Chapter One – The Suicide

“I DON’T KNOW what the fuck I’m doing here, Jack. I just wanna rock, you know?”

I can think of no sadder sight, really, than my best friend Fooz sitting there in that cubicle of his—and there we were, on a Friday night, two hours away from the punk rock show of the year, and Fooz with a stack of documents on his desk he had to have sifted and sorted and pored through by Saturday morning. A stack of documents five or six feet high.

I felt for him, I really did.

“I’d help you with this, Fooz, but you know that’s illegal and unethical and all that. Besides, I can’t spend more than two seconds reading those things without falling asleep.”

He shook his head with disgust, looking down at the desk and tapping a paperclip, trapped in the contradictions of his life. Fooz Pinkley: guitar player and front man for The Fooz Pinkley Experience.

Fooz Pinkley: paraglegal.

Fooz Pinkley: a man ready to explode.

It always shook me a bit to see him in this environment— confined to a desk, in the offices of the third or fourth largest law offices in Los Angeles. Sitting there with his hair slicked back and his old-man glasses on. He belonged out there on the stage: strutting, pumping his fist, and playing the only way he knows how: hard and fast.

But everyone has to eat, even the great Fooz Pinkley. That’s why he became a paralegal.

I had a sip of Starbucks and cleared my throat.

“You might as well just attack this stack. It’s not going to disappear on its own, you know.”

“I know, I know. But it’s a fucking Friday night, Jack. And I was supposed to play tonight. And here I am.”

“Work is work, Fooz. Sometimes you have to suck it up and push through.”

“Do you see any of the partners here, Jack?”

“No…”

“Do you see any of the other paralegals here, Jack?”

“No…”

“So why am I here, JACK?”

He looked around wildly, clutching the arms of the chair, teeth clenched, on a rollercoaster about to plummet to the bottom of the tracks. Every bit of him shook with unbelievable intensity. He grabbed the pink “stress ball” sitting on his desk—you know, one of those squishy little things you’re supposed to squeeze to vent your frustrations?—but instead of squeezing it he leapt out of his chair and into the hall way and, screaming at the top of his lungs, hurled the ball as hard as he could. I noticed uneasily that he threw like a six-year-old girl.

The ball bounced noiselessly down the carpet and rolled slowly to a stop a few feet in front of the breakroom door.

Fooz paced back and forth, grinding fist into palm.

“You don’t understand what this is like, Jack. You have a cool job. You’ve never worked in an environment like this.”

“I work plenty of late nights. Sixteen, twenty hour days.”

“Yeah, sure. And then you don’t work for two fucking months. That’s not a job, man!”

“That’s the way television works. You know that. Feast and famine. But when you do work, you work your ass off.”

“Yeah, well let me tell you something.” He plopped back down into the chair and pointed one black-painted fingernail at me. “The legal world has never heard of the word ‘hiatus’, all right? There’s no rest, man, at least not for the wage slaves of the world like me.”

“Wage slave? You make $90,000 a year!”

“You know what I mean. Metaphorically, I’m a wage slave. Sure, I make decent scratch. But what about Joe Rosenblum? He makes fifteen times what I make, and while I’m sitting here highlighting the word ‘intended’ four thousand times in this stack of depositions, he’s probably getting blown somewhere in Century City by a top-notch transexual. Come on, man, don’t you see?”

“See what? I see that you’d better get started.”

“No way. Bullshit. I refuse.”

He sat back in the chair with a petulant look on his face. Then he spontaneously began to play air guitar, banging his head back and forth. His eyes opened up just a bit and seeing that half-lidded look I could tell he was in the arms of the muse, was about to write a new song. He growled:

 

Rise up! Right Now!
America is the Land of the Cow!
I Want My Rights, I Want Them Now!
Rise up! Right Now!
Life is as ephemeral(Rise up! Right Now!)
As the ink on an Albertson’s receipt
(Rise up! Right Now!)
Take it to the bridge!

