The Gods of the Riff are inscrutable. They hear neither prayer nor plea. They brook no rebuke. They bestow their favor where they will, and at the time of their own choosing. Their reasons are theirs and theirs alone, they do not share these with mortals. They dwell on an iron mountain; they take their slumber in an anthracite cave wherein no ray of light can find its way. Of the gift of their blessing, I can only say: You’ll know it when you hear it.
Bruiser had asked Tversky and I to help him move. Spring semester was over, and he was moving back home with his parents for the summer. He didn’t have much stuff, and he’d promised to buy beer. Tversky and I said yes without hesitation.
Bruiser was not his given name. He was nicknamed Bruiser because he was all of 5’10’, 135 pounds – maybe. Even at 135 I’d have to say he had heavy bones. There was nothing else to him. The guy was built out of binder twine. He had a mid-70s Chevy pickup he’d nicknamed “Old Betsy” – it was two-tone white and purple. He had a good stereo in Old Betsy and he kept her clean. Tversky was not a nickname, it just rhymes with his actual surname. Tversky rode a ten-speed most places, and liked weed, badminton, and Heavy Metal. At one time he was very serious about starting a metal band. He and some other veteran air-banders had a name picked out, and Tversky was talking about buying leather chaps. He did not play an instrument, so he thought he’d probably have to be the bassist.
Bruiser had, at one time, over-consumed at a bar in Great Falls, Montana called Tee-Jay’s. Tee-Jay’s sponsored a lot of slo-pitch tournaments. Our team went often. We’d be in Tee-Jay’s with every other team in the tourney who wasn’t on the field. The place would be packed. They sold beer in 32-ounce plastic cups called “schooners” – you got to keep the cup. Our slo-pitch team – Bruiser included, but not Tversky, who did not play-slo-pitch – made a pyramid of the cups. We impressed ourselves. Bruiser - who did a take-off on wrestler Hulk Hogan’s Hulkamania he called Bruisermania – played pool and flexed around the pool table to the raucous applause of all of us. He’d make a shot, or not, and shout What are you gonna do when Bruisermania runs wild on you? Another slo-pitch team pushed a guy forward. The dude was almost – but not quite – as skinny as Bruiser. The guy leaped on the pool table and ripped his shirt off, challenging Bruiser to a pose-down. Bruiser ripped his shirt off and jumped up there in a non-bodybuilding battle between guys with broomstick bodies and livers under siege. Everyone in the bar was off-their-ass drunk and loud. You could not hear yourself think.
About thirty seconds into the pose-down the other guy fell off the pool table and had to be attended to by his friends. Bruiser, claiming victory, repeated his Bruisermania mantra to the crowd, cupped one ear, then the other, hopped off of the pool table, and walked over to the bathroom. He missed the bathroom door and took the exit (the two doors were very close) and then didn’t come back in for fifteen minutes. Someone went out to look for him. He’d passed out sitting on the sidewalk and leaning against the exterior wall of Tee-Jay’s after (evidently) urinating between two parked cars. He was still shirtless. He looked beatific in his slumber. It was just after 4 p.m.
I think what I am trying to say is that if Bruiser needs help moving, I am there.
II: The Soirée at the Palais
The move went easily enough. We had two trucks, Old Betsey and my little black Nissan. Bruiser had, true to his word, bought beverages. We had a six-pack of Molson Canadian Super cans (think Tallboys) and some wine. Cheap wine. I think it was something called Strawberry Angel – but I can’t remember exactly.
Unfortunately, there was a map hazard. By map hazard, I mean that my parent’s place was between Bruiser’s old place and his parents. My parents were out of town – Arizona to be specific. In the house I had a bottle of Mescal and a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps. Half-and-half these in a shot glass and you have a shooter called Fire and Ice. The tequila is on top, it goes down like fire, followed by the minty freshness of the schnapps. So, eight kilometers short of Bruiser’s destination I asked if anyone wanted to do some fire and ice shots.
No one said they didn’t.
