Short story by Michael Botur
Bipan, that dickhead from Nepal who regulates the adhesive levels on each glue gun in the factory, he keeps changing the radio station to R&B and after 20 minutes of R. Kelly you have him against the wall with the nozzle of an air gun in his face and you’re telling the dude, Dude: you mess with Skynyrd one more time, you’re goin home in a ambulance. Show some respect, you tell him. Everything’s getting to you. You try to go back to gluing the veneer on the office desks you’re putting together but there’s dust, there’s noise – it’s Aggravation Central. Brownie is bein a cocksucker too, saying you’re wasting too much laminate and your work’s not gonna pass inspection. All the hassle, the pressure, it goes against what that ‘Freebird’ song’s sayin. A bird’s not sposda be cooped up in a factory.
You’re quota’d to glue 84 more Venice Range desks today and it’ll be a mission. You’re ready to ankle this place if people don’t let you be free. Skynyrd finishes up then the radio moves on to some Led Zep, then some Foos, then some Acca Dacca doin that new In Rock We Trust It’s Rock Or Bust one, then there’s a Flight Centre advert for some Thailand holiday you’ll never afford if you keep working here, and then God speaks through DJ Hannah Hardcore, who’s purring ‘Honestly, who wouldn’t give up EVERYthing for some sweet-ass rock ’n roll?’ in a voice that needs a throat lozenge. ‘Has anybody listening got the balls for ROCKING IT instead of SUCKING IT?’ she continues. ‘Somebody out there HAS TO quit their job and just rock out with their cock out, and I’m talkin toDAY. Call me on 0800ROCKHOUSE and show me your balls, boys.’
Looking around, it’s as if the rest of the goons don’t even hear the heavenly instruction but for you, this commandment seals the deal. It’s the voice of the Man Upstairs speaking through Hannah Hardcore. The Sheila Upstairs, you suppose. There’s already been three songs this morning with lyrics ’bout how We’re Not Gonna Take It and We Don’t Need No Education and Don’t Tread On Me. Stuff it. You’ve been unhappy with your lack of balls these past couple of years, you don’t even play league anymore and you haven’t gotten a new tat in ages and you can’t get any pussy unless you pay for it these days, so this is it. Rock or bust.
You strut past the surprised-looking engineers and Brownie and Bipan, rip off your boiler suit, slam-dunk it in a bin and head for Joanne’s office. Jo’s the big boss woman. You walk up to her desk, your boots making noises like Band-Aids unpeeling ’cause your gluey feet keep sticking to her carpet.
‘I quit. Thassit. I’m outta here. Rock on.’
Joanne takes her crimson fingernails off her keyboard and goes, ‘Sorry, angel? I can’t quite hear you.’ She points to your mouth. ‘Mask.’
You pull the respirator down around your throat. The air tastes different right away, fresher. It’s what the stratosphere tastes like to a golden eagle as it soars. ‘I quit, I said. Won’t get fooled again. Laters.’
‘Honey,’ Joanne goes, pushing her chair back and getting up, ‘Sad smiley face. Do reconsider overnight, if you want. Someone bought a lucky Lotto ticket I’m guessing, hmm? Well good for you.’ She searches her shelves with her fingers, humming, finds a folder heavy with pink papers and tries to give you a couple of sheets. ‘Here – these will sort out your final pay and KiwiSaver.’
‘I ain’t signin shit,’ you tell the authorities and turn and strut the fuck up outta there.
The orange-vested security kid tells you ya gotta move from the staff car park over to the visitor car park. Joanne’s obviously radioed downstairs and narked on you. You drive a few metres over to a shitty visitor park and sit in the passenger seat of the Road Warrior. You need room to operate. Your car’s your new office. Lotta phone calls to make. You dial 0800ROCKHOUSE on your mobile, eyeballing the security boy till he takes his neon arse back inside. There are 10 rings, then 12. You end the call, say ‘Struth, Hannah,’ punch your phone and look around, frustrated. You’re the only car in the visitor lot. A milk tanker drives past and you wonder what salary the driver’s on. He’s yet another zombie, a slave to the wage, like you used to be till five minutes ago.
