Short story by Michael Botur
- FIVE HUNDRED BUCKS PER COCK PER NIGHT
It was close to pack-up time on the building site when Goose took his sweat-blackened shirt off and poured mineral water on his hard chest. The water ran through the deep cleft between the big fella’s pectoral muscles. Johnny T took the phone call away from his ear while he stared his friend up and down.
‘Holy Jesus, Goose, you’re built like the fuckin Terminator,’ JT said. ‘Anyone ever tell you that?’
‘Anyone ever tell you you could be a stripper?’
Goose crumpled the empty water bottle and threw it forty metres toward the dumpster. ‘Wife.’
Johnny’s ex began to shriek and he ended the call. ‘That could be us, all of us. Strippendales, bro, I’m serious, that’s us. The amounta money I owe peeps… Not worth thinkin about. We should do some night-time shit. I got child support on my ass, know what I’m sayin? I’m about twenty payments behind.’
‘Sorted,’ Goose said, his voice like a dropped fence post. He checked the time on his phone. 4pm. ‘Pickup.’
Goose drove the boys from the building site to daycare. They walked up to Lollipoppa’s, JT strutting so that he wouldn’t get caught walking faggy if Miss Michelle happened to be looking out the window as the boys approached. Goose extended his arm over the gate. Jojo saw Goose block out the sun, rushed toward the gate and climbed her dad’s arm. Jojo was mostly schoolbag with a little bit of girl.
Kayla saw her dad’s huge white moneymaking grin and fetched her bag and shuffled over to her dad with hands covered in glitter-glue. JT squeezed Kay-kay and sniffed her shampooey hair and she allowed the hug but didn’t hug back. Daddy picking her up was a treat, not something she should get used to. He didn’t even see her most weeks. He spent a lot of nights fighting with Kayla’s skank-ho mum Justice, exchanging a hundred messages, pacing the living room. So what if JT had a little pop-up gigolo advert? How was he supposed to pay child support if he didn’t bring the income in?
Miss Michelle guided little Kayzy-wayzy out of the gate and said Kayla had had a banana-tacular day, whatever the fuck that meant. Finally she crouched and hugged the girl and they smooched each other’s cheeks and giggled.
‘Got some of that for me?’ JT said, winking.
Goose’s hand clamped down on JT’s shoulder. Time to go.
All the way back to the truck JT talked about becoming more than just a weekend fuckboy. He oughta become a proper actual legit stripper, get his cock-thrust worked out, sort some branding. He passed Kay from one sore arm to the other and explained his plan to his friend. JT wouldn’t be the only stripper, it’d be all the boys, and they could learn about properly entertaining the ladies, like tantric styles. Maybe if he got some serious panache goin on he’d get a chance to tittyfuck Miss Michelle. JT checked Kay-kay’s seatbelt was secure and gave her a quick kiss and shut her door. By the time they were strapped in and cruising past the subdivisions built for rich poofs, JT was doing the accounting.
‘See, we could get five hundred bucks per cock per night, five hundy times three, that’s, um, that’s like one-five, Goose. You seen that Facebook ad for TJ Lover-Lover? TJ is actually me, didja know. Thas my alter ego. It’s my name, backwards. I been gigolo-ing undercover.’
‘Real?’ Goose said, and scratched his jaw.
‘I’m tellin you from experience, we could do, like, Magic Mike type shit at daycare. Get into the single mums market. You reckon Miss Michelle’d want a piece?’
‘I’ve got some fatass child support payments to keep up with eh,’ JT whistled, leaning out the window to check out two mums in caps walking prams. ‘Goose, bro, it’s my ex is the problem. She is one greeeeeedy ho. Seriously, she wants two hundy a week, man. And you’re in the hole eighteen thousand bucks from your truck.’
‘Let’s go see Mish. He can be Strippendale Three.’
They slowed, pulled into The Mission’s house, hopped out and trudged up the gravel driveway. ‘Why can’t this guy pave his driveway with fuckin’ concrete like a ordinary dude? Dude’s been studying business for, what, six years now? Imagine the student loan on ’im. That ain’t no business acumen.’
The girls followed their big daddies inside The Mission’s converted sleepout office and immediately sat on two wicker chairs and started looking for pictures of toys in Mish’s magazines.
The Mission – balding, with silver chest hair and an expensive shirt and carefully cultivated stubble – removed his spectacles dramatically as he pushed back his office chair and welcomed his friends.
‘Girls,’ Mish said, ‘Lauren’s inside the house if you wanna go play with her.’ The girls ran to find their little friend. Mish took his glasses off, ready to discuss business, cricked his stiff muscles, making a big deal out of putting down his yellow pencil with a pink rubber on the end. ‘So what can I do for you gentlemen?’
‘Y’know your average person says Wassup, Mish.’
‘Average people are of average intelligence,’ Mish said, leaning back and pairing his fingers like a chess grandmaster. ‘If you want to be proud of being average, hey: who am I to stop you.’
‘Dude, me and the big fella here came to tell ya bout a project,’ JT went, leaning forward and arcing his fingers in the sky. ‘Here’s the pitch: Strippendales.’
‘One word does not a business plan make, Joseph Timothy.’