A couple of hours in and all of the Schnapps was gone and all of the Mescal save the worm. I cannot explain that. Normally the last shot poured takes the worm, or more likely someone halfway in decides they want it. But there it was. You had to be there. The worm stayed in that bottle for a year until I threw it out. I felt shame. Not enough not to do it, but enough so that I never told anyone about it. I’m older now and don’t give a shit. Drink it or not. my older self would say, no one cares - but back then I felt like I’d failed the test.
Tversky said he needed a shower and went to the downstairs bathroom where my parents had installed an over-size shower stall. Bruiser and I sat there at the kitchen table, temporarily paralyzed by the Fire and Ice.
Hey, he said to me, after a few minutes. I got an idea. Let’s go get some off-sales.
By off-sales, he meant buying beer by the case from a hotel bar. It was Sunday, and no liquor stores would be open. This was Alberta in the mid-1980s – all liquor stores were operated by the government and there was no such thing as a 24/7 liquor store. If you wanted anything outside of the Govt’s very specifically set liquor store hours, you had to go get off-sales.
I thought this was a very good idea. I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet. It wasn’t even 4 p.m.
We went downstairs to check on Tversky. Tversky had passed out in the shower. He was slumped over and still wearing jeans. The hot water had run out, he was lying there in the cold. His pants were wet down to his knees – by some miracle, no water had escaped the shower stall - but his lower legs and feet were still dry. I turned the water off. We tried to get Tversky up. No go. He mumbled something incoherent. It didn’t sound like get me to the hospital, my stomach needs to be pumped or I will die of alcohol poisoning, so we left him. He looked comfortable, to us.
Bruiser and I hopped into Old Betsy – the bed still had all of his bed, boxes, and furnishings, and we headed into town to an old hotel called The Palais. The Palais had the cheapest off-sales in town and was the old reliable for Sunday drinkers. When we got there, I couldn’t get my door open. I had suddenly become too drunk to open the door from the inside of the cab. Go figure. I did, however, manage to get my wallet out. I gave Bruiser ten dollars. He left. I didn’t see him for almost half an hour. I think I rested my eyes a little. I am not sure. I remember looking at the door of the Palais – it was still light out – and waiting for it to open and for Bruiser to come out with our off-sales. The driver’s side door opened. There was Bruiser. He’d crawled across the parking lot – with no off-sales in hand – and hoisted himself into the cab via the handle.
What happened, I asked him? Where’s our off-sales?
Ah fuck, he said. I forgot to order off-sales.
Where’s my ten, I asked?
Well shit, he said. I walked in and thought I’d just sit down and have a beer. So, I sat down and ordered one. The server brought me my beer, but then, when I reached for it, I fell out of my chair. I could not get up. These two old fuckers in there were laughing at me. Laughing and laughing. I tried to stand back up but couldn’t. They laughed even louder. Finally, I said fuck it and crawled out of the Palais and across the parking lot to here. I guess I left your ten on the table. Beer plus tip.
I was quiet for a bit.
Steve, he said.
What, I said, maybe a little more sharply than I meant to. Ten dollars is ten dollars – and this was mid-80s dollars. It had buying power like you punk-ass pop-metal fans of today can only imagine.
Steve, he said again. My knees hurt from the gravel. I mean, they really hurt.
I said nothing.
He drove me home.
When I got out, I asked him what he wanted to do next weekend. While I was getting out, he rested his head on the steering wheel and had a quick micro-nap. I had to ask him twice. With my second query, he snapped to and took a big breath and held it for a second.
We’re going to Motley Crüe, he said.
III: Motley Crüe
The next weekend we piled into my little Nissan with a flat (24) of beer and a 26-ounce bottle of Jack Daniels to go to Motley Crüe. Tversky surprised us. He said that he did not actually enjoy alcohol and was not going to drink. He was just going to smoke weed.
More for us, Bruiser and I said at the same time.
They have showers at the hotel, I said. You can drink and lie in there as much as you like. They never run out of hot water.
Bruiser and I did not actually smoke pot. Neither of us liked it. I think you have to find your vices or let them find you, and that someone else’s vice may not necessarily be yours. No judgments. I also think Tversky was pleased that he’d not have to share. If Tversky had a character defect it was this: He was very strict about getting his fair share. If you ordered pizza, he’d recut it to make sure everyone chipping in got the exact same amount. He’d samurai that pie and if he’d had a laser, he’d have used it to measure.
