A novella by Jack Chaucer
Copyright Jack Chaucer 2015
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this ebook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
CHAPTER 1: PAPA WAS A GRAVESTONE
My unexpected adventure toward musical stardom began inharmoniously enough — with a sharp punch in the gut from my Uncle Al.
“What kind of degenerate punk steals money and jewelry from his own helpless, senile grandmother?” Al shouted down at me after assaulting me on the sofa. His booming voice blasted a hole through my beer-soaked brain as I rolled off the couch and onto the floor of my mother’s living room, writhing around in wrenching pain.
Then Al picked me up with his two huge hands by the front of my shirt and tossed me back on the sofa like a rag doll.
“Look at me!” Al screamed.
I glanced up while wheezing and trying to get my breath flowing again. He was a short, stocky, balding bull of a man. And the raging black fury in his eyes at that unforgettable moment in time confirmed in my mind at least what I had always suspected — this is the man who killed my father. That’s right. His own brother.
“Who told you?” I gasped.
“You thought nobody saw you at my sister Marie’s party the other day, didn’t you,” Al bent down and shouted, sticking his fat face in mine. “Sneaking upstairs to your grandmother’s room, coming back down like nothing happened. A relative who shall remain anonymous called me. This person didn’t want to confront you during the birthday party, so I’m confronting you now. You better start talking and giving me some answers while you’re still breathing. Am I making myself clear, Vincent?”
“I got behind betting football,” I mumbled as fast as I could. “I needed money fast to pay the bookie. I know it was wrong. I didn’t know what else to do, Uncle Al.”
“You could’ve called somebody for help instead of robbing your grandmother!” Al barked.
“Who?” I said, trying not to bawl. “My mother? No!”
Even Al shook his head in agreement with me on this option. Mom, aka Danielle (real name), aka Destiny (stage name at the Roxy where she has stripped off and on for as long as I’ve been alive), was more than unstable enough to shoot me after a wretched act such as this — one that threw her 18 years of parenting completely under the bus for the whole world to see.
“No, better off she doesn’t know about this for as long as possible,” Al said.
“Who then? My father?” I continued. “He’s dead!”
Al backed off for a second. His visibly pained reaction made it clear to me that he had let his interrogation go down the wrong road. I wanted to go down that road in theory, but probably not on this morning with Uncle Al ready to add me to his hit list. Dad’s mysterious death happened when I was just 10 months old. My mother told me he drowned on a fishing trip. She also warned me never to ask Uncle Al about what happened. I never did. Of course, posing that question was pretty hard. Uncle Al lived in Miami. He rarely migrated north here to Providence, even during the summer. Apparently stealing from Al’s mother was enough to warrant a personal visit from the prodigal patriarch of the family. All I really knew about him was that he was in his early 40s; he was rich, powerful and dangerous, and had a legendary temper. I guess that knowledge should’ve smacked me upside the head before I pocketed some cash and jewelry belonging to my nana, but when you’ve got to pay the bookie — and Buck’s crazy cronies are a hell of a lot closer to pummeling you than Uncle Al — you let geography make the choice for you. That plan actually worked quite well for several days. Nana never noticed anything. Buck got his money. And I had some leftover pocket cash to buy gas for the truck, two large pizzas and a 30-pack of beer.
But as Sunday morning arrived, let’s just say geography caught up with me, and Uncle Al was here to cleanse me of my sins by beating all the blood out of me — or so I now feared.
“Vincent, do you realize if we weren’t related, you’d already be dead right now?” Al pointed out, turning the conversation back to where he was more comfortable — and where he could ratchet up his anger once again.
I nodded slowly, wondering if Uncle Al said the same thing to my father before doing whatever it was he did to him some 17 years ago.
“You’re 18 for Christ sake!” Al said. “Stop betting on games and start making something of yourself. Your mother told me you’re a good musician. You jam with a band or something. Right?”
“Sort of,” I said.
Al shook his head in disgust and pulled up a chair to grill me at eye level.
“What kind of pussy answer is that?” he said. “Do you jam or not?”
“We do,” I said quickly.
“Good,” Al said, transitioning from potential killer to businessman with ease. “Then here’s what we’re going to do.”
I sat up a little more on the sofa and paid attention. I desperately wanted to get out of my horrible situation. And more importantly, I wanted to live.
“You stole from nana — my own mother — to pay your bookie,” he said. “Some people would prefer to call the police and see you thrown in jail. You sure as hell deserve it, Vin. Am I right?”
I nodded. What else was I going to do with this guy literally breathing down my neck?
“You’re dead wrong!” he shouted into my face, his eyes darkening back to killer black. “You deserve a hell of a lot worse for stealing from your own flesh and blood. Jail is way too fucking good for the likes of you.”
“I know I was wrong, Uncle Al,” I said. “I was going to pay nana back as soon as I got on a hot streak.”
“Bullshit!” he shouted. “You would’ve gambled it right back because that’s what degenerate gamblers do.”
“I …” I tried to interrupt.
“Shut the hell up, Vincent!” Al ordered, sticking his finger in my face. “You fucked up and now you’re going to start making it right. Uncle Al doesn’t call the police. Uncle Al is the police, especially in this case because it’s within the family. He’s your judge, jury and executioner if need be. Understood?”
I nodded for mercy.
“Good,” he said. “Being the wonderful guy that I am, I will cover your debt to your grandmother. I will make restitution to her on your behalf.”
I tried to protest. “But …”
“But nothing, Vin,” Al said. “You’ve got no say in this what-so-fuckin-ever. You lost that right. I’m going to right that wrong for you. But here’s the catch. Now I own you. Not only do you owe me the thousands of dollars you stole from her, but you also owe me for dishonoring my helpless, senile mother. What’s that worth, Vin?”
I shrugged with dread.
“Well, I’ll tell you what it’s worth,” Al continued. “First, you’re gonna stop the gambling. That’s a given, right?”
“Absolutely!” I said, jumping to accept the unexpectedly lenient first salvo.
“Second, you’re gonna take all that musical talent that your mother says you have, and you’re going to do something with it. I know you’re not a college guy, a student and all that. I don’t give a shit. Neither was I. But here’s what I expect you to do.”
Again, I sat up alertly, thinking maybe there was a chance Uncle Al wasn’t so horrible after all. That’s when the pep talk took a bizarre turn.
“Rock and roll is fucking dead,” Al said out of the blue. “And if it ain’t dead, it’s, at the very least, buried alive. I don’t even hear it tapping or trying to bust out of the grave.”
Huh? I tried to listen to Al with the same serious face I had moments ago, but it was hard given the sudden change in subject matter. He went on just the same.
“Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen … now that was rock and roll, Vin. Today, what do we got? Fucking squat, that’s what … a bunch of pansy-ass fag bands with no heart, no soul, no balls. Do you know what I mean?”
“I wasn’t born when …,” I said.