You hit redial and think about what radio show you wanna be on after you’re famous. There’s those hilarious lesbos in the morning that do Bitches Brew, that’s a funny-arse show.
Ten rings, 20, then on the 22nd ring –
‘House of Rock for me, whatcha got for me?’
‘Hannah Hardcore: it’s an honour to speak to you again.’ Hannah seems to not remember, you’ve won four CDs off her in the past, plus tickets to Def Leppard. You try to control your panting. ‘Listen, gahp, you’re not gonna believe this, gahp, but I fully quit my job. I won’t work for no cunt what doesn’t respect The Skynyrd.’
Hannah Hardcore is silent. There’s a bit of Airbourne playing in the background and you mosh your head, alone in your own passenger seat. ‘Stay there just one second, I’ll grab your deets,’ she goes. On the phone her talking voice sounds just as crusty as it does coming out of a radio spattered with industrial adhesive. ‘I think I may have a very special prize for you, sir.’ A contract, no doubt. A new job in the radio industry. Or a trophy.
She leaves you on hold and your phone credit burns up like the fuse on a bomb then finally she’s back. You can tell from the reverb that she’s put you on air. ‘All mah congregation ’cross the rock nation, drop what you’re doing ’cause Hannah got some banter: we have on the line just for you THIS VERY SPECIAL HOUR a man who rocks sooo FREAKING HARD, he’s ACTUALLY. QUIT. HIS. DAY. JOB. Goneburgers, everybody! Up and quit! Caller: I want dirty dirty details.’
You tell her everything. Your life story’s done in 25 seconds.
‘Sting was a science teacher before he rocked out, Bowie was a chimneysweep, the guys from Thin Lizzy did landscaping… this here LEGEND is walking away from – what was it you do again, my good man?’
‘Laminating kitset furniture.’
‘Laminating kitkat furniture, before he went on to BECOME A ROADIE FOR METALLICAAAA!’
‘You serious? Can you honestly tee it up?’
‘You, sir, can do anything you want in this world. I wanna take more calls from people who’ve quit their day job for the love of rock.’ For Those About to Rock starts playing. ‘Meanwhile, my friend: I salute you.’
You’re on your phone at the library all afternoon takin care of business – showbusiness, that is. There’s free wifi at the library so you don’t have to top your phone up. Your head bobs around like a balloon, your belly is full of bubbles, your thighs tingle. So what if old cunts tell you to pipe down. You’re a motherfuckin celebrity now. @HouseofRockFM has tweeted a soundbite of you, hashtag #InRockWeTrust. The most important decision of your life has been compressed to three seconds of audio: ‘I won’t work for no cunt what doesn’t respect The Skynyrd.’ It’s an epic quote. You picture the words carved on a monument.
By the time you sit down on a comfy beanbag in the children’s zone, there are 200 retweets – no, you watch: it rises to 1564 retweets, then 3067, and you’re starving and wishing you hadn’t left your lunch in the staff fridge when the retweets peak at 21,044.
The rate of retweets streaks across the sky, burns up all its oomph, slows, arcs and starts to fall. 100 strangers an hour have been adding you on Facebook. You’ve clicked the Add Friend button so much your thumb feels like it’s got arthritis.
Just three people want to be your new mate in the final hour, then the librarians start goin round telling everybody the place is about to close. You follow your crusty dried footprints back across the carpet, sore eyes, in need of some rockstar shades like that geezer from Oasis.
You have an epic shower and a celebratory masty, put on your best Levi’s and best Hallensteins shirt, gel your hair, crack open a box of red Marlboros, selecting the best, moistest ciggy from the centre of the pack. You head out in the Road Warrior and drive to the local, steering wheel in your right hand, Southern Comfort in your left. You strut up the wheelchair ramp, grab the door handle –
Black inside. She’s closed.