‘We’ll be strippers, yo. Pay our fuckin child support off, right?’ JT flashed his hypnotic teeth. ‘Get some serious pudenda. Three of us. Power trio. Eh? We need your approval here, Mish. That a awesome plan or what?’
Mish chewed the end of a pencil. ‘A male strip revue, okay, I’m seeing it, I’m seeing it.’ Mish looked to the ceiling. God gave Mish insight, sometimes. ‘Forecast revenue, woooo, let me think: I’m seeing five hundred per person per night, 120 thousand per annum between the four of us… .’
‘The strength implicit in a four-cornered structure is essential for marketing, psychologically. Don’t worry. I have a gentleman in mind.’
- THE NATION’S PREMIER EROTIC PERFORMANCE TROUPE
Gramps was on the door at Meatworks, shooing away 17 year olds and stamping students’ hands, standing stiffly under the heat lamps, stopping fights with his eyebrows. Meatworks was the gay club where Gramps worked security on weeknights. Weekends, he helped take care of his grandchildren because one of the conditions of Gramps’s daughter’s parole was that her family had to take her kids. Gramps had a platinum wig and sunglasses. He was the oldest roadie-slash-bouncer in town. He’d done every segment of showbiz at some point – booking, plastering posters, lighting, and even a couple months as a dancer for MC Hammer. Gramps knew to go with the flow. Every gig paid for toys for his little granddaughter. God knew her mum didn’t do shit for the little lassie.
Gramps raised a palm to halt the line of sweaty drunk guys while he listened to his friends’ pitch.
‘Gramps, bro,’ JT began, flapping his sales fingers, ‘This is your last night working for sixteen bucks fifty an hour. Know why? Tonight’s the night you just got inducted into the nation’s premier erotic performance troupe: The Sensation. That’s what we’re called.’
Gramps lit a smoke and sucked it in. He wasn’t fazed. ‘Thirty percent goes my way. Thirty percent’s a quarter of the 120 percent I’m going to boost your stupid-arse idea. Got that, JT? And you’re almost there with the name. Needs a tweak. The Stirring Sensation. That’s us.’
‘Mean,’ said Goose.
Mish shook his head. ‘Hold up.’ Mish unlocked his phone and opened a spreadsheet app and waved it in Gramps’s face. ‘Expenses. We’ll obviously require a van – wrapped with signage, of course. Website; massages. A vocal coach.’
‘Nah, sall good,’ Gramps explained, ‘Watch and learn, young pup. FUCKBOYS! LISTEN UP!’ The queue of young men in distressed jeans and white shirts craned their necks to listen to the bouncer. ‘We are That Tingling Sensation and we do strip revues. Who wants to book us?’
A man in front with a cocky smile folded his arms. ‘The Tingling Occasion?’
The boys in line started giggling, elbowing, whispering. Somebody blew up a condom balloon and batted it toward the performers.
Gramps squeezed JT’s shoulder. ‘Get your skinny arse on stage. It’s YMCA or the Macarena.’
JT looked panicked. ‘I’m-I’m not properly dressed?’
Mish winked at his friend. ‘That’s the plan.’
Big Goose put a hand around JT’s chest and a hand under JT’s butt and lifted him like a four year old with a dirty nappy onto the stage. Somewhere in the blue and black corners of the club, a DJ turned down the track he was playing and let just a tiny bit of drum machine play beneath Gramps’s voice. A hundred diamond ear studs turned towards the stage where Gramps stood in front of three frightened men.
‘We are That Tingling Sensation – and we don’t perform til everybody’s got a drink in their hand. MAKE IT HAPPEN YOU CUNTS!’
Dozens of men squeezed around the bar, got drinks, crowded the stage.
‘Boys,’ Gramps growled through gritted teeth, ‘Fan out.’ Goose went to the side of the stage and undid his buttons. His pectoral muscles seemed to push the shirt away from his body. Everybody whooped. The Mission undid the top four buttons of his shirt, let a little bit of chest hair spill out. Someone whooped. Someone threw cigarettes and coins on the stage. JT picked up the coins. Mish revealed a hint of muscled shoulder.
‘MY GREAT NIECE HAS GOT HER FOURTH BIRTHDAY PARTY ON LABOUR DAY,’ Gramps yelled at Mish. ‘WE CAN DO A THING AT THE PARTY. NEXT GIG. JUST GOTTA ACE TONIGHT’S ONE.’
By the time they looked over at JT, he was already naked, helicoptering his dick in circles as the saxophones blared DRRRRRRRN, DRN DRN, DRRRRRRRN, DRN DRN, and JT was seizing his cock and balls, pointing the package at the crowd and hopping on his tip-toes to the edge of the stage, following where his penis led him.
The intro ended and the words began, and Gramps’s mouth was the first to open.
‘YOUNG MAN! There’s no need to feel down-
‘I said YOUNG MAN! Pick yourself off the ground, I said-
‘YOUNG MAN! Cause you’re in a new town, there’s no-
‘NEED! TO! BE! UN-HAP-PYyyy.’
JT’s eyes darted around the stage, checking each of the four guys was working hard, taking in the steam, the violet and green lights, Gramps’s hips darting at the audience like rattlesnakes, The Mission whipping his head into cocky poses, and Goose stomping the stage, keeping the beat.