“I know that, Vin,” Al cut me off. “But you’ve heard of these bands and their music, right?”
“Oh yeah, definitely, they’re all great bands,” I quickly replied.
“So the bottom line is this,” Al said. “You and your band are going to bring rock and roll back to life. I want a real rock and roll sound. You better make it and make it big-time … or else. I don’t care how you do it, but you better fucking do it and do it fast. I’m not a very patient man.
“And just remember … I’m your judge, jury and executioner,” he added, jabbing his finger at me again. “I will be checking on your progress every so often … kind of like a parole officer.”
I was stunned. How should I respond? I got a stay of execution from a deranged uncle who now demanded that I become a rock star … or else. And not just some run-of-the-mill rock star. A fucking legend. Practically overnight.
“Any questions?” he asked, before standing up and heading for the door.
“How …” I started.
“Good,” Al said, slamming the door behind him.
Seconds later, he opened the door, stuck his head back in and added a parting shot.
“And don’t forget, I get all your profits until your debt is paid,” he said. “After that, I get 25 percent of your share for coming up with this brilliant idea in the first place.”
Al slammed the door again before I even had a chance to process everything he said, much less reply.
Profits? What profits? I didn’t even really have a band at the time. We were in between drummers.
I just sat on the sofa for a few minutes and looked around at all the empty beer cans. I lifted my shirt and gazed at my black-and-blue gut. Then, as I pictured my Fender bass guitar and Peavey amp sitting idle all the way in the bedroom, a lyric suddenly popped into my overtaxed brain: “Papa was a gravestone.”
CHAPTER 2: FREEWAY AND FRIDAY
I jumped into my old Ford F-150 and tried to come up with a game plan as I rumbled through the pothole-riddled streets of Providence. Strangely enough, I decided that I better go see the last person in the world I should be meeting with right now — my bookie, Buck. After my Uncle Al’s stern warning, I was 99 percent sure I could resist the urge to place a wager and focus on the task at hand. Buck was the one guy I knew who seemed to know everybody. He might be able to help me create a new band out of the ashes of my old one. The Losers had gone from a trio down to a duo, with me on vocals and bass, and my mullet-headed pal Craig Hurley on guitar. Drummer Ben Sellers quit to stalk his college-bound girlfriend to Massachusetts to make sure she didn’t cheat on him. He was too fragile to handle a long-distance relationship.
When I pulled into the narrow driveway of Buck’s working-class home, he was sitting on the front steps drinking a beer. A short, stocky guy with a shaved head, black T-shirt, jean shorts and construction boots, Buck covered almost all of his skin with tattoos and smiled with the confidence that he could kick just about anyone’s ass, including guys much larger than himself. But thanks to the success of his underground betting operation, he no longer had to do much of the dirty work. His most notorious goon was a 300-plus-pound Dominican named Pepe, who, according to the latest grapevine reports, had left at least two welchers in a coma. This is why I stole from my grandmother when I got in over my head after two straight horrible weekends of football betting to kick off the season.
“Didn’t expect to see you here today,” Buck shouted with a grin as I got out of the truck and approached the steps. “Back for another round?”
“Hell no,” I said. “I didn’t have enough to cover the last two knockouts.”
“Well, I didn’t send Pepe over to your house with a dozen roses so you must’ve robbed a bank somewhere,” Buck said, pulling a beer out of the cooler next to him. “Reeb?”
“Sure,” I said, taking the beer and cracking it open for a swig. “Let’s just say I had to borrow from a family member and now another, more violent family member is not very happy with me.”
“That’s what you get when you bet on Miami in the cold weather,” Buck said.
“Against Cleveland? In September?” I protested.
“It was a night game, Vin,” the bookie pointed out. “That’s a cold wind coming off the lake.”
“Whatever, the bottom line is I gotta pay this certain violent family member back, so he basically ordered me to form a band, make it big in the music industry and pay him back plus 25 percent interest.”
“Good luck,” Buck said with a laugh. “You’re better off robbing a bank — several banks while you’re at it.”
“No shit,” I said. “The problem is he’s going to be checking up on me and everything.”
“Wow,” Buck said.
“Yeah,” I said. “And get this. He’s like a big rock and roll fan. He said all the bands today suck so he wants me to bring rock back from the dead.”
“He’s fucking right about that,” Buck said. “There’s nothing good on the radio these days. Classic rock is about it.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t even really have a band right now,” I said. “My friend Craig plays guitar. He’s OK, but not that great. I sing and play bass. I’m decent. Our drummer quit. And that’s it.”
Buck pounded the rest of his beer, seemed to think my situation over for a couple of seconds, let out a huge belch and grinned.
“Well Vin, I just may be able to help you,” Buck said.
“Seriously?” I begged.
“I was a pretty good drummer back in the day,” he said.
“Really? How long ago?” I asked.
“In my 20s,” Buck said.
“How old are you now?” I asked.
“Never ask your bookie his age,” he said with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t mind banging the skins again. I could relive my youth.”
“That would be awesome, Buck,” I said, sipping my beer and pondering the strange dynamic of forming a musical bond with my bookie.
Buck grinned again, which seemed to indicate another thought had just popped into his brain. Indeed it had.
“Holy shit,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“I just remembered Pepe telling me about this black kid down in South Providence who plays guitar by the highway,” Buck said excitedly. “Totally bizarre. In between gang shootings down there, this one kid is like the second coming of Jimi Hendrix.”
“Really?” I said.
“He might not be all there, upstairs, you know what I mean?” Buck continued, pointing to his buzzed head. “But apparently he lives in one of those three-story tenements right by I-95. His front yard is the highway basically. Pepe says he dances and waves to the cars during the day and then he jams at night. I think he does a little dealing on the side, too, but he’s kind of like a legend down there. I could have Pepe arrange a little sit-down for us with the kid and see if he’s as good as people say.”
“Buck, that would be totally cool,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
That night, Buck ferried us down to South Providence to meet Freeway. As Buck steered his silver Caddy around a corner and drove up slowly along an access road adjacent to Interstate 95, we noticed a row of rundown three-story tenement houses tightly bunched on the right side of the street overlooking the busy, eight-lane highway. Some houses still had functional balconies and porches providing a splendid view of the speeding cars. Others were falling apart, boarded up and possibly condemned. There were no driveways. We just pulled up to the curb in front of the faded green tenement five houses down, just as Pepe had instructed Buck. This house did have a functional porch and on it stood a tall, thin black kid with a huge afro and a bigger smile. Next to him was another shorter and much thicker black kid with his arms folded in front of his chest, a red bandana around his head and a menacing stare.
Buck and I got out of the car and approached Freeway and his cohort, who looked like they were in their late teens or early 20s. They were both wearing beat-up blue jeans and dark, hooded sweatshirts with the hoods down on this cool September evening.
“We don’t see people like you around here much, man, better watch out,” Freeway said with a teasing sense of humor and a disarming grin. With his soft black eyes, smooth voice and quiet swagger, I certainly could see why people thought he was the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. I wondered if this kid could play guitar left-handed, too.