 

He sat back in his chair, panting, with that trademark Fooz Pinkley grin: just the two front teeth showing, the cat who ate the canary. Proud of himself and confident in his abilities as an artist. Then he scratched himself and looked from side to side as if he’d awakened in a strange place. The grin slowly dissolved and the look of anger and consternation returned, the reality of that big stack of depositions snatching him from his sweet guitar-playing reverie like an infant from a mother’s arms.
Poor Fooz.“It’s too bad this thing happened on such short notice,” I said.“I have half a mind to walk away from this paperwork, go home, and get my Flying V. ”“Doesn’t this case go to court on Monday?”“Yeah, and?”“So do the gig tonight and finish the work over the weekend. Big deal.”“No can do, bro-en-heim. Rosenblum wants this shit on his desk first thing tomorrow morning. Guy hasn’t been here in two days but he wants ME to finish by tomorrow morning, so he can take his sweet time reviewing everything.”Fooz got up out of his chair and stood ramrod straight. I could tell it was time for one of his Nazi routines.“You must hef these done by der weekend, Pinkley! Saturday morning I finish mein Tennis and come straight to der office! I hef long weekend preparing case!”“A Nazi named ‘Rosenblum’, huh?”Fooz plopped down again.“Oh, you know what I mean, Jack. Again, metaphorical. Why do I have to always point out the obvious to you.”“So what if Rosenblum doesn’t show up to work tomorrow?”“He will. Trust me, he will. He’s been out of the office for two days, which means his old withered ass will be back with a vengeance—screaming at me, throwing hi-liters, the whole deal.”Fooz stared off into space. The place was completely silent. We were high above the scrum of the street scene below, above the tipsy half-staggering suits and the women with pretty rear ends in business attire and the homeless staring out with crack-deadened eyes from the dark hollows of the crumbling 1940s edifices all around. In that moment I could feel Fooz’s misery. If you took an X-ray of the Bank Tower building you would see a dozen lonely souls working in its vast confines, two of them us, sitting there in that well-lit and desolate office where everyone else had left for the day, left for the weekend. For them, Monday was a dreadful thing shoved far back enough in the skullpan to forget; but for my pal Fooz, it was a stark and ineluctable reality. Monday was already here.He dug absently in one nostril and withdrew the finger and looked at the long, green, dryish extraction.
“Old man Rosenblum. Old bastard Rosenblum. It’s time for my nightly routine. Follow me.”

He got up and walked down the hallway, his Chuck Taylor-clad feet padding softly on the carpet, holding his booger-encrusted finger in the air like Socrates.

I followed behind him, thinking about my date that night with Amber. I hadn’t been laid in weeks, and the thought of her curvaceous bod was making me agitated.

“I gotta go, Fooz. I gotta date at eight o’clock.”

“No way, Jack. You can’t go yet.”

“I’m sorry you’re in this situation, all right, but after all. I gotta go on with my life.”

“Fuck you.”

We stopped in front of an oak door at the end of the hallway. A gold placard on the door read:

 

 

JOSEPH ROSENBLUM

 

Fooz tried the knob.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“You got a credit card on you, Jack?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a credit card. What about it?”

“Give me one you don’t care if it gets fucked up or not.”

I looked up and down the hallway and fumbled for my wallet.

“Are there cameras here?”

“Just in the lobby. They only put in cameras so they can tell who comes in and at what time.”

I handed him my Paypal Mastercard. He slipped it into the door slat and jiggled it up and down underneath the latch.

“What the hell you doing, Fooz?”

“I do this every time he makes me work overtime.”

“Do what?”

“I wipe a booger on the back of the big Rauschenberg print behind his desk. I’d say, conservatively, there’s two or three hundred nuggets back there.”

The doorlatch popped. The knob turned. It was dark in there. To the left was a large window and I could see red tail lights of the cars far below down on Flower Street. Fooz’s hand made a whispering sound as he ran it along the wall to his right.

“Where’s the fucking light?”

He found it and flipped it.