- STRIPPERS FOR NIPPERS
To get to the gig at Gramps’s niece’s place they had to step around a snarling rottweiler and a passed-out woman lying face-down on the driveway, holding a cup of beer. There was a pool party happening. They could hear squealing and splashing. Girls in bikinis left damp patches on the driveway. Inside the house, That Tingling Sensation looked for a place to set up, squeezing between stacked boxes of Bacardi Cruiser, batting helium balloons out of the way, trying not to step on the toes of boy racers in white singlets wearing baseball caps, trying not to step on toddlers.
They gathered in the kitchen and plotted how today’s performance might go. ‘What one’s your granddaughter? Looks like a freaking bunch of kids here, dude.’
‘Did I say granddaughter? I meant great niece. My memory ain’t the best on account of all the acid me and Ozzy used to drop.’
‘Well how old is she, anyway? We talkin teen, pre-teen, dirty thirties, what? We can’t go getting all sexy in fronta little kids.’
Gramps waved the questions away. ‘I haven’t, well okay, truth be told I haven’t met her before, just I heard through the grapevine my great niece was having a party and… yeah, okay, there’s more wee nippers here than anticipated… she’s just family, alright?’ Gramps poured a beer into his mouth, put the bottle between a plate of cocktail sausages and a bowl of Cheezles. ‘Lemme check the address again… .’
‘You’d better not’ve brought us to the wrong house. We can’t very well get started– ’
‘Whuh? We’re on?’ Goose pushed his USB into the laptop connected to the stereo.
The music stopped.
The children stopped.
Thirty teenage mums with sceptical faces gawped as the strippers stepped nervously into the lounge, where there was a small rug-sized area of clear space. Three young men with chewing jaws and wifebeater singlets came to observe, looking up to where Goose’s head ended, just beneath the ceiling.
‘Fuuuuck, you guys,’ JT whispered, ‘What song we doing? We better –
‘Dude! All I can think of is The Lion Sleeps Tonight, I dunno if we have time to– ’
‘And one and two and three and four and– ’
‘IN THE JUNGLE, THE MIGHTY JUNGLE, THE LION SLEEPS TONIIIIIIGHT.’ JT slid onto his knees, squinting as he sang, trying not to bump into the angry young men waiting for a fight.
The lounge was so cramped The Mish had to swat a helium balloon out of the way before he began, in his baritone, ‘In the village, the quiet village, the lion sleeps toniiiiight.’
From the rear, Goose kept up the bass. ‘A weemoway, a weemoway, a weemoway, a weemoway.’
‘A WEEEEEEE!’ Gramps shrugged his leather jacket off, revealing a flat stomach decorated with green prison tattoos and nipple rings and a stripe of silver hair. One by one, That Tingling Sensation wriggled out of their leather jackets, sang a little solo and a lot of harmony. Goose hit the low notes, Gramps and The Mish controlled the middle. JT caught the high notes and, as he soloed, his hands caressed the hair and chins of some of the prettier mums. Little girls watched the fanged man dancing with their mums and grinned with so much pleasure their eyes stretched.
Youths gathered around the ranchslider, elbowing each other, whispering in one another’s ear. The drunken young boyfriends of the drunken young mums were being insulted somehow, but it was taking a while for them to figure out what the insult was. Interlopers had come into the boys’ house and were waving their crotches and pecs around, yet their daughters were happy, their girlfriends were happy.
As the song peaked and That Tingling Sensation pulled cans of whipped cream from their back pockets and painted their chests, spilling foamy chunks on the rug, four year old boys and girls in dripping togs with lollipop patterns flooded into the lounge. The kids squealed and wriggled and fought for space. Goose balanced a child on each shoulder and two on his head and they played with his sunglasses. The Mish let a kid squirt cream into his mouth until his cheeks stretched and the cream erupted down his chin in a white waterfall.
When they realised the music had stopped, That Tingling Sensation put the children down and reached for their jackets.
‘So that’s pretty much it,’ The Mish told the audience, clearing his throat. ‘Normally it’s $800 for a show… 400’s probably an alright deal. Who’s the manager here?’
A young man with tattoos on his neck was tapping a hammer against the palm of his hand. ‘Who. The fuck. Are YOUS?!’
The entertainers put the children down, patted their bottoms to make them flee. There was a fight coming.
‘Anyway, thanks y’all,’ announced Gramps, clapping his hands and pulling his leather jacket back over his nipple rings, ‘We are That Tingling Sensation. Like us on Facebook.’
Someone biffed a Jim Beam bottle. It hit Goose’s skull and bounced off. Goose frowned, scratched his assaulted head, took a moment to tell the slabs of meat at the end of his arms to move, and took another moment to step forward and shove an 18 year old through the ranch slider glass, which broke into squares and spattered over the birthday cake. Goose was raising a beer keg over his head when Gramps stroked his arm.
‘GOOSE! Vamoose.’ Gramps waved a can of whipped cream like mace in the face of one of the wifebeaters. As That Tingling Sensation retreated, they highstepped over 20 stunned children, muttering ‘Thanks a lot’ and ‘Happy birthday, kids,’ and made it past the rottweiler and dropped their jackets and began sprinting.