“Pepe says you’re a legend so we rolled the dice,” Buck said, shaking hands with Freeway after we ascended the porch stairs. “Nice to meet you, I’m Buck and this is Vin.”
“I’m Freeway. This is Ronnie, but we call him Friday,” Freeway said as we all shook hands. Friday remained the only ice-cold presence in the bunch, checking me out in particular like a guard dog.
“Want a 40?” Freeway asked us.
“Most definitely,” Buck replied.
“Help yo self,” Freeway said, directing us toward a cooler on the porch.
“Thanks,” I said.
Buck handed me a 40-ounce beer, we twisted them open and drank some. Friday already had knocked back most of his 40. Freeway wasn’t drinking.
“So Freeway, we’re looking to make some music and we’ve heard you’re something special,” Buck said. “We wanted to hear you play and see if you want to join our new band.”
Freeway put his hands in his pockets, looked down toward his high-top sneakers and smiled at the ground.
“I’m more of a solo artist, man,” Freeway said.
“That’s cool,” Buck said. “Can we hear you jam anyway and just go from there?”
“That’ll cost you a Benjamin each,” Friday suddenly piped up, completely serious in look and tone.
“No shit?” Buck said.
“Normally, I play for free every night, but this is a business meeting and I gotta see if you guys are for real about this band thing,” Freeway said, still smooth and smiling.
“Done,” Buck said, surprising me with how quickly he forked over the cash to Friday. “Vin, you owe me $200.”
Oh. Now Buck’s response made more sense. I just nodded. Hell, what’s $200 more?
“Any requests?” Freeway asked before he ducked inside the screen door and quickly came back with a gleaming Les Paul guitar. Then he hooked it up to an amp that was behind a card table.
“Whatever you feel like playing,” Buck said. “We’re looking for more of a blues-rock sound … Hendrix, Zeppelin kind of thing.”
“Right up my alley,” Freeway said, sticking a big pick in his afro and, ironically, grabbing a small pick for his guitar seconds later.
“Where’d you get that amazing Les Paul?” I had to ask.
“Are you a pig?” Friday interrupted.
“Hell no,” I said.
“Then don’t ask no dumb-ass questions,” Friday reprimanded me.
“Got it,” I said quickly, shut up and drowned my mouth with beer.
That’s when Freeway immediately launched into a huge, soaring solo that reverberated down the street. His playing seemed effortless and masterful right from the start. Unlike Hendrix, Freeway played right-handed. I guess that’s where the reincarnation theory was flawed, unless of course Freeway was ambidextrous. I wouldn’t doubt it. Clearly, he could do just about anything with a guitar. After cranking out what sounded like an original bluesy solo inspired by Hendrix, Freeway blew us away with the catchy opening riffs of “Crosstown Traffic.” A fitting song, indeed, as the blur of headlights and metal raced past us on the highway below. Freeway’s playing was flawless and jaw-dropping. Friday remained stone-faced throughout, but Buck and I couldn’t stop opening our mouths and then grinning at each other.
“Damn that was good!” Buck shouted as Freeway wrapped up “Crosstown Traffic.”
Freeway smiled and quickly followed that up with a Led Zeppelin tune. I recognized the hooky riff, but couldn’t immediately identify the song because Freeway chose one of their deeper tracks instead of a typical hit.
“That’s from ‘Bring It On Home’ off Zeppelin II,” Freeway announced.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Great tune.”
Bottom line, this kid from South Providence could jam. He was a musical diamond on the rough streets next to I-95. Unfortunately, he was going to cost us — namely me — about as much as a diamond.
“So what’s it going to take to get you to join our band?” I asked Freeway, fully expecting Friday to jump into the negotiations. Surprisingly, he let the guitarist do the talking this time.
“I jam for free right here every night, so if you want to jam together and work on some songs, come on down, man,” Freeway said. “If there’s some magic going on, we’ll see.”
Wow. That sounded promising. Then the came the first catch, provided by Friday, of course.
“But if you want Freeway to play live gigs with you, he gets $100 per show and so do I, man,” Friday said. “We a package deal, got that?”
Freeway smiled at his buddy. Buck and I gave each other a quizzical look.
“No shit?” Buck finally queried.
“No shit,” Friday confirmed with a grin, one of his gold teeth twinkling from the glare of the street light overhead. “We get paid. That’s what we do.”
“How many you got in the band right now?” Freeway asked us.
“Well, I sing and play bass,” I said. “Buck plays drums. My friend Craig can play rhythm guitar and some keyboards. So you would play lead guitar and round out the quartet.”
Then came the second catch.
“Don’t you mean quintet?” Freeway corrected me, nodding toward Friday.
“Package deal, man,” Friday said with a grin. “I’m on the stage, part of the band.”
“You jam, too, Friday?” Buck asked.
“Hell no,” Friday shot back. “I don’t sing. Rap a little maybe.”
“Do you play any instruments?” I asked.
“I’m pretty good with this here,” Friday said, pointing toward his crotch. “It’s easier to see the ladies from up on the stage.”
We all laughed.
“So if we put out a CD,” I just had to ask, “and on the inside cover we listed Freeway as guitarist, me as singer and bassist, Buck on drums and Craig on guitar/keyboards, what would we put for you, Friday?”
“Unknown,” he deadpanned. “Don’t pigeon-ho me!”
I was stunned. Freeway shook his head and smiled. Buck was blown away.
“Fucking genius,” Buck said, his eyes getting excited and his hands clapping loudly. “I love it. Friday will be like the X-factor. The mystery man. Nobody knows why he’s just standing around on the stage. Is he security? Is he part of the band? We’ll be the talk of the town. People will be like, ‘Have you seen that band where this one guy just stands there the whole time?’”
We all had a good chuckle, but I wasn’t as excited as Buck about this gimmick, especially given the extra $100 per gig for basically nothing. However, I was willing to give it a shot as long as Freeway and Buck were joining the band. One thing was for sure. Uncle Al could kiss his 25 percent goodbye for quite a while. Profits? This venture looked like it was only going to put me deeper in debt.
But after Craig came down with me the next night and we all jammed together for the first time on Freeway’s porch overlooking I-95, I didn’t give a shit about debt anymore. We all knew we had something special. Just watching Freeway squeeze soul and magic out of his Les Paul was inspiration enough to make the rest of us better than we ever thought we could be. Ideas began surging through our collective brains like whitewater rapids. Some of the local ghetto kids repeatedly came around to check us out. Apparently, Freeway and Friday had enough street cred to draw their interest and keep them from mocking the three honkies in the band. Our bluesy rock-rap sound seemed to take care of the rest.