It was a smallish office, just a desk and a potted plant in one corner and the Rauschenberg print on the wall. The print caught my eye. At first I didn’t know what I was seeing. It looked more like a painting than a print; in fact, it looked like the paint was still drying, a moist dark maroon congealing slowly under the dim fluorescent office lighting…

Wait a minute…the paint was on the wall, too…it was everywhere…oh shit.

My eyes didn’t want to follow the logical path from the print on the wall down to the person sitting at the desk but I made them do it, I looked, and of course there was a person there. Rosenblum. He was slumped down in his chair so far it looked like he was about to fall out, elbows on the armrests, black and silver tie draped over one shoulder, eyes wide open, mouth agape, the left side of his head a sticky dried mess of bone and blood and little dried strands of gray hair.

“Well whaddya know,” said Fooz. “I’ve been waiting for this day.”

He walked over to the side of the desk and pointed.

“There it is. Looks like a 12 gage. Both barrels. He musta done it late last night. Said he was going on a business trip for a few days. I guess it’s the last trip he’ll ever take…heh heh.”

I couldn’t stop looking into Rosenblum’s dead gray eyes. With a corpse in the room the air seemed completely still, as if time itself was slowing down in the presence of death.

I suddenly felt as if I were going to vomit. It must have showed on my face because Fooz yelled out:
“NO! DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, JACK! YOU’RE GONNA FUCK EVERYTHING UP!”

He shoved me out of the office and down the hallway. At the end of the hallway I could see the breakroom and the little stress ball sitting there. I ran towards the breakroom at top speed and found a sink and it came out of me in one violent rush. Just once did the trick. I turned the faucet on and tried to wash yellowish half-digested strands of tofu and Yakisoba noodles down the drain.

I looked around to see Fooz standing there with a smirk on his face, shaking his head in disgust.

“Gross, man. Fucking gnarly.”

“Sorry. I never saw anything like that before.”

“What, Rosenblum? Man, I am so stoked about this.”

“What do you mean, ‘stoked’?”

“I mean stoked. As in, the case is definitely off for Monday.”

“But…shouldn’t we call the police? There’s a guy in there with half his head blown off!”

“Yeah, so what. Everyone will get suspicious when he doesn’t show up Monday morning…and I’ll be sitting there twiddling my thumbs with the depositions all ready to go…or not…”

“You mean you’re just gonna let him sit there?”

“I mean I’m just gonna let him sit there.”

I stood up from the sink. There was a little bit of puke on the collar of my shirt, just a blot of pale yellow. My stomach did a slow roll.

“I guess he’s dead no matter how you look at it…we might as well have some fun…”

Fooz clapped me on the back of the shoulder.

“Exactly. Never forget that there’s us, and there’s them…we wanna destroy the system and everything guys like Rosenblum stand for. If they kill themselves, all the better. It’ll save us the hassle when the Revolution comes.”

“Uh…right.”

“I’m going to call the boys. I think we can still make the gig. Why don’t you bring that black girlfriend of yours? It’s gonna be ‘off the chain,’ as the saying goes.”

 
 
 

THE HOUSE LIGHTS came down and the pink strobe lights came on. The smoke machine kicked in. The crowd cheered. Cellphone cameras flashed in the near dark. A kick drum: BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Then the snare: BOOM. TACK! BOOM BOOM TACK! The snaky electric tendrils of guitar, winding up and down the drumbeat like vines on a trellis: BwaaarrRRRdedeleDAERRRR…

Now the crowd was in a frenzy. I had my arms around Amber, her big solid rump pushing into my crotch. I made a move for her right breast. She slapped my hand away.

A bass chord erupted. The crowd went wild. The spotlight flashed on Fooz: button-up white shirt (untucked, of course); ironic purple Calvin Klein tie to match his purple Gibson Flying V; hair meticulously hair-sprayed into a near-random mess of greasy-looking spires. He nodded his head up and down, trancing hard to the bassline.

I made a swipe at Amber’s left breast. She slapped my hand away again.

Fooz walked up to the microphone.

“This is a little song I wrote today,” said Fooz. “It’s about you and somebody you know. It’s called ‘Land of the Cow’.

“Onetwothreefour OnetwothreeFOUR…”