It became their motto, and Jonesy couldn’t for the life of him remember which of them started saying it first. Payback’s a bitch, that was his. Fuck me Freddy and half a dozen even more colorful obscenities originated with Beaver. Henry was the one who taught them to say What goes around comes around, it was the kind of Zen shit Henry liked, even when they were kids. SSDD, though; what about SSDD? Whose brainstorm had that been?
Didn’t matter. What mattered was that they believed the first half of it when they were a quartet and all of it when they were five and then the second half of it when they were a quartet again.
When it was just the four of them again, the days got darker. There were more fuck-me-Freddy days. They knew it, but not why. They knew something was wrong with them-different, at least-but not what. They knew they were caught, but not exactly how. And all this long before the lights in the sky. Before McCarthy and Becky Shue.
SSDD: Sometimes it’s just what you say. And sometimes you believe in nothing but the darkness. And then how do you go along?
1988: Even Beaver Gets the Blues
To say that Beaver’s marriage didn’t work would be like saying that the launch of the Challenger space shuttle went a little bit wrong. Joe “Beaver” Clarendon and Laurie Sue Kenopensky make it through eight months and then kapow, there goes my baby, somebody help me pick up the fuckin pieces.
The Beav is basically a happy guy, any of his hang-out buddies would tell you that, but this is his dark time. He doesn’t see any of his old friends (the ones he thinks of as his real friends) except for the one week in November when they are together every year, and last November he and Laurie Sue had still been hanging on. By a thread, granted, but still hanging on. Now he spends a lot of his time-too much, he knows-in the bars of Portland’s Old Port district, The Porthole and The Seaman’s Club and The Free Street Pub. He is drinking too much and smoking too much of the old rope-a-dope and come most mornings he doesn’t like to look at himself in the bathroom mirror; his red-rimmed eyes skitter away from his reflection and he thinks I ought to quit the clubs. Pretty soon I’m gonna have a problem the way Pete’s got one. Jesus-Christ-bananas.
Quit the clubs, quit the partying, good fuckin idea, and then he’s back again, kiss my bender and how ya doin. This Thursday it’s the Free Street, and damned if there isn’t a beer in his hand, a joint in his pocket, and some old instrumental, sounds a little bit like The Ventures, pouring from the juke. He can’t quite remember the name of this one, which was popular before his time. Still, he knows it; he listens a lot to the Portland oldies station since he got divorced. Oldies are soothing. A lot of the new stuff… Laurie Sue knew and liked a lot of it, but Beaver doesn’t get it.
The Free Street is mostly empty, maybe half a dozen guys at the bar and another half a dozen shooting eightball in the back, Beaver and three of his hang-out buddies in one of the booths, drinking draft Millers and cutting a greasy deck of cards to see who pays for each round. What is that instrumental with all the burbling guitars? “Out of Limits'? “Telstar'? Nah, there’s a synthesizer in “Telstar” and no synth in this. And who gives a shit? The other guys are talking about Jackson Browne, who played the Civic Center last night and put on a kick-ass show, according to George Pelsen, who was there.
“I’ll tell you something else that was kick-ass,” George says, looking at them impressively. He raises his undershot chin, showing them all a red mark on the side of his neck. “You know what that is?”
“Hickey, ain’t it?” Kent Astor asks, a bit timidly.
“You’re fuckin-A,” George says. “I was hanging around the stage door after the show, me and a bunch of other guys, hopin to get Jackson’s autograph. Or maybe, I don’t know, David Lindley. He’s cool.”
Kent and Sean Robideau agree that Lindley is cool-not a guitar god, by any means (Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is a guitar god; and Angus Young of AC/DC; and-of course-Clapton), but very cool just the same. Lindley has great licks; he has awesome dreads, as well. All down to his shoulders.
Beaver doesn’t join in the talk. All at once he wants to get out of here, out of this stale going-nowhere bar, and cop some fresh air. He knows where George is going with this, and it’s all a lie.