Within three weeks, we had a bunch of raw but original tunes and a live gig lined up at the Heartbreak Lounge in downtown Providence. Our debut would come on a Friday night. We were the first of three bands to open for headliners The Agents, a popular ska band. We didn’t really fit in with the ska-punk lineup on the bill that night, but we didn’t care. We were happy to land a spot at a good-sized club and couldn’t wait to rock the house.
Oh yeah. All we needed was a name for our band. Leave it to the bookie to come up with it. Sitting at his drum kit in between songs and staring at the cars whipping past us below, Buck experienced a moment of revelation on our third jam session together.
“I got it!” he shouted. “Freeway & the Vin Numbers!”
CHAPTER 3: ROCK FOR SATURN
I’m a bartender at the Heartbreak Lounge in Providence. How did I get my crazy name? My late parents apparently were into alliteration and fucking under the stars. Yes, I know. Saturn is a planet.
Anyway, the first time I saw Freeway & the Vin Numbers was a Friday night in early October. They opened for The Agents and a bunch of other bands. Because they were the first band to go on, probably around 9 or so, I was one of the few people there to hear them play. Heartbreak Lounge stayed open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so most people didn’t show up until 10:30 or 11. The headliners usually played two sets and didn’t take the stage until 11:45. By then, we’d typically have a few hundred people jamming and mingling into the long, rectangular area between my bar and the wide stage on the opposite side of the spacious club, which was enjoying a successful rebirth after being converted from a downtown department store way back in the day.
As the bottom rung on the ladder of bands for the evening, Freeway & the Vin Numbers only had about a half hour to play before the second band would boot them off and start setting up. Other than myself, two other bartenders and several security people, there were probably no more than 10 early drinkers in the club to catch the opening band.
Because it’s my least busiest time of the night by far, I actually have time to listen to the opening bands in between rare interruptions from a thirsty customer. Most of the time I wish it was the other way around. Obviously, I’d much rather have more time to pay attention to the headliners because they are always far better than the opening act. In fact, most opening bands suck.
But on this particular Friday night, I was in for a big surprise. Nobody had ever heard of these guys because it was their first show. Nobody even knew their name when they came out. They didn’t have it written on the drum kit or anything. I couldn’t help but watch this strange collection of characters emerge from the darkness and take their places under the multi-colored lights that beamed down on the stage. Their clothing was completely drab — they all wore dark-hooded sweatshirts, blue jeans and white sneakers. But one guitar player on the far left was very tall, black and had an afro that was twice the size of his head. There was a microphone stand in front of him. Another black guy had a red bandana tied around his head and just stood there, front and center, glaring at the handful of people in front of the stage. No microphone, no instrument. Next to him was a handsome, skinny Italian-looking white kid who had a bass and a microphone. On the far right, there was another tall, lean guitar player who had long dark mullet, bug eyes and a crazy-looking face. He also had a microphone. And way back there on the drums sat a bowling ball of a guy with a buzz cut.
Chase and Amy, the other two bartenders that evening, both laughed as we looked at the band and then at each other. I laughed, too, and tried to brace my ears for the nasty 30 minutes of noise that was sure to follow.
“You’re the lucky few … to hear our debut,” the lead singer confidently rhymed into his microphone. “We’re Freeway & the Vin Numbers. Wake the dead. Rock is back, baby!”
With that, the bass and drums launched into a groovy, thumpy beat and the lead singer had a great, edgy voice for someone so young. He had spiked, short dark hair and looked no more than 19 or 20. His fingers deftly worked the bass as his voice filled the nearly empty room in front of him:
“Packing sixes and rolling sevens,
Living hells and dying heavens,
Chasing moons and seeing stars,
Shooting beams and smashing cars,
Gambling todays and paying tomorrows”
Wow, I thought to myself at the time. That’s pretty catchy for an opening band. They sound pretty good. Then the guy with the afro walked next to the black guy who was just standing there, stepped on a pedal and started jamming with his flashy red guitar. He was so charismatic and the riff was so catchy that I totally didn’t see a customer had walked up to the bar. The afro guy shifted back toward his microphone stand and the lead singer cranked his voice up a notch to match the crunching guitar for the chorus. The afro guy and the bug-eyed mullet guy harmonized backing vocals after the lead singer belted out each line of the chorus:
“Papa was a gravestone (still is),
Mama worked the brass pole (still does),
Uncle was a mobster (still is),
Auntie rocked the lobster (still does)”
What the? The few people standing in front of the stage were totally into it right off the bat, too, bopping their heads to the up-tempo beat.
The customer waved at me and finally got my attention away from the band. He just wanted a beer, so I cracked open a bottle, poured it in a plastic cup and served it up. He gave me a nice tip because I looked especially hot that night, I thanked him and refocused on the band. I missed most of the second verse, but I heard:
“Gambling todays and losing tomorrows
… But I’m still stuck on yesterdays
Yeah, I’m still stuck on yesterdays”
The afro guy then stepped to the edge of the stage and ripped off an amazing solo that went on for almost a minute. Everybody in the bar was locked in on the guy. He was that good. The other black guy still just stood there. Weird!
After that, they made one last trip through the chorus and we all cheered, whistled, hooted and hollered. Chase, Amy and I were not laughing at these guys anymore. The lead singer looked right at me and seemed to like my reaction.
“Thanks,” he said, reintroducing the band as a few more stragglers paid their cover charge and wandered in front of the stage. “We’re a brand new band. We’re Freeway & the Vin Numbers. That’s Freeway over there slaying it on guitar,” the singer said, nodding toward the afro guy to his right. “This is Friday … unknown,” he continued, looking at the other black guy, who just smiled and stood there with arms folded at his chest. “We’ve got Buck back there on drums and Craig to my left on guitar. My name is Vin. That first song was called ‘Papa Was a Gravestone.’ This next one is called ‘Freeway in the Front Yard’ because that’s where my man Freeway plays. He lives right off I-95, man. Real deal.”
Freeway shook his head and smiled. Then he thundered into another heavy riff. Vin sang fast:
“Freeway in the front yard
Gangsters in the back
Mama’s in the middle
Flapjacks on the griddle
Homies and bullets on the riddle
Priests and pervs on the diddle”
These guys are crazy, I thought. It was a strange mix of blues, rock and rap, but it seemed to work. As they slowed the tempo down for the chorus, Vin sang:
“Dear Lord, keep me out of trouble
Dopin’ on the double
Trippin’ on the triple
Rockin’ all the way home
Dear Lord, keep me out of danger
This crazy world keeps gettin’ stranger”
More customers began to belly up to the bar as the second song came to an end. Things were beginning to pick up, particularly in front of the stage. A few dozen people were there to catch the next couple of songs, though I couldn’t pay much attention at that point because I was busy serving up drinks. When I did get caught up, the opening band’s time was just about up.
“We got time for one more?” Vin asked the manager and sound mixer. They gave him the green light. “Sweet. Once again, for those just arriving, we’re a new band. Freeway & the Vin Numbers. We hope to be back here at the Heartbreak Lounge real soon, and when we get a website, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, enjoy The Agents and all the other bands on the bill. But first, we’ll leave you with this little number. It’s called ‘Medieval Upheaval.’”