No worries – just 30 seconds around the block and you can brag to the old grumpy RSA soldiery types instead. Show them cunts who’s really brave. At the top of the steps, the bouncer tries to tell you the pub’s winding up for the night. As you’re slumping back down the wheelchair ramp, hands in pockets, you say, ‘I just quit my GODDAMN DAY JOB ’cause I’m all about the rock, but never mind,’ and you’re just about to stick a key in the Road Warrior before the bouncer goes, ‘Alright, alright, thought I recognised your voice from the thing,’ and he lets you into the pub. There may be only four punters at the bar, and the karaoke stage is crowded with empty beer kegs, but you take the mic and you tell the barman to chuck on some Acca Dacca and that night, the stage is all yours.
You peel back your curtains. The daylight hurts. Your stomach blurps like a bubbling pot of soup and it feels like your skull’s been dropped then glued back together with a smidgen of glue allotted by some tightwad glue Nazi like Bipan. You sit on the toilet, shit out some nasty chocolate mousse-lookin stuff and your head swims a little bit less. You unlock your phone, catch up on showbiz. The tweets have declined to a dribble and there are no new friend requests. Internet must be stuffed. Better do business in the library again.
You tweet @MetallicaOfficial, ask the band if there’s any openings for the King of Rock to come aboard their road crew.
While you’re sitting on the breakfast bar waiting for your phone to beep to say James Hetfield’s tweeted you back, a courier knocks, gets you to sign for a box the size of a pillow. Must be the prizes Hannah Hardcore promised. When you tear it open, it’s mostly airbags, but down the bottom there’s a whole booklet of two-for-one movie tickets, some KFC vouchers plus a t-shirt that says Rock Or Bust. ‘Hell yeeeah,’ you tell your empty house. 30,000 tweets and all the rock you could possibly want.
One problem though: your tummy’s rumbling, and you can’t eat merchandise. You’re double-hungry on account of the hangover from the jugs you bought yourself last night ’cause the old cheapskate pricks were sipping their foam and watching the harness racing steada watching you on stage doing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. You open your fridge and it looks like an in-store display model, just pure white emptiness in there.
To afford a week’s rent – let alone some grub – you need to sell nine $35 CDs at Real Groovy, or since the price of CDs has gone down tonnes, you could hustle 20 $15 CDs.
Shitfuckcunt. You dig your fingers into the rattling box and search till you hit the bottom. There’s not a single CD in there. The so-called prizes are all USB flash drives with the titles of albums and movies printed on the plastic. Screener / Property of Paramount Pictures / For Promotional Purposes Only.
You lean against your cold, hollow fridge. Okay, your overdraft can stretch to $1200, it’ll help in this interim thing. An overdraft is cash, pretty much. But being the face of House of Rock FM: no one can put a price on that.
The guy on the graveyard shift who always cranks Iron Maiden and calls himself Eddie The Zombie Hunter reckons he hasn’t heard of you. He says Hannah Corning’s show is legally a separate entity to his, and firstly you’re like, Why you dropping the legal-bomb, and secondly why you gotta call her Corning when her surname’s sposda be Hardcore? She said she legally changed it, you tell Eddie. Do you not believe in rock? You a heretic, bro?
When he says he doesn’t need a co-host on his show and the only guests he’ll talk to are “established” industry people, whatever the fuck that means, you’re tempted to wait in a dumpster behind the studio and king-hit him when he finishes his shift. You spare him, though, ’cause the man’s going to be a colleague, moving forward, since House of Rock’s bound to bring you in as their mascot. Gotta get along with your colleagues.
You smoke and check your Twitter feed till finally it’s 6am and you cruise into the city, park outside the studio, cool down from the Zombie Hunter aggro and listen to your fizzing radiator cool along with you. Fuckin car needs $1800 of repairs.
At 6.30 sharp, you march into the House of Rock and let the receptionist know who you are. She looks frightened and her spoon shakes as she lifts a mouthful of Special K to her lips. Fame’s intimidating for some people.