Her name wasn’t Chantay, you don’t know what her name was, she blew right past you like you weren’t there, what would you be to a girl like her anyway, just another working-class longhair in another working-class New England town, into the band bus she went and out of your life. Your fuckin uninteresting life. The Chantays is the name of the group we’re listening to, not the Mar-Kets or the BarKays but the Chantays, it’s “Pipeline” by the Chantays and that thing on your neck isn’t a hickey it’s a razor burn.
He thinks this, then he hears crying. Not in the Free Street but in his mind. Long-gone crying. It goes right into your head, that crying, goes in like splinters of glass, and oh fuck, fuck me Freddy, somebody make him stop crying.
I was the one who made him stop, Beaver thinks. That was me. I was the one who made him stop. I took him in my arms and sang to him.
Meanwhile George Pelsen is telling them about how the stage door finally opened, but it wasn’t Jackson Browne who came out, not David Lindlev, either; it was the trio of chick singers, one named Randi, one named Susi, and one named Chantay. Yummy ladies, oh so tall and tasty.
“Man,” Sean says, rolling his eyes. He’s a chubby little fellow whose sexual exploits consist of occasional field-trips to Boston, where he eyes the strippers at the Foxy Lady and the waitresses at Hooters. “Oh man, fuckin Chantay.” He makes jacking-off gestures in the air. At that, at least, Beav thinks, he looks like a pro.
“So I started talkin to them… to her, mostly, Chantay, and I ast her if she’d like to see some of the Portland night-life. So we…”
The Beav takes a toothpick from his pocket and slides it into his mouth, timing the rest out. All at once the toothpick is just what he wants. Not the beer in front of him, not the joint in his pocket, certainly not George Pelsen’s empty kahoot about how he and the mythical Chantay got it on in the back of his pickup, thank God for that camper cap, when George’s Ram is rockin, don’t come knockin.
It’s all puff and blow, Beaver thinks, and suddenly he is desperately depressed, more depressed than he has been since Laurie Sue packed her stuff and moved back to her mother’s. This is utterly unlike him, and suddenly the only thing he wants is to get the fuck out of here, fill his lungs with the cool, salt-tanged seaside air, and find a phone. He wants to do that and then to call Jonesy or Henry, it doesn’t matter which, either one will do; he wants to say Hey man, what’s going on and have one of them say back Oh, you know, Beav, SSDD. No bounce, no play.
He gets up. “Hey, man,” George says. Beaver went to Westbrook junior College with George, and then he seemed cool enough, but juco was many long beers ago. “Where you goin?” “Take a leak,” Beaver says, rolling his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.
“Well, you want to hurry your bad ass back, I’m just getting to the good part,” George says, and Beaver thinks crotchless panties. Oh boy, today that old weird vibe is strong, maybe it’s the barometer or something.
Lowering his voice, George says, “When I got her skirt up-” “I know, she was wearin crotchless panties,” Beaver says. He registers the look of surprise-alnost shock-in George’s eyes but pays no attention. “I sure want to hear that part.”
He walks away, walks toward the men’s room with its yellow-pink smell of piss and disinfectant, walks past it, walks past the women’s, walks past the door with OFFICE on it, and escapes into the alley. The sky overhead is white and rainy, but the air is good. So good. He breathes it in deep and thinks again. No bounce no play. He grins a little.
He walks for ten minutes, just chewing toothpicks and clearing his head. At some point, he can’t remember exactly when, he tosses away the joint that has been in his pocket. And then he calls Henry from the pay phone in Joe’s Smoke Shop, up by Monument Square. He’s expecting the answering machine-Henry is still in school-but Henry is actually there, he picks up on the second ring.
“How you doing, man?” Beaver asks. “Oh, you know,” Henry says. “Same shit, different day. How about you, Beav?” Beav closes his eyes. For a moment everything is all right again; as right as it can be in such a piss-ache world, anyway. “About the same, buddy,” he replies. “Just about the same.”