- LIKE THE FUCKIN’ WIGGLES
JT and Gramps held the gate open and The Mission power-walked towards the daycare. They all had their little girls wrapped around their chests like koalas.
‘Gramps, man – next time we’re gonna do a strip show, you oughta probably tell the venue there’s gonna be a strip show. Common courtesy, y’know.’
Gramps put his cigarette out in a pottle of Play-doh. ‘I’ll concede there was a little confusion as to the target audience. One of our best shows, though, in my opinion.’
‘And there’s gotta BE some stripping, Gramps, know what I’m saying? We were like the fuckin’ Wiggles in there, bro. All shtick, no dick.’ JT stuck a cigarette in his mouth. Miss Michelle walked past holding a baby and frowned at him. JT put his cigarette back in his pocket. ‘Stripping for five year olds? No thanks.’
‘I hear you,’ Gramps said, patting his tiny granddaughter on the bum as she scampered towards the mat, landing on her knees, instantly sitting with her back straight to listen to the fairy tale Miss Colleen began reading from a cardboard book as large as a newspaper.
‘Anyway, it won’t be happening again,’ The Mish said, giving his head a quick shake and waving at his daughter, who was playing with the abacus he’d gifted her. ‘That was a baaad, bad gig, boys. If the parents, the teachers found out about that whole… thing… imagine what it would do to my reputation in the business community.’
‘Watching Tony Robbins DVDs isn’t a business,’ JT began, ‘You’re supposed to be the brains, Bald Boy. Get us some revenue. In fact– Jeeesus.’ JT became hypnotised. ‘Would you look at Miss Michelle gluing that macaroni on the paper. Now THAT’S a mum, boys. She doesn’t need herself a crack pipe like Kay-kay’s fuckin’ mother. A ten out of ten, I’m telling yas. And she’s rooted less than three dudes. Believe me, I checked. Her arse would be tighter than half the kiddies in here, guaranteed.’
The Mish shook his head, walked away from his embarrassing friend, picked up his daughter’s Achievement Folder and began a serious discussion with Miss Michelle, who used her fine jawbone and expressive eyebrows as she explained little Lauren’s progress along the Developmental Pathway.
‘Gramps,’ JT whispered on the way out, resting an elbow on the safety gate, ‘If there’s any royalties you’re holding out on us, pay up, but otherwise: that whole strip thing was… Let’s just call it history.’
Gramps lowered his shades and looked around the quartet. ‘Don’t think I can’t replace yous.’
JT squitted through his teeth and pretended to stretch. ‘I’m off to work, anyway. Let’s roll, Goose. Laters, Mish.’
As he tried to leave, a little girl rushed up and hopped on JT’s foot, straddling his leg with her thighs and squealing ‘It’s you, it’s you!’
‘Gotcha self some groupies,’ Gramps winked.
‘You done a song at my party! Do a song! Do a sooooong!’
Miss Colleen got up off the mat and stood in front of the door, approval shining down from her smiling face. ‘It’s so important to have male role models taking on the functions traditionally expected of the female parent. Are you gracing us with your presence, or… ?’
‘DO HOKEY POKEY!’ Seven other girls got off the mat and mobbed JT, grabbing his knees.
Before JT could tell Goose to bring the truck round, ten girls were sitting on the feet of the big men.
‘HOKEY POKEY! HOKEY POKEY!’
Gramps moved onto the mat where the kids had cleared a space. ‘Boys? I got nothing better to do.’
Goose lumbered over and stood behind Gramps, humming deeply, laying down the bass. Gramps started clicking his fingers while shaking his head. Within ten seconds, every child in the daycare had JT, The Mish, Gramps and Goose surrounded.
Gramps. ‘You put your left foot in –
- ‘You put your left foot out –
Mish. ‘Your put your left foot in –
‘AND YOU SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT.’
Together, revolving, snapping, clomping the heels of their work boots they did the hokey pokey, they turned themselves around, and the children and teachers together cheered That’s what it’s all about!
The kids wanted more. That Tingling Sensation looked at their watches. They were all late for work, but they did the Hokey Pokey again, then Old MacDonald, then the Birdie Dance, with Goose DJing from his cellphone and juggling children. JT picked up little girls one at a time and blew raspberries on their bellies. Gramps tangoed with a little girl with Down Syndrome.
When they chanted, ‘That’s what it’s all aBOUT!’ for the final time and tucked their phones back into their pockets and scurried toward the gate, Miss Michelle followed, drenching them with praise.
They filed out, texting their bosses about why they were late. JT spoke first. ‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, boys: that Miss Michelle? She’s some fine-a vagina. I’ve got a birdie she can dance on.’
‘Don’t do any sex-stuff around the kids, JT. I shouldn’t have to specify that.’
‘That was our final performance, guys, you said it yourselves, remember?’ Gramps told everyone. ‘Don’t go performing any of that shit solo or I’ll sue ya. That Tingling Sensation’s just me now. Copyright. You had your chance. Like when Ozzy and Sabbath split.’
Michelle went and stood under JT’s face, her fringe brushing aginst JT’s nose. ‘What the heck is he talking about? Final performance? You’re not coming back?’
‘Nah nah nah nah nah, no one ever said it’s the final, relaaaaax, babe, Gramps has got dementia,’ JT said, slicking his hair back. ‘We’re just getting started. Ain’t that right, fellas?’