Vin started with a fast spoken-word intro:
“Talk is cheap
Radio is weak
America is bleak
Rotten from the inside out
Spoiled from the top down
What we don’t need right now
Is another weak-ass revolution
Been there, done that
What we need right now
Is a bipartisan beat down
So Bookie, give me a beat”
The big bass drums kicked in and that’s when Vin started screaming the chorus like he was the singer for Rage Against the Machine:
“What we need right now
Is a medieval upheaval
Of cataclysmic proportions
I’m talking muthafuckin’ earthquakes
Of volcanic distortions”
That’s when Freeway went crazy with his guitar. He blew the roof off the place with wah-wah action, distortion and heavy riffs. Vin took that energy and got even crazier with his vocals.
“We gotta capture the youth
And rap you the truth
So suck my magma
And swallow my lava
What we need right now
Is a medieval upheaval
Of cataclysmic proportions
I’m talking muthafuckin’ earthquakes
Of volcanic distortions”
Talk about big words. And their sound was even bigger. They kept cranking up the speed and intensity with each repetition of the chorus until the people in front of the stage were head banging and throwing fists in the air. It was the first and last time I remember the crowd being “into” the opening band. Some of the people already were trying to sing along with the chorus and they didn’t even know the song yet. Even the few girls that were there this early in the evening, including myself, had to cheer when Freeway & the Vin Numbers took their bows. There was a major buzz in the room after they exited the stage — so much so that I actually felt bad for the second band. It was such an impressive debut that I hoped those guys would stick around after the gig and order a few beers from my end of the bar. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I found out later from my manager, Will, that most of those guys weren’t even old enough to drink yet. The good news, he told me, was Freeway & the Vin Numbers would be back at the Heartbreak in just two weeks. And for that gig, they would be the headliners.
CHAPTER 4: SHINE AND FADE
I was still buzzing when Buck dropped me off at my mother’s house and it wasn’t just from the celebratory 40-ouncers we downed at Freeway’s place after the gig. I still couldn’t believe how well our debut performance went at the Heartbreak Lounge. After having fronted two other far more dysfunctional, far less talented bands during my high school years, I had no idea it was possible to win over an audience — albeit a small one — so quickly. Most of the credit, obviously, goes to the Freeway factor. The dude could flat-out jam plus he had that mystique about him that drew your eyes just as much as your ears. But in my own head at least, I knew I was a big part of it, too. For the first time in my short life, the ideas were flowing, the bass lines were working and my vocals were finding that edge — the razor-bladed passion a singer needs to shake listless, half-cocked concertgoers out of their natural state of boredom and make them pay attention. You’ve got to turn those random zombies of the night into your zombies of the night.
We were starting to do exactly that until we ran out of time. The Heartbreak guys only let us do five songs as the opening act. For our next gig as headliners in two weeks, we would have to triple that. Cover songs were always an option, but our new band seemed to pride itself on being prolific right out of the gate. Amazingly, we already had a handle on nine or 10 original songs that we wrote in about five or six jam sessions the first three weeks we spent together. Turns out Freeway could sing pretty well, too, so he was doing lead vocals on several songs. It was actually kind of a relief not to have to sing every song.
When we weren’t jamming, we were all listening to as many Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin and Doors songs as we could jam into our car stereos, iPods and boom boxes. As far as we were concerned, the late 1960s and early 1970s were alive again and we couldn’t get enough of it. When you really listened to those tunes from those legendary bands, you realized how that music still remains so much better than anything heard since, and especially compared to the music of the 2000s. Two generations later, we wanted to pick up where our blues-rock heroes left off. We challenged ourselves to be that good. It was kind of like attempting to climb Mount Everest. There it stood looming above us. No, we may never get to the top, but the journey itself was a noble one. And yet this undertaking was all kind of ironic, given that the first kick in the ass out of base camp came from Uncle Al. And that may never have happened had I not gambled and lost so badly that I had to “borrow” from my senile grandmother.
As I walked through the side door and into the kitchen of my mother’s house at around 2:30 a.m. on the night of our opening gig, I could hear my mother crying in the den. This couldn’t be good. She either found out about my theft or someone just died. Turns out, it was neither.
“Ma, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she replied, squirming on the recliner, turning off the TV and quickly trying to pull herself together after another long Friday night at the Roxy. Even at almost 37 years old, my mother was still drawing dollar bills and 20s out of men of all ages, though her powers now were significantly diminished from the glory days of her teens and 20s. Being her son, it’s hard to describe your mother as hot, but she was — long, black hair, voluptuous figure, olive Italian skin and soft, stealthy brown eyes. Fortunately, I had never seen her dance and do her thing at the Roxy. That would’ve sent me over the edge. But I had heard enough stories. I knew she had been something of a legend there for many years.
On this night, however, no longer in her many outfits of seduction, Danielle was smoking a cigarette in leopard-print shirt and blue jeans and trying to come to grips with a time she always knew would come in her role as Destiny.
“Vin, what are you doing staying out this late?” mom asked, trying to change the subject from her predicament.
“I told you,” I said. “My new band had a gig at the Heartbreak downtown.”
“Oh, that’s right, Vin, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m a little out of it. How did it go?”
“Really well,” I said, sitting down in the rocking chair across from her. “We blew the roof off the place even though there weren’t very many people there to see it. We were the opening act, but in two weeks, we’ll be back as headliners.”
“Wow,” she said, trying to be supportive even though she was still half absorbed in her own thoughts. “That’s fast. What’s the name of your new band, again?”
“Freeway & the Vin Numbers,” I said with a smile.
She smiled, too, for a second, then the tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I’m proud of you, Vin,” she said in between soft sobs. “You’re making something of yourself. You’re on the way up … unlike your mother. I’m on my way down.”
“Come on, ma, don’t be ridiculous,” I protested.
“It’s true, Vin,” she said. “They only want me dancing during the day now. No more night dancing shifts. They want me to be den mother to the other girls at night. Their putting me out to pasture, Vin.”
“Sorry to hear that, ma,” I said, walking over to give her a hug. “Who knows? Maybe it’s for the best.”
“I know,” she said. “I knew it was coming. It doesn’t make it any easier though when you start getting older. Let that be a lesson to you, Vin.”
“What?” I asked. “You want me to start my exotic dancing career right way?”
“No, Vin,” she said. “Don’t waste a second. Be great as fast as you can because you won’t believe how fast the time goes. Not that long ago I was 18 just like you and I had everything going for me, including a beautiful baby boy.”
“I love you, ma,” I said, hugging her again.
“I love you, too, Vin,” she said. “Just remember, make the most of yourself right now, when you’re young, because the older you get, the less people pay attention to you and care what you have to say. I hope you have a lot of fun with this new band of yours and you guys really hit it big.”