Do you count the pepperonis, I asked him one time?
Yes, he said, do you?
He had a look about him. I think he’d been shoehorning the odd-number-out pepperonis his own way and he thought I’d caught him.
The ride flew by. Tversky was still talking about forming a metal band. He was very animated about it. He’d decided that for their first album cover, he wanted the art to represent him as a demon of sorts, shirtless and muscular in black leather pants with holes slit in the sides, platform boots, and he’d be holding a trident.
No bass, I asked?
No, he said. I will play bass, but for the album cover I envision – and he held off a little before saying it again – a trident. Yeah, a trident.
The Crüe were touring for their Theatre of Pain album, and a band named Autograph was opening for them. Autograph was good, too. We were pumped. We’d booked a hotel – the venue was two-and-a-half hours away from home. Where we’re from the big bands don’t come, so you have to travel if you want to rock.
We hit the hotel around 4 p.m. and checked in. Tversky lit up. He really hit it, smoking joint after joint. He’d get down to the cherry and hold it in his roach clip and purse his lips in a particular way to take those last few hits.
Hey Tversky I said, you look like a guy blowing a fly.
He stopped and gave me some side eye. Fuck off, he said.
Keep going, I said, the fly likes it. Let him finish. Be a pro. Don’t think about us watching you, you fly-cock sucker.
We had no pretensions about driving to the arena. Bruiser and I walked to a 7-11 across the street from the hotel and got some super big gulps. We went back to the hotel room and drank about a third of the cola and then split the 26 of Jack between us in our Super Big Gulps. Then we walked over to public transit and boarded the train. We were in a good mood. The train was about half people going to the Motley Crüe/Autograph show and half regular citizens who had found themselves in a Twilight Zone episode surrounded by metalheads in black-t-shirts and in various stages of inebriation.
I had my best metal tee shirt on. Iron Maiden? No! Motley Crüe? No! Quiet Riot? Good call, but no again. Who then, you ask?
I was wearing a Jack Daniels tee shirt. Black with the Jack Daniels label in white. Classic. We loved Jack Daniels. (Well, maybe not Tversky.) All our Metal Gods drank Jack straight from the bottle. David Lee Roth, Nikki Sixx, Kevin DuBrow. DuBrow said he filled his bottle with iced tea. On stage, he said, he was working. Roth said that only punks would do that. We drank ours with coke, and I bought the tee shirt. You can be loyal to a band – and that’s fine. You can be loyal to a genre - and that’s cool. But the bands and the genre are loyal to the deity, and that’s Jack Daniels.
Bruiser sloshed his drink to the left and to the right with careless aplomb and was in a general sense, a hazard. Tversky had ceased to speak. I was starting to worry about him. A lady seated across from me looked a little tense. Her lips had compressed into a line so tight she might as well have not had any. I tilted my Super Big Gulp cup towards her, offering her a sip. She looked away, disgusted. I was not offended at all. If I had to guess I’d guess she was around thirty-five years old. I thought she was kind of hot, for an old, angry broad. In another place, at another time, she could have called the cops and had me professionally beaten (this was before the police had tasers) but for now, we were on the Crazy Train, with Mr. Jack Daniels our pilot, and everything was as it should be. Drink up or drink not, my (hot) elderly sister, it’s up to you. This train will roll how it rolls, for now.
We got to the arena. It took some coaxing to get Tversky to stand up. He didn’t respond directly to anything we said to him. I think weed was better in those days. It was still illegal, and the stuff that came to our neck of the woods was often cultivated by someone who really cared about it and not a soulless corporation like today. I imagined that Tversky had scored something lovingly grown by some hippie grandmother in British Columbia, where the purest water fell from the sky and the fertilizer was from grass-fed steer manure, manure she’d stolen from some farmer’s pasture by hopping a fence on a moonless night, and that those ingredients, and the pure light of the sun – and her love, too, (yes, her love, don’t say that there isn’t any love in that specific branch of horticulture) – had rendered my boy zonked.