- YOUR DICK’S A LIABILITY
The gig was up ahead, minutes away. No turning back now. There was a billboard for 3F Family Fun Fest, a kilometre away in the domain. It narrowed to 800 metres, 700. Goose gulped a quick six pack, emptying the beer cans into his throat like shots. Gramps sipped the smoke from a blunt; The Mish tossed back two Valiums and washed them down with mineral water. JT sneered at his friends’ pathetic anxiety and sucked the white powder bubbling in his glass pipe.
That Tingling Sensation, as a name, would make parents think they were some kind of kiddy fiddlers, Gramps told everyone from the driver seat as the van rolled onto the grass. They would have to be The Tingles for all these family gigs. Gramps’ ruling was final. They could change back to TTS when they had a platform to be strippers again, Gramps conceded, but for now: a proper target audience. A cohesive vision. And no more whipped cream.
‘And all that shit of yours on Goggle-dot-com,’ Gramps told JT, ‘It’s got to go, you skeezy man-whore.’
‘It’s Goo-gle, and what, you sayin I can’t bring in separate income?’
The Mission pinched JT’s ear. ‘Your black arse appeared as a popup the other day. Said you cost $50 an hour. That’s $49 too much if you ask me. I’ve got your disgusting little dingaling burned on my retinas now.’
‘C’mon bruv. If I’m getting mad puss, I might as well get paid for it.’
‘You get spotted hustling your spotty arse by the media, it’ll be the end of us.’
‘You’re greeeeeeen with envy, cuz. You see that librarian at that Dr Seuss’s Birthday gig? D’you have any idea what her mouth did to me when she took me into the handicap toilet?’
‘I’M SURE HOWEVER DIRTY IT WAS, IT WASN’T AS DIRTY AS JUSTICE’S HOUSE THAT YOUR DAUGHTER’S GOING BACK TO AFTER DAYCARE TODAY. Now cool it, JT. I’m serious. You want custody of Kayla, get your image cleaned up.’
The Mish was nodding. ‘You need to take down your gigolo adverts for as long as this thing lasts, bro.’
‘Fuck.’ JT punched his head once, then put a cold bottle of beer between his thighs and said ‘Ahhh’ as his erection deflated.
‘You need to seriously control that dick of yours,’ said Gramps into the rearview mirror.
‘My dick’s an asset.’
‘YOUR DICK’S A LIABILITY, SHITHEAD.’
The van stopped between a couple of marquees and they jumped down onto soggy grass that splashed their ankles. They had rainbow jackets on and black jeans. Four men; four t-shirts. Orange, yellow, green and purple.
They carried microphone stands the hundred metres to the stage.
‘What’s 3F all about, anyway?’
‘Latter Day Saints Family Foundation. Mormon, in other words.’
‘Mormons, Mormons… they the dudes that get to marry, like twenty bitches each? Real pimpin’ players?’
‘That’s absolutely spot on,’ Mish said, rolling his eyes.
‘Miss Michelle’s gonna be there, you guys know that?’ JT said, ‘Speakin of which: I gotta pick up Kayla at 4, FYI.’
‘Gig comes first,’ Gramps said, sliding an amplifier onto the stage then marching briskly back toward the van.
JT had to shout to be heard over a pantomime horse that was getting wild applause. ‘ACTUALLY MY DAUGHTER COMES FIRST, CUNT.’
‘Lowering overhead costs is first,’ The Mission said plainly, setting up an armful of props, foam and plastic and vinyl, ‘Gotta earn at least nine thousand to get our gear paid off.’
‘Urgh.’ JT sat on the edge of the stage and dawdled his legs while Goose stacked bundles of cables around him. ‘How long’s this whole thing gonna go on for before it all fucks up, you guys?’
‘Thirty minutes,’ The Mission estimated, ‘Unless you fuck it up sooner. Remember: no puppetry of the penis, por favor.’
‘Nah, like in a wider context, how long’s this adventure gonna go for?’
The Mission unlocked his iPhone and read some sort of spreadsheet he’d been working on. ‘After paying off the gear Gramps got from his little mobster friends? Even if this stuff is, shall we say, ‘discounted,’ there are precisely one thousand, five hundred and ninety-two daycare centres, and we need to perform at each. Or just record a special and sell it to ‘em. Better business model, actually.’
‘Actually you can go fuck yourself.’
‘Fuck off then, if you got so much money you don’t need to work,’ Gramps told JT, strapping red suspenders into his pants and wrestling his shoulders inside them. ‘I’m sure that’ll be in your favour when Justice drags your arse to court for missing payments. Your daughter, too.’
After the folk singer performing as the Monarch Butterfly had curled up into a cocoon to await metamorphosis, and was dragged aside after four minutes of inactivity, The Tingles jogged onto the stage single-file, hands on one another’s hips like a locomotive, led by the grinning Gramps, and the domain roared.
From their positions on stage JT could read the placards the children had painted. Be My Daddie, read one. Com 2 my house 4 tea read another.