The reception chicky tries to make you sit there amongst the women’s mags while she checks if it’s alright for you to go up to the studio, like as if you’re sposda sit there and read another tweet sayin ‘Tht jackass hu quit his day job 4 @HouseOfRockFM whe is he now dole line lolol’ and you tuck your phone back into your pocket and bolt up the fire stairs and seize destiny.
Bitches Brew, the breakfast show. Two chicks, Moana and Moala. Both buckets of hilariousness. They’ll accept you. Destiny is a thick studio door that’s surprisingly quiet and tense, with a red light and glass walls and framed gold records everywhere. Moana seems preoccupied with playing banter that turns out to be pre-recorded; Moala doesn’t make eye contact.
You find a box of t-shirts to sit on, tell your story for the listeners, tell them how you did your first gig at the RSA and you’re still sorting through your fan mail, well, fan tweets. Moana and Moala whisper something to each other. You promise to come back with a bit more news tomorrow morning. Maybe you’ll’ve rooted Courtney Love by then and you’ll have a bonkers story to share. ‘Schedule’s a teency bit full tomorrow morning,’ Moala says, turning her computer monitor away while she types something, ‘But thanks for coming in.’
‘Really, you didn’t have to,’ Moana says, getting up, holding the studio door open.
After about a hundred tweets, Furnace FM says they’ll be happy to have your help. It’s a major loss for House of Rock. Furnace’s broadcast signal only reaches campus-wide, and they reckon they can’t pay you, since the university gives ’em bugger-all funding, and you tell them it’s not about the money, your thighs tingling with regret as you say it. The afternoon drivetime host with an epic accent, this commerce student from Sow de Arabia, he gets you to register all the incoming texts because each text makes the station 20 cents profit. Your job’s to text each person back to get them to make requests to bring in a bit of income. A thousand texts in a day could bring in as much as two hundy. You hand out lanyards and mixtapes at freshman orientation. You make hotdogs and hand out bumper stickers. You ask The Furnace if you can get some airtime and they say if you can get yourself a qualification from broadcasting school, 10 months from now, they can almost certainly give you work experience. They practically guarantee it.
Driving the 50 kay round trip to the campus sucks up your overdraft, your credit cards and a pay day loan of $400, but if you work 10 times harder than the next guy, you’ll be on salary before you know it. Each day you press your face against the mixing booth, watching steam from your nose make shapes on the window, then you slump down the stairs, hop in the Road Warrior and drive the 25 kays back home. Bullets of rain attack your windscreen. Your wiper blades squeak and scrape, but new ones are 10 bucks a pop and you don’t have that kinda cash.
You pull into the carpark outside the dole office. The line in front of the reception’s so long and so close to the entry/exit that the automatic door keeps opening and shutting, letting the rain in.
There’s another 15 minutes to go till your appointment to apply for financial help. Your legs ache. You sit in the parking lot, turn the radio dial over to House of Rock one last time. You hear Hannah Hardcore say your name, and you lean your ear towards the speakers. Hannah’s got Eddie the Zombie Hunter on the line, and they’re guffawing, and the last thing she says – before you change the dial forever is – ‘Boy oh boy, did that guy have some balls or WHAT?’
Fuck it. You throw the goat at the security guard, bypass the Work & Income queue and slam your Community Services Card on the counter. ‘Cancel my appointment,’ you tell ’em, ‘I already got me a job.’
The Road Warrior churns puddles as she speeds away. The cam belt slips and the heater doesn’t work and the windscreen wipers sound like fingernails on a blackboard. Without fresh rubber blades they’re etching lines in the windscreen, but today’s all about etching. You’re etching your name in the annals of rock ’n roll.
Who needs the dole anyway? You’re a radio industry insider. You’re the man who did what no one else would do. Metallica are a bit late in tweeting you back, but it’ll happen, soon enough. Most times in life when people take ages to get back to ya, it’s because they’re preparing a very special response. Meanwhile, if the Road Warrior breaks down on the motorway, you’ll stand in the storm and make a fist with devil-horn fingers at the passing trucks before you’ll ever stick your thumb out and beg.
In rock you trust.