We got into the show. I took Tversky to our seats. I actually led him by the hand. At least he was compliant. You know, some people get high and they giggle, others become philosophers. The very worst are seized by some sort of manic anxiety and can be difficult to put up with. Finally, there is the classic stoner. Tversky was of this variety. He was baked and the world was passing by him at light speed and he did not care at all. Whatever it was, it was not his problem.
I’m going down to the floor, Bruiser said. He gave me his jacket to hold. I tucked it around Tversky. It was s sheepskin jacket believe it or not. All of us in that arena in denim and leather, with our black t-shirts, and there’s farm-boy Bruiser with his nice sheepskin jacket.
The floor is “rush” seating, “rush” meaning there is no assigned seating. It’s folding metal chairs in row after row. Pros: Right in front of that Marshall stack that will elevate your soul and destroy your hearing – and close to any boobies being flashed. Cons, a junkyard of folding metal chairs and rowdies.
Rock on Bruiser, I say, and I throw him some horns. He doesn’t hear me, he’s already on his way down.
Autograph came on and they were great. Who remembers Turn Up the Radio? I do. Who remembers Blondes in Black Cars? Hell, yes. Nineteen and Nonstop? Yes, yes, yes. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me? Autograph felt like autobiography, and Steve Lynch was the best of the underrated guitar gods.
Aside: You may have noticed a paucity of female characters in this story. We were for the most part, single. You know how some guys are allergic to cats? Well, some cats are allergic to guys. I think back now and think there was a sort of monastic purity to our lives. Trucks, stereos, metal, and alcohol. There wasn’t room for much else. I think girls understood this instinctively, and generously they made the choice by which we were made single for us. Sue, who I dated irregularly then, I owe you. You had beautiful rock and roll hair when you crimped it and a beautiful speaking voice and I was callow. I was not cool. You deserved better. I hope you found it.
Finally: Motley Crüe. Fuck yeah, this is what we came for.
Three songs in and Tversky still hasn’t spoken. There is a tug at my arm and there’s a guy in uniform – a St. John’s Ambulance guy. The first aid people.
Are you Steve, he says?
Your friend Bruiser has been injured. You need to come with me.
I look at Tversky. He gives me no sign that he’s heard anything. I followed the St John’s guy who lead me to a little first-aid room. There are multiple St. John’s people in there, in their uniforms with their nice white shirts. There’s Bruiser, hunched over with his arm at an odd angle. I played hockey, I’ve seen this before. I bet it’s a broken collarbone.
We think he’s broken his collarbone, says the St, John’s guy.
I broke my fucking collarbone, says Bruiser. His eyes are watering.
How did this happen, I ask?
Some fucking guys pushed me off of a chair, Bruiser says.
He says some guys pushed him off of a chair, the St. John Ambulance guy added.
The St. John’s guy turned to me. You are going to have to take him to emergency.
Did you call an ambulance, I asked?
Ha! The guy said. We’ll call a cab. Have they played Smoking in the Boy’s Room yet?
No, I said, they’ve just started.
Good, he says, I want to go out and hear that one when they play it. Then he turned to Bruiser and said, they haven’t played Smoking in the Boy’s Room yet.
Bruiser’s eyes were still watering.
What, he said?
I turned to the St John’s guy. I have to go get our other friend, I said. He’s in a coma.
A coma, the St John’s guy asked?
I went and got Tversky. I told him what had happened. He looked at me like he was surprised to see me there, at a Motley Crue concert, one that he had driven up to with me, but he got up, handed me Bruiser’s sheepskin coat, and followed me back to the first aid room. With the St. John’s guy’s help, we draped the sheepskin coat over Bruiser’s shaking, bony frame and then followed a different St. John’s guy - The first one was bound and determined to wait for Smoking in the Boy’s Room - down some access corridor into to the bowels of the arena to an exit door. A cab was waiting. The cabbie was an older guy and knew to take us directly to emergency.
These metal concerts, he said. They are the worst for this sort of thing.
Fights and shit, I asked?
No, he said, people getting too drunk and falling down and breaking things.
A couple of guys pushed me off of a chair, Bruiser said, between gasps of pain.
The cabbie looked at Bruiser via the rear-view mirror and he had the look in his eye you get when you don’t believe a word of what you have just heard.