I LUV u
JT u rule best dad
JT pulled out his phone and checked it. There was a text from Justice about how the fucking government wouldn’t pay for her dentures cause apparently it was her fault her gums had dried up, but that was seriously unfair, cause nobody tells you smoking the pipe makes your gums dry up, and JT baby our power got cut off you gotta come bootie call me and –
‘AND NOW EVERYBODY PLEASE PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER AND GIVE A VERY BIG WELCOME FORRRRRRR THE TINGLESSSSSSSSS!’
Mish: Old McDonald had a –
Gramps: Ee I ee I ohhh!
JT: And on that farm he had the coolest buncha li’l Latter Day Saints I ever did saw!
All: Ee I ee I oh.
They rocked out on Ma Na Ma Na, with Goose thrashing on a plastic drum kit. They did a slow one, Puff the Magic Dragon. They spun Humpty Dumpty into 12 minutes, with elaborate verses Mish had written. They finished with a triple encore of The Wheels On The Bus. The girls and boys and babies wriggled and hopped and whooped. Women held their kids aloft.
Shortly after the gig, signing mums’ chests and placards and posing for photos with little kids, some of whom had silver wigs just like Gramps, That Tingling Sensation packed the van and took care of business. A stage manager wearing a Bluetooth earpiece slipped Gramps a wad of cash as thick as a deck of playing cards and thanked him repeatedly.
‘Biggest gig yet, boys,’ Gramps announced as they drove away. He handed out folded wads of bank notes and pulled his bong out of the glove box, resting it between his knees while he drove. ‘Time we had us an after party!’
‘Just drop me at daycare,’ JT pouted.
‘Gonna share your wad with Miss Michelle, so to speak?’
‘I’m worried about my daughter, ARSEHOLE.’
- KIDDIES SHRIEKED AND WAVED
On a dais in the capital in front of thousands, The Tingles handed the Big Brothers Foundation a cheque for $3000. Crowds clapped and whistled. Kiddies shrieked and waved Tingles flags. Later, in a room behind the stage, The Tingles were handed a $6000 cheque for their appearance.
They did a gig for the Special Olympics. Some sort of 11 year old disabled child became too clingy for JT. The kid said ‘You’re best daddy’ about a hundred times before JT barricaded himself in a portaloo until security took the kid away. There was always security at gigs now. Tickets for their shows had scalper-proof holograms on them.
They performed at Breaking The Cycle intervention picnics for the children of gang members. They got 2000 hardened thugs chanting ‘We are the champions, weee are the chaaaampions’ as Gramps waved the mic over his head from shoulder to shoulder. Children begged bouncers to let them onstage with their idols. Goose hoisted three kids at a time onto his shoulders, let them pull his ears and kick their heels against his chest. Kids with VIP passes sat on the speakers with a prime view of The Mission’s shiny bald head as he hollered She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes.
They played La Leche League BreastFest, the Catholic Kids Camp, the Chipmunks Playland AGM. They played the opening of a private school with its own golf academy. They performed at the launch of an air ambulance for transporting kids between hospitals for kidney transplants. They performed at the quinceañera of the daughter of the Mexican ambassador. They played a block party in a neighbourhood with pitbulls and chain link fences. The Sleepover At The Library. The Coco Puffs Try-a-thlon. Between the bigger shows, they stopped in at daycare centres for more photos with more disabled kids.
Gramps missed home a lot. He was on his mobile all the time, pacing backstage, sometimes sniffling. Goose had to meet his missus on Skype at 9 o’clock every night, no matter where they were. The Mission sent exotic coins to his daughters and they didn’t write back. JT tried to sob to Mish one night in their skyscraper in Singapore about how it seemed like he was spending more time at daycare centres full of strangers than at his own daycare centre, not that it was his, not that Kay-kay was his, either, according to the law. The Mish gave JT some meaningful eye contact, but he was listening to Rich Dad, Poor Dad on his headphones, and JT gave up and tried complaining to Gramps instead.
‘You got my full attention, brother,’ Gramps nodded, adjusting the head of the woman he was with.
‘Whatever, Gramps.’ JT shrugged. There was a tight-skinned, red-lipped 19 year old mum trying to get JT’s attention. JT felt bad messing up the sheets on the bed of any hotel. He told the woman to bring her little daughter to the hotel room and spent the afternoon bouncing with her on the bed and making up silly songs, drumming on the lid of a metal rubbish bin with chopsticks.
Goose entered the room halfway through, to see if JT was banging a groupie in there, saw JT was putting a smile on a little girls’ face, backed out and closed the door softly.
The country’s only all-male all-father pop group were everywhere. They performed on breakfast television across three channels. They had two albums and a best-of on Billboard within a year. Spotify sponsored them. They got features in Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, TIME. There were Tingles memes, mixtapes, stationery. A YouTube clip was going viral. It showed Goose getting caught while out shopping with that little grumpy Japanese wife of his, trying to look incognito in black Ray-Bans, except Goose had worn a rainbow jacket with THE TINGLES stitched in huge pink letters. The person filming begged Goose to sing Bingo Was His Name-O. Goose tried to protest that he didn’t know how to spell Bingo, tried to keep his back to the camera, tried to return to trying on $400 jeans. A crowd formed around the entrance of the shop. Goose’s wife folded her arms and puckered her lips. Someone activated the beats on their portable speaker and Goose stood on the edge of a coin-filled fountain in the food court surrounded by twins and Bingo’d twice, his brow shiny with sweat, Bingo’d yet again and then again until he had to beg mall security to form two human chains with a path between the bouncers’ backs so he could dash toward the Exit sign and cut through the parking lot and disappear into the black hole of his convertible.