“We’re working on it,” I said. “Will you come see us jam in a couple of weeks at the Heartbreak?”
My mother wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks and perked up. She was more stable than Uncle Al and I had given her credit for. I had a feeling she could handle this tough transition time in her life.
“Damn right I’ll be there,” she said. “I won’t be a den mother that night. I’ll be mother to the rock star!”
We both laughed as the clock ticked toward 3 a.m. Wee hours or not, I think it was the first time I had a major bonding moment with my mother as adults.
And it made me even more determined to make sure we put on one hell of a show for our second gig.
CHAPTER 5: SONGS AND TALES BY I-95
Freeway and I enjoyed a bonding moment of our own as we wrote songs together on his porch overlooking Interstate 95 one unusually warm early October afternoon, just a few days before our headlining gig at the Heartbreak Lounge. Buck, Craig and Friday couldn’t make it that day, but Freeway and I decided to work on some songs anyway. We were the driving force behind the band right from the outset.
“Was your papa really a gravestone?” Freeway asked me with a serious face while he was tuning his guitar.
“Yeah, that’s the only way I saw him,” I said, looking up from my notebook of song lyrics. “He died when I was 10 months old. My mother used to bring me to see him in a cemetery up in North Providence when I was little.”
“How’d he die, man?” Freeway asked.
“I think my uncle killed him,” I told him.
“No shit?” Freeway said, his bushy eyebrows raised above his curious brown eyes and long eyelashes.
“I don’t know for sure,” I continued. “My mother told me he drowned on the fishing trip and to never ask my uncle what happened. I have a feeling my uncle and my dad fought over my mother.”
“She’s the stripper, right?” Freeway asked. “Wow. Two brothers. That’s some freak-ass shit right there.”
“You got parents?” I asked Freeway, who apparently was managing to pay the rent of his tenement apartment on his own. Friday, I had learned in earlier jam sessions, was more of a drifter. He would stay with Freeway only when he wasn’t shacked up with various girlfriends in South Providence.
“Not really,” Freeway said, shaking his head. “My father left my mother when I was real little. My mother comes over here sometimes, but she’s always kind of been in and out of my life … in and out of jail, too.”
“What for?” I asked.
“Drugs, stealing shit mostly,” he said. “Before I got this place, me and Friday were living in a tent city downtown. He’s from a fucked up family, too. Poor brothers watch each other’s back. That’s why we gotta be a package deal with this band, man.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “We all got each other’s back now, Freeway. That’s what a band is all about.”
“Thanks man,” he said, grinning. “Same here, same here. It’s also about making music. We better get back to it.”
“True, but I also just realized I never asked you how you learned to play guitar so fucking good?” I said.
“Friday got tired of listening to me bitch about wanting to be a guitarist some day, so he stole this Les Paul for me about two years ago,” Freeway said, confirming that his guitar really was hot. “Now that’s some straight-up friendship, right there, man. How many brothers would steal shit for you and risk getting their asses caught?”
“Nobody,” I said.
“I’ve played the guitar every day since,” Freeway said. “I owe him that. I also found a mentor downtown, a bluesman by the name of Bubba Sims. He spent some time with me, taught me some things. The rest I learned on my own, man, listening to the greats … Hendrix, Page, Richards, King, Clapton. I could go on and on.”
“Someday some kid will say that about you,” I predicted, drawing a bashful grin out of my guitarist. “‘I grew up listening to that legend named Freeway Wilson,’ that’s what they’ll say.”
Our conversation paved the way for our best songwriting session yet. Freeway conjured up some beautiful hooks and melodies and I thumped along with some catchy, walking bass lines and sporadic, simultaneous combustions of lyrics.
Later, Freeway debuted for me a song he had been working on solo for quite a while, he said. He sang it beautifully with his unique ghetto-tinged twang, and played a moving guitar piece to go along with it.
“This is called, ‘Too Quick,’” Freeway introduced it. “It’s a tribute to Jimi, Jim Morrison and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin because they all died so young, man:
“Raiding red houses
Searching for the key
To unlock Spanish castles
That guard the magic
Of your time and place
Big dreams flying on a little wing
All the songs you never got to sing
The Axman, the Lizard King and Moby Dick
Death came and took y’all too quick
Lives too thin, legacies too thick
Break down the door that stands between us
And let us in
Fill up the shore that stands between us
And let us swim.”
CHAPTER 6: HEADLINERS
The first best part of seeing Freeway & the Vin Numbers’ first ever headlining show was that I got a rare weekend night off from my bartending gig. I wanted to be a regular chick in the crowd for a change.
“Hey Sat, you better tip us well tonight,” my jealous male co-workers shouted at me as I taunted them with my giddy face of freedom, tight pink shirt, hot black skirt and gray wolf skin boots. Who cared if it all didn’t totally match. The neon-sign combination sure as hell should be enough to catch the eye of a certain rocker.
The second best part of that particular evening was my chance encounter with Vin’s mother, Danielle. As the crowd began to build modestly in between the second-to-last band and the headliners — no surprise given they were a new group that was pushed to the top of the marquis much quicker than normal — I overheard Danielle tell my friend and co-worker Amy that her son was in the band.
“His name is Vin,” Danielle said as I checked out this tall, sexy woman that dressed for the show — black leather skirt, fishnets and all — like she was no stranger to the stage herself. “He plays bass and sings. He better be good tonight. I’ve never seen him play with this band before. They’re brand new.”
“They’re pretty good,” Amy said as she served Danielle a whiskey and 7-up, then looked in my direction a few stools down at the bar. “Right Saturn?”
“Yeah, we saw their first show a couple of weeks ago here,” I jumped in. “Vin’s great. The guitarist, Freeway, is amazing. They really surprised me for a new band.”
Danielle’s brown eyes lit up and she beamed at me.
“Oh, that’s so good to hear!” she shouted before coming over next to me and sipping her drink. “What’s your name?”
“Saturn,” I replied, offering my hand.
“I’m Danielle, Vin’s mom,” she said, shaking my hand. Upon closer view, I could totally see where Vin got his good looks from. “Saturn is an interesting name.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said with a laugh. “My parents were a little strange.”
“Were?” Danielle said, clearly listening to me closely despite the increasing loudness of the club.
“Yeah, they’d still be strange if they were still around,” I said, taking a bigger than usual gulp from my glass of red wine. “They died a while back.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Danielle said, looking slightly mortified. “You poor thing. I didn’t mean to …”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying to thwart any pity party.
“You’re just so young,” Danielle said.
“22 going on 22,” I said, quickly trying to lighten the mood. “How old is your son. He’s a cutie.”
“18,” Danielle said. “Same age I was when I had him.”
“Wow,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“No girlfriend that I’m aware of if you want to date a younger man,” Danielle said, smiling and putting her arm around my shoulder. “Try not to corrupt him anymore than me or his family already has. We’re a little different in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Different is definitely a good thing,” I said, making her happy as the lights dimmed and we got ready to watch Freeway and the Vin Numbers. Again, they strolled out and took their positions wearing the same dark sweatshirts and blue jeans as last time. I shook my head.