Ah well, the cabbie said. At least it’s not drugs. Overdoses are the worst. Mind you they wouldn’t be calling me for that. For that you get a real ambulance – or a hearse. None of you fellas are high, are you?
We’re just drinkers, I said.
Bruiser (still gasping) added that we were all just drinkers. Social Drinkers. Heavy social drinkers.
Me too, the Cabbie said.
Hey, he said to the cabbie.
What, the cabbie said.
Hey, Tversky said again.
Hey what, the cabbie said.
HEY, Tversky shouted.
WHAT, the Cabbie shouted back.
Tversky leaned forward, and in a normal inside-speaking voice and with surprising clarity of enunciation (all things considered) asked the cabbie: Have you ever really, really, really had to take a shit and were both scared and excited at the same time?
The cabbie laughed.
Ah, I thought, Tversky is coming back around.
We arrived at emergency.
In emergency – which was busy – a doctor came over right away. She was a short, stocky, no-bullshit kind of woman. I could see that right away. When dealing with authority – the police, teachers, doctors, and their kind - I always take a deep breath and remind myself to answer honestly and to remember that whatever it is I am there for, they have seen/heard worse.
What happened to you, she asked Bruiser?
Basically, some no good fucking cow cunts pushed me off of a chair, Bruiser said.
She looked directly at me, forcing me to make eye contact even though I tried to avoid it.
How much has had to drink tonight, she asked me?
A lot, I said.
Not that much, Bruiser said. We’re just social drinkers.
An aide appeared and Bruiser was put into a wheelchair and wheeled into an examination room. Tversky and I waited. I looked at him – he was still smirking like he had been when the Cabbie brought up drugs and he’d responded with defecation. But whatever he was thinking he wasn’t saying, and he stayed quiet. We sat in silence like an old married couple.
It didn’t take too long and Bruiser was pushed back out to us. They’d had to cut his t-shirt off, but they’d set his collarbone and put his arm in a sling and, most thoughtfully, put him in his sheepskin coat. He no longer gasped when he moved and seemed to me to be way better. We called another cab and when it arrived, we piled in and asked to be taken back to our hotel. It wasn’t even 11 p.m. yet.
I asked Bruiser how he was feeling and he said great. They’d given him some Percocet for pain and it had kicked in. He said he was ready to party. He told me to look in his coat pocket, he had four more courtesy of the emergency room doctor.
Help yourself, he said.
When we got back to the hotel Tversky finally spoke.
I am going to bed, was all that he said.
Let’s you and I get a beer, Bruiser said to me.
The hotel had a club and we could hear the music thumping. We went to walk in but two bouncers stopped us. Five-foot eight-inch fucksticks in yellow polos with crew cuts and the confidence of law-enforcement students who had been lifting weights for two months and had discovered Dianabol at the same time, but separately, and had not told each other about it, each convinced he was superior to the other.
You can’t get in wearing biker regalia, they said to me.
I was wearing that Jack Daniels t-shirt. The black shirt with the label in white. That one.
It’s a Jack Daniels t-shirt, I said.
Sorry, no biker regalia, they said.
Can I get in, Bruiser asked?
Yep, they said, without hesitation.
He doesn’t even have a shirt on, I said.
The one bouncer spoke directly to Bruiser.
You are welcome but your friend can’t come, he said.
Fortunately, the hotel had a lounge and we got in with no problem and sat there and had a beer surrounded by old people and tired travelers.
You know, Bruiser, I said, would you recognize the guys that pushed you?
I had begun to formulate some plan for vengeance. Not that real vengeance was likely, but it felt good to think about. In the plans for imaginary revenge, we are all ninjas.
Nah, said Bruiser, probably not. I never saw who did it. It felt like I was pushed from behind.
Did you fall, I asked?
I would never fall, he said, offended. I had to have been pushed.
We called it a night and went back to the room. The next morning on the way back a much-refreshed Tversky told us about his plans to start his own metal band, and about the album cover he wanted to see where he was a shirtless, leather-pant-covered demon in platform boots holding a trident.
Bruiser and I looked at each other. Apparently, Tversky had forgotten about telling us this yesterday, on the ride up.
Yeah, Bruiser said. A trident.
We all agreed that it would be cool.