The Tingles opened for Katy Perry at Coachella Kids 2018 and Gramps scored a photo of Katy planting a violet-coloured kiss on his cheek backstage and had it printed poster-size and shipped to his great-niece. His great niece didn’t respond. His family were like strangers these days. Gramps needed to get home soon.
The Mission got a star on the Walk of Fame at Starship Children’s Hospital. When enough photos had been taken and he’d shaken 200 hands, the Mish quietly asked the chief executive of the health board if there were any openings available, for the Mish to get involved. Chief Financial Officer or something like that?
The chief executive guffawed and slapped The Mish on his back and said, ‘Nice one. You’re quite the entertainer, my friend.’
JT blew balloon animals for little girls on the street and got punched by their dads, occasionally. Goose waited in the truck til it was all over.
- THE BEST DADDIES
The rise of the Tingles to superstardom didn’t take the hundreds of shows Mish had predicted. The first radio gig had been their 17th performance; their first YouTube vid to pass a million views was their 30th show. The song they did on X-Talent was their 48th performance. They had interviews on all the channels, all the radio, magazines, blog tours. They did a podcast. They filmed Snapchats in crazy places. JT’s ex-missus chucked up old pictures of JT on Instagram, trying to impress all her friends that MY BABY DADDY’S FAMOUS, BITCHES. They interviewed the prime minister in a ball pit on Cray Z TV and made the prime minister sing Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes with them. They passed the 70 show mark, 90 shows, 100. Stadiums, airports, schools. Recording a live performance for Netflix went from an idea to a contract within a week. Commercials worth a total of eight figures were sold within three days. The live recording would be their 151st performance. Every child in the nation would watch.
They followed the production manager to the curtained-off stage thirty minutes before Mingle With The Tingles was recorded live in front of 1000 kids with leukaemia and diabetes and spina bifida. ‘You guys are seriously THE BEST daddies,’ the production manager told them, ‘I wish my husband was like you. Here’s the spot, anyway. Test your mics. Run through the songs if you want. I know the volume level’s good. Lights will be here, here and here.’
Gramps, mellowed with half a tab of acid, roamed the black stage and stroked pots of plastic sunflowers. He tried to hum the lyrics to Shiny Happy People but couldn’t hear himself, drowned by an ocean of squealing kids just beyond the curtain.
There was eight minutes to go til super-stardom.
‘ …and my husband never, like, reads to our girls, I mean forget about singing songs, y’know?’ the makeup girl, was saying, chewing gum and clutching her palate with one hand, covering up JT’s hickies with a foundation brush. ‘What is it with men being all shy about singing in public, I mean like what the fuck, y’know?’
‘Sounds like the old me,’ JT mumbled, taking the beer bottle out of his pants. It had become warm and hadn’t managed to shrink his dick down enough. ‘Hey, you got a cold beer on you?’
‘Here you go, big boy,’ she said, winking as she pulled a cold can from the pouch on her belt. The Tingles’ rider specified that cold Heinekens must always be avaible for JT. ‘So you ever done a live simulcast before?’
‘Nah… Shit, I mean, this time last year I was nicking the copper wire from the building site for an extra twenty bucks a week for hair gel.’
‘Oh. You’re the funny one, I get it,’ the makeup girl said. ‘Here: mirror.’ She put her lips against his ear and her tongue brushed his flesh as softly as the foundation duster. ‘After the show I’ll be here. For you.’
JT looked at himself in the circle of glass, rubbed his neck, hoping the real JT would come through the makeup. ‘I was gonna… man. I was supposed to phone my li’l girl. What time zone are we in?’
The makeup girl whispered in his ear, ‘You can do that anyday. I’m flying out tomorrow. Tonight I’m yours.’ JT pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to think up a way out of the pussy-filled pit he was buried in. He took his pipe from his pants, turned it over in his fingers while the makeup girl painted his eyes, and stuck the pipe down his crotch.
The Tingles came out of their dressing rooms. Each strapped on a stringless guitar and walked into their positions on stage. Gramps clapped his hands. ‘BOYS: fifty seconds.’
Lights began to hit their faces. They stood in Hawaiian shirts and shorts with their fronts facing towards the curtain.
Ting-GULLS! Ting-GULLS! Ting-GULLS!
A hailstorm of applause. Screaming kids. Mums melting with lust.
Gramps stood in a wide stance, ready to confront the cameras. He said a last few words with his mouth over his shoulder. ‘I don’t need to remind you cocksuckers: we’re live. So don’t fuck this up.’
‘Sorted,’ Mish said.
‘Yup,’ Goose said.
‘JT? You with us? You look distracted.’
A drumroll thundered inside the speakers above them. ‘AND NOW, BOYS AND GIRLS, THE COOLEST DADS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD: GIVE IT UP FOR THE TING-ALLLLLLLLSSSSSSSS!’
