where’s my gold star?

Randall, who I apprehended right quick and put out-of-commission, who’s now got some rando ER doc saying it’s not looking good, psycho’s vital signs are unstable, his condition critical – booyah! – who knew there was a big deal warrant out for dude’s arrest? Apparently Randall’d been running the Buckeye State’s largest meth lab, was numero uno on the National Clandestine Laboratory Register for Ohio. Explains dude’s manic energy and scarecrow frame, raccoon eyes and garden-variety mouth-rot. So the po-po let me go-go. Two slaps were the Law’s thank-you gifts – one on my wrist, the other on my back.

Friendly reminder: To all those “injured” concertgoers threatening to sue, you signed a waiver at the time of ticket purchase, dost thou not remember? Need a quick refresher? Sure, no problemo. For your convenience, I’ve got an extra copy handy, right here:

By signing this document, you surrender your right and the right of your heirs, next of kin, personal representatives and assigns to bring a court action, now or at any time in the future, to recover compensation for any injury to yourself or for your death, however caused, arising out of your attendance of The Pelts’ Dumb Middle Americans Tour, even if such claims are based upon the actual negligence of The Pelts, any contracted staff of The Pelts, any onsite vendors of The Pelts or any of the nationwide PeltPartners™, including but not limited to, Big Pat’s Tats, Swifty’s Donuts, and At Your Leisure Robot Whorehouses.

Go back to watching your Judge Judy, loserfaces, you’re S.O.L.

To the rest of you jaw-droppers, listen. I’m not heartless.

Au contraire.

Who I feel sorry for is Lilysweet.

Sweet deserves better than this. Sweet running barefoot over Christ-knows-what, Sweet’s dinner leftover 420 munchies, floor-found Cheetos and Lucky Charms, Sweet not even having a bunk of her own, a soft place to settle for naps/quiet time, each city a new sleeping arrangement, you picking up fangirls like a stray dog fleas, you loading in fuckbois like obsolete soundboards, strange and sketchy hands braiding Sweet’s knotted hair, like another fake friend is what Sweet really needs, like what Sweet really needs is another fame-clinger playing her in Candy Land, another starfucking Pelthead thinking Sweet-wooing a shortcut to Sweet’s Mom’s panties, what is more wrong in this world than the rock star life for a growing child, a growing child needing things like regular baths, good nutrition, routine, Sweet not getting any of these things, barefoot-running Sweet a childhood’s safety denied, all 250 pounds of me powerless to save her, powerless to save her save a bedtime story, a blanket and recitation the best I could provide, goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere, night after night did I keep Sweet my promise, night after night do Sweet visions haunt me still, buried alive in this unmarked grave where guys like me go, what is every sleepless toss but the manifest thunderclap of a deep-within sadness, me shaken awake by the 3 AM chorus of drunks fighting in the hall and glass shattering in the alley, me a poor man’s Buddha on a dirty mattress shrine, alone to wish, alone to pray, this:

So many times, should you have considered yourself blessed.

So many times, did I want to do to you far worse than what I did to that dude.

Jessica Bonder is an American fiction writer. She has published short stories and prose poetry in The Lonely Crowd, The Honest Ulsterman, STORGY Magazine, Split Lip Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, The Bohemyth, Vending Machine Press, The Fiction Pool, and Unbroken Journal. Honors include: Longlisted for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize; Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open (March/April 2017);  Longlisted for STORGY Magazine’s 2017 EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition; Shortlisted for Short Fiction Journal’s 2017 Short Fiction Prize; First Place in STORGY’s 2015 Short Story Contest. Twitter handle: @jessbonder www.jessicabonder.com


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