“You’ve gotta tell Vin to do something about their stage wear,” I spoke in Danielle’s right ear. “They could use some serious fashion 911.”
“Tell him yourself,” she told me. “I’ll make sure you two meet after the show.”
Normally, I would not be excited about meeting an 18-year-old boy. But when Danielle told me that, I definitely was fired up about meeting Vin. Too young for me or not, I had a strong sense that he was different — in a very uplifting sort of way. And in this more-often-than-not depressing and boring existence on planet Earth, different was definitely a good thing.
There was also something remarkably refreshing and different about the band as Freeway led them into their first song with lead vocals and a relentless guitar riff dominating from the start. This music had amazing motion and depth to it, unlike the played-out pop I had grown up listening to for far too long. This music stirred my soul and immediately took me somewhere.
“Is that the stars in the sky
or is it raining fallin’ down?
Will it burn me if I touch the sun,
so big, so round?
Will I be truthful, yeah,
in choosing you as the one for me?
Is this love baby, or is it, uh, just confusion?”
Oh, my mind is so mixed up, goin’ round ’n’ round
Must there be all these colors without names
My heart burns with feelin’ but
Oh! But my mind is cold and reeling
Is this love baby, or is it confusion?
Vin didn’t sing at all on that first song. His fingers just motored away on his black-and-orange bass with zebra-colored shoulder strap, helping provide the up-tempo beat underneath Freeway’s smooth voice and soaring guitar. Turns out, the tune was not an original.
“That was the Jimi Hendrix Experience and ‘Love or Confusion’ off the album ‘Are You Experienced’ from the year 1967,” Freeway announced with a smile nearly as big as his afro. Even the wooden-postured black guy next to him, who continued to stand there and do nothing just as he had in their first show, allowed a quick grin as he eyes scanned the mostly twenty-somethings jamming toward the front of the stage. “No, I’m not the second coming of Jimi Hendrix. No one can touch Jimi. I’m the first coming of Freeway Wilson. We are Freeway and the Vin Numbers from Providence, Rhode Island. Thanks for coming!”
The crowd, which now numbered 250 to 300, roared its approval for the local band. Some kids were even taking pictures of the guys with their cell phones. Danielle and I howled as loud as we could, too.
“The rest of the songs you’ll hear tonight will be originals,” Freeway continued. “Our sound may confuse you. Don’t be alarmed. It comes from a very different time and place. So if you really want to love us, go out and buy Jimi’s ‘Are You Experienced.’ Listen to it over and over, and you’ll understand what where trying to do. We’re trying to pick up where bands like that left off so many years ago. It’s time to fall in love with the rock ’n’ roll experience all over again, two generations later.”
The crowd cheered, though I sensed some of what Freeway said sailed over most of our heads, mine included — that is until I downloaded ‘Are You Experienced’ a couple of days later and listened to all of the songs. The whole record blew me away. It was like nothing I had ever listened to before. The more I heard it, the more I loved it. And after listening to the original ‘Love or Confusion’ several times, I understood why the band picked that song to start the show. Though it was more subtle than some of the obvious hits on the album, it had the most enticing rush of a beginning. The guitar and vocals immediately just swept you into the song, into the essence of what the Jimi Hendrix Experience was all about. I’m sure not everyone in the crowd realized it that night, but I came to appreciate the gift Freeway gave us just by turning us — members of his own generation — on to the very music that inspired him, even though it was created by another amazing young man more than 40 years ago.
Freeway and the band’s second gift to us was their first original song of the evening, “My Paul,” an ode to Freeway’s guitar, Vin would tell me later. Freeway sang with some serious attitude as he launched into the song with a heavy, bluesy hook. With Vin working the bass and the bald-headed drummer pounded along with him, the energy level in the club jumped big time. The kids were into it. So were Danielle and I. We smiled at each other and drew some looks with our hot outfits as Freeway approached the microphone stand and let it rip:
“You robbed from Peter
So I could play my Paul
The sound is sweeter
And stands 90 feet tall
No hot-hand Duke
My loyal brother
Is like no other
Saints and sinners
Paints and thinners
Got me a fresh new look
With something you took
You got me some more
So I could do it with Les
The fuzz ain’t got no clue
’Bout the magic between me and you
You robbed from Peter
So I could play my Paul
The sound is sweeter
And stands 90 feet tall”
We all gave the guys a huge cheer on that first song. It sounded wicked cool, especially for a brand new band.
On the next song, Vin looked so poised for an 18-year-old as he took over lead vocals while also playing bass:
“From the tent city to the hen house
From the Playboy to the Penthouse
We’ve all got a purpose
So let’s scratch the surface
From nowhere to somewhere
From nobodies to some bodies
All we got is each other
And a few songs to take us there
Take us there to that place
Where we recognize your face
Take us there to that place
Where y’all sing along to our song
The night is young and the road is open
Our dreams are big, our wheels are rumblin’
Take us there to that place
Where y’all drive along to our song
Take us there to that place
Where y’all sing along to our song”
Vin did such an awesome job. This song could only get better as more people learned it, I remember thinking at the time. The band followed that up with the super-fast “Medieval Upheaval” rocker, the closer from the last gig.
Vin seemed even more confident with his voice. The crowd went fucking nuts for that song. Clearly some of the people from two weeks ago had returned for this show and remembered the tune. They seemed to lead the charge, feeling superior that they had heard it before.
“Thank you,” Vin said, smiling as the drummer hurled a drum stick into the crowd and a frenzy ensued. “Glad you enjoyed ‘Medieval Upheaval.’ It’s one of our favorites, as well. This next song is in honor of our mighty guitar player Freeway. As your speeding along I-95 in South Providence most days, you just might catch a glimpse of him on his front porch overlooking the highway. You just might catch a glimpse of him ‘Jamming by the I.’”
With that, Freeway’s guitar took off like a jet. His contagious energy and fingering skills left many in the crowd hypnotized with mouths open. That fucking good. Seriously.
Then Vin let it fly with his piercing, edgy vocals:
“Sex on the X, A to the E, F to the Z
Rock to the sea, Way to the Free
Jamming by the I!
I-95! (shouted by the rest of the band)
Dancing all day
Riffing all night
Jamming by the I!
Waving all day
Raving all night
Jamming by the I!
The fans seemed to love it, especially with something so tangible to relate to as Interstate 95, the main artery that runs through the heart of our tiny state and connects us all to each other. It was a little sad to think that with our windows rolled up and our fast, noisy cars, we never got to hear Freeway’s amazing guitar playing along the highway. But at least we were there to hear him on this night. And he didn’t disappoint, blasting away on the aptly titled “Freeway in the Front Yard,” as the band kept the same theme going with another song it had played in its debut two weeks earlier.