800 parents, 30 reporters, 16 camera operators, twenty sound guys, 100 gaffers, assistants, runners, mic operators, directors, electricians, 1000 children, and JT staring into the blackness as the curtain lifted. Blinded, all he could see was BE MY DAD scrawled in green crayon on cardboard.
Goose began clicking and tapping his foot. ‘One and two and three and SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE HOLDING HAND–
‘Bro?’ Goose whispered.
‘HOLD UP A MINUTE.’ The music ceased. The crowd shut up. Carried by his headset, JT’s voice broadcast farther than he’d ever heard it, echoing against a wall he couldn’t see. The crowd had to be 80 rows deep. Cellphones everywhere, little red eyes recording him. JT was fiddling with his belt buckle for some reason… adjusting his pants? Now?
I LOVE YOU JT, a little girl’s voice called.
COME TO MY HOUSE!
PLAY PONIES WITH ME!
‘Sorry boys and girls, we’ve got some technical squirrels!’ Gramps chuckled, although he wasn’t really laughing. ‘JT, you knucklehead: what’s up?’
‘This here’s up,’ JT said, reaching down his pants for a pipe or his penis or God knew what JT was planning to do on live television. JT’s stunt was obliterated as Goose tackled him so hard they smashed through the wall of smiley-faced flowers and landed in a pile of mangled mikes and crushed ribs and squashed security and Goose’s knee destroying that troublesome thing between JT’s legs.
- THAT WHOLE TINGLES THING’S DONE WITH
The Family Court said JT wasn’t allowed inside the daycare, but Kayla was stoked that her daddy took her to the gate every morning, at least. He’d bought her a haircut and now there was no fringe hiding her pretty face. Her cheeks shone and her eyes spilled warmth. Her daddy had delivered her to daycare, full stop. Didn’t matter that much if he came inside. He tried to sing to whatever kids would listen from outside the gate but it wasn’t the same. JT’s voice was weak on its own. His Bird Is the Word was out of sync and he forgot some of the lines. Gramps had said something about doing solo albums each, said his mate Gene Simmons couldn’t speak highly enough of doing solo shit to reinforce the marketability of the group, but for JT, solo just meant alone.
Miss Michelle saw lonesome JT looking in through the window, came out and handed him a coffee.
‘Sorry you have to stay out here,’ Miss Michelle said. She pulled a happy mask on. ‘Hey, by the way, I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do.’
‘You don’t mean helicoptering my dick around, do ya? Cause I had a wee visit from the cops and– ’
‘I’m not talking about that.’
‘Sorry to burst ya bubble if you want, like, private renditions of Rockin’ Robin but that whole Tingles thing’s done with. I’m no good solo.’
‘I think you’re doing just great solo. Besides, I was talking about the other thing you can do.’
‘D’you mean me hitting you from behind while I pinch your nipples? Cause on my pop-up ad thingy it says I’ve got a special on this month for forty bucks an hour and– ’
‘I meant I was hoping to see you and Kayla put on a bit of a show for me.’ Miss Michelle fluttered her eyelashes. ‘Pleeease?’
‘Whoa – oh, uh – ’
‘You can do a duet. With Kay-kay. This weekend. Come stay at mine. Oh – unless your wife’s – ’
‘My wife’s nothin. We’ll be there.’
‘Great,’ Miss Michelle said, returning inside Lollipoppa’s. ‘See ya then.’
‘Bonjour madames e mademoiselles.’ The Mish was approaching with little girls dangling off each hand. The Mish had invested some of his Tingles money in new shoes and crisp new shirts. JT had only $900 left after court costs and he’d just broken even on his Singapore apartment and he couldn’t return the Humvee he’d bought. It cost $180 to fill the gas tank so it just sat on his lawn. He’d tried putting up a sign that said Play in A Real Humvee $5 but no one on his dead end street had five bucks, or even two bucks, plus no one trusted their kids around him anymore since that thing on TV. He’d sell the Hummer soon enough, then maybe kill himself. Unless things went alright with Miss Michelle.
‘Mission Man. When you graduate special ed again?’
‘It’s the College of Business Studies and graduation’s in November,’ the Mish said. His girl stood rigid, perfect posture, waiting for her father to finish his business discussion, like she’d been taught. ‘I’ll be going into the entertainment industry, no doubt about it. I actually need to have a yarn to Gramps. He in there?’
‘Gramps has been and gone. He dropped his li’l lady off then flew the fuck outta here. Touring with The Stones for four weeks.’
‘True,’ the Mish said. ‘Goose inside?’
‘Yup. Playing with some kids. Pleased to announce not everyone’s reputation is ruined. Just mine and the group’s.’
‘Oh hey, JT, speaking of reputations, I got it framed.’
‘Got what framed? Gold record or something?’
‘Nah, I got it framed, I mean, the front page of the Herald that says ‘Entertainer Attempts To Expose Self on TV.’
‘Exposure’s essential,’ JT said. ‘That’s marketing 101. You taught me that, remember?’
‘I like the subheading,’ the Mish continued, ‘Lifetime Ban Likely, Say Police. Record fine handed down to network.’
‘Anyways, I’m gonna wait for the kids,’ JT sighed, ‘See you at the playground or whatever.’
‘Wait for the kids? Ain’t you got a job?’
‘Yeah I got a job, motherfucker,’ JT said, ‘I’m a dad.’
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