Shiny, Shiny: A novel by Michael O'Flaherty
The bike was leaning up against the garage door. Jane got on and rode down the sidewalk. The grass on the lawns was turning brown, thinning to reveal the dark, hard earth underneath. A few snowflakes fell in the cold, windless air around Jane as she sped past the rows of suburban homes, all quiet in the afternoon. The grey early-winter sky seemed particularly bright. Becca was right about that, Jane thought. She passed a forest of tall pine trees on her left, then turned right over a little cobblestone bridge across a brook. The houses in this area had a rustic atmosphere, set away from the road under low, bushy trees. Jane pulled into a gravel driveway, skidding to a halt. A treble-rattling roar drifted over from somewhere behind the house. Jane propped the bike against a tree trunk, then walked across the yard. The racket was coming from a box-like concrete bunker. Built by the house’s previous owner as a safe haven in the event of massive Communist nuclear assault, it now made an ideal base of operations for the son of the current occupants, Dog Dicks axeman extraordinaire Skippy Preminger. The group were staggering to the finale of their recently-composed venture into epic alt-country, “A Fistful of Alpo.” As Jane entered the bunker, the performance terminated uncertainly amid mutual recrimination. “I said ‘D flat major,’ motherfucker,” spat Skippy. “What the fuck was that shit?”
“Dude, that was D flat major,” said Jonas wearily, tuning his bass.
“Like fuck it was.”
“You lot are wankers, the pair of you,” hissed a viciously effete voice. “This song is crap. It’s got fuck-all to do with the real issues, innit? Riots in Brixton, NF recruiting down the pub, one million unemployed. No future, that’s what we’ve got. And you poncy gits are ’avin’ us do songs about cowboys.”
Skippy rolled his eyes. “Oh for fuck’s sake, Max . . .”
“Richard! Richard Shit!” Richard/Max glared and adjusted his white-plastic-rimmed sunglasses. He was wearing bondage pants and a U2 t-shirt with “ARE FUCKING WANKERS” scrawled in magic marker under the band’s name. Rat traps, dog treats and cigarette butts were stapled onto his outfit at random. “That’s me fucking name, mate. And you’d bloody well better use it. Or do you fancy me calling you ‘Tory Poofter’?”
“Actually, I thought that song sounded pretty hot,” said Jane. “But you know me, the more ear-wrenchingly wretched you boys are, the better I like it. Still, as far as tonight goes, you probably need to practice a bit more if you don’t want the crowd to bombard you with garbage. Either that or spike the punch with something really strong.”
Richard Shit grinned at Jane. “You’re a cheeky lass, you are. I don’t ’arf fancy you.”
Jane smiled coquettishly. “Nothing in this world would fulfill me more as a woman than becoming Mrs. Richard Shit.”
Richard nodded, still smiling. “Heh heh. Saucy. Right, then. We’ll move into me council house together, after me band brings off The Second Greatest Rock and Roll Swindle. But you’ll have to make me bangers and mash like me mum did when I was a lad.” He turned to the band. “You lot can sod off. I’m ’avin’ a fag.” He tapped a Player out of the pack.
Skippy snickered. “Blow him for me, willya?”
Richard reddened. He shook his fist at Skippy. “Bloody Yanks! Daft bastards!” He lit his cigarette and stalked off.
Alison and Jonas were cuddling in the corner. Jane sat down next to them on a milk crate. “Hey guys. What’s going on?”
Alison smiled. “Hey Jane.”
Jonas grinned, shaking his head. “Oh man. I mean, you see what a disaster this is. Buzz over there got ahold of some kind of weird elephant sedatives or something.” He gestured toward the drummer, slumped across the high-hat, a thin line of spittle extending at a right-angle from the corner of his mouth to the floor. “He’s fine when he’s on, but he keeps zoning in and out. Richard has a bag of sulfate he got from some Australian dudes at a club over in Middleview. He’s gonna blast a few lines up Buzz’s nose before we go on tonight.”
“Now, Richard’s real name is Max Greenbaum, right?”
“Yeah. He used to have dreads, too. Alison told you how we used to be a nu-metal band, right?”
“Yeah, weren’t you called Silent Shriek or something?”
“Silent Scream. God, did we suck. We had this one song where Richard, or Max as he was then, actually rhymed ‘womb,’ ‘doom,’ ‘tomb’ and ‘numb.’ In one verse.
“Oh yeah! Actually, Richard was the only one who was really into nu-metal. Skippy liked playing it because he could throw in all those showy, complicated time signatures he likes—the guy basically lives for Rush. And Buzz is always pretty much along for the ride. As for me . . . Well, these guys have been my best friends since we were kids. And anyway, all the other bands were playing emo. Fuckin’ privileged, self-pitying white-boy shit, I’ll give you something to whine about. At least nu-metal had some anger, along with the self-pity.”
Jane grinned. “I don’t know. I really like some emo.”
“Well yeah—you’re a girl.” Alison gave Jonas a disapproving look and he slumped forward in chagrin. “Sorry, that was indefensibly sexist. My political consciousness degenerates really fast when I’m in a band setting.”
Jane assumed a papal posture, an arm extended over Jonas’s head. “You are forgiven. Please continue.”
Jonas grinned. “Thanks. So anyway, I thought I’d show Max this movie about ’70s punk I had on VHS, just to show him there was other stuff out there. Well, my plan worked—way better than I intended. I saw Max’s eyes start to glaze over and glitter when Johnny Rotten came on—it’s the same look I’ve seen on Alison’s sister when she’s watching Miley Cyrus. ‘I love you, I want to be you.’ I didn’t see him for a couple days, then when I did, he was Richard Shit. He’s Richard everywhere now, even with his parents—they’re liberal psychiatrists, so they’re letting him work it out on his own, and taking notes, probably. I think it’s harmless, I mean he’s always gotten really fanatical about whatever he’s into. It won’t last forever, but I’m glad it’s happening, because it really changed the band for the better. He told me he wanted to turn us into a ’77-style punk band, and I was totally down with that. Skippy was fit to be tied, but we had him out-voted—Buzz was passed out in the yard. So, over like a week, Richard wrote all these songs—‘Cash For Gash,’ ‘Roach Motel,’ ‘Unamused By You.’ They’re vile, but brilliant—all this weird aggression, and a totally authentic period feel. Although that’s kind of the problem, too—on some level, Max-slash-Richard actually believes that he’s English and it’s 1977. I mean, the guy wrote a song called ‘There’s A Dole Queue In Front Of Me Tower Block,’ for Christ’s sake! I tried to steer him in a more topical political direction—we co-wrote one called ‘Blow Up The Green Zone.’ Richard was lukewarm about it at first, he thought it was too socially responsible as a statement. Of course, when Skippy became hysterical about how it was gonna get us banned from every venue in the county, Richard insisted we feature it prominently in our set. Come tonight, you’ll see.”
“Yeah, I await it with bated breath.” Jane turned to Alison. “I was gonna go meet up with Becca, then catch up with you at the school dance, but I’ve been calling her all afternoon and she hasn’t answered.”