The song that hit me hardest was the next one — partly because it slowed things down so much, mostly because of the subject matter. Vin led it off with a haunting bass line and Freeway sang in a hushed, agonized tone. The ax man with the afro introduced it as “Dashes to Ashes”:
“Dashes hypnotizing me
As I drive down the highway
Ashes crypnotizing me
As I stumble through the ghostway
You aren’t hear for me now
And you never were
Wasn’t your fault
Locked in a vault
All these years that we got cheated
A number here, a number there
The line runs in between
You got taken
And I’m still shaken
But I got a life to live
So on I go
Cuz there’s music to be makin’
Can you hear me
Can you hear me
Can you hear me
From down below?
That song, to me at least, showed this band had something — honesty, depth, whatever you want to call it.
It seemed to really hit home for the audience, too. When the song was over, people cheered like they knew they were seeing a special band. I noticed Vin seemed affected by the whole experience, too. He looked emotional. His mother even had teary eyes as she clapped. Vin later would tell me that he wrote the song, but he asked Freeway to sing it because he was afraid he’d start bawling. Wow.
I won’t get into every song, but the band must’ve played 14 or 15 in total. This time they closed with “Papa Was A Gravestone.” Despite the morbid subject matter, that song was so groovy and fun that you didn’t realize it had some definitely similarities to “Dashes to Ashes.”
After Freeway introduced each member of the band, they took their bows, accepted a long applause with huge smiles and left the stage. The fans showed their appreciation by screaming and stomping for an encore.
As if I hadn’t been won over already, Vin returned to the stage alone looking like he had just poured water all over his sweaty, spiky head. Then he tore into his funkiest, fastest bass part yet. After he laid down that groove, the others took their places and joined the fun. Even the black guy that usually just stands there started dancing in place a little bit and smiling. You could tell the whole band enjoyed that because they were all laughing like crazy, even the bug-eyed, mullet-haired guy. The crowd was fired up, too. Some kids were dancing to the beat and shaking their heads around.
Then Freeway said, “Thanks for coming. This last little number, well, we wrote this one yesterday. It’s raw, it’s freak. It’s called ‘Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon.’ Enjoy the ride. See you next time. And y’all drive home safe.”
Freeway sang it and the others backed him up:
“Is there some other way to say it?
Is there some other way to slay it?
Put me in your paddy wagon
Guilt all over my face
Cuff me, book me, print me
I’d do it all over again
Same bar, same time, same place
Fun tune. We all loved it. What a show! Now it was finally time for Danielle to hook me up with her son.
CHAPTER 7: BACKSTAGE PASS
We cooled off back stage in a dark, cramped room with crappy couches for a few minutes after the gig, savoring the moment and congratulating each other on an electric show before we had to lug all our instruments and equipment into the big van Buck had rented for us. That’s when my mother walked in, followed by a gorgeous brown-haired girl with a slightly familiar face and a killer outfit.
“Guys, this is my mother!” I shouted.
“I could say something right now, but I won’t!” Buck said with a laugh before gulping a beer. He was the only one among us old enough to drink at the Heartbreak.
“Nice to meet you all!” my mother said, waving and coming over to give me a hug. “Great show, you guys. Great job, Vin.”
Freeway, Friday and Craig understandably were busy staring at the younger girl in the tight pink top, black leather skirt and wolf skin boots.
“Who’s that, Vin, your sister?” Freeway finally asked with a mischievous grin.
The girl smiled as my mother introduced her.
“No, this is Saturn,” she said, pushing the girl toward me a little. “She loves your music, but she wanted to tell you guys something about fashion.”
“Oh no, look out!” Freeway shouted.
“Hoodies and jeans, guys, come on!” Saturn said with a sexy look. I don’t think she had an unsexy look. Not possible.
Surprisingly, Friday spoke up.
“Shit, I told them to mix it up, girl,” he said. “They don’t wanna listen. We’ll shake it up next time.”
“Good,” Saturn said. “Vin, can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure,” I said, jumping at the chance.
“Vin, make it quick, we gotta load the van,” Buck interrupted, as he and the others started heading back toward the stage to take it down. We certainly didn’t have any roadies at that point. We were the rockers and the roadies.
“Bye Vin,” my mother said, hugging me again. “I’m so proud of you.”
The she hugged Saturn. It made me wonder if Saturn was a fellow stripper for a second, but then my mother said, “Have fun you two. It was nice to meet you, Saturn. I’m sure we’ll see each other gain.”
“Absolutely,” Saturn said with a smile.
After my mother left the room, I was all alone with one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Rock and roll was paying off already. Thank you, Uncle Al! Unfortunately, I only had about a minute to talk before the guys would start harassing me.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked Saturn. “You look familiar.”
“I was here for your first show two weeks ago, but I was working,” she replied. “I’m a bartender here. I was looking right at you while you were singing.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Now it makes sense. I don’t think you were quite dressed the same.”
“No, definitely not,” she said with a smile. “I requested the night off. You’re band is so good and so are you. I wanted to wear something to get your attention.”
I blushed. Couldn’t help it.
“Mission accomplished,” I said with a smile, extending my hand like a shy fool. “I’m Vin Masoli.”
She shook my hand and looked at me with those hypnotizing blue eyes.
“Saturn Satriale,” she said. “Italian, just like you, but with a little dash of French.”
Seriously paralyzed for a moment, I didn’t know what to say or how to move. Then I got practical.
“Can I get your number?” I finally mumbled. “Before they start shouting for me to get my ass on the stage and I never get this chance again.”
“Give me your cell phone,” she said. “You must be tired and I want to make sure every digit is typed in properly.”
The mutual attraction was ridiculous right off the bat. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone and handed it to her with a sweaty palm.
“Vincent, get your ass out here!” Buck shouted as he stuck his head in the dark room and left again.
“I’ll be right there!” I shouted.
“I’ll be quick,” Saturn said as she deftly punched her name and number right into my phone list in a matter of seconds. Then she handed the phone back to me with a seductive glance.
“I will call you the first chance I get,” I assured her.
“You better,” she said. “I like you, but you only get one chance with a girl like me, Vin. Here it is. Don’t blow it.”
Saturn kissed me on the right cheek with those hot, red lips and then slowly orbited out of the room.
What a sight.
What a night.
CHAPTER 8: HEADING TO THE EAST SIDE
I waited two days to call Saturn and she didn’t seem too pleased.
“Hey Saturn, it’s me Vin,” I said, trying my best not to sound nervous. Rocker or not, I hadn’t had a ton of luck with women before this promising encounter.
“Who?” she tested me.
“Vin, from the band,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I vaguely remember giving you my number.”
“I would’ve called sooner, but you know,” I said, hesitating, worried that the wrong choice of words could blow it with this chick before it even started.
“Know what?” she said, clearly enjoying her edge in age, experience and feminine wiles right off the bat.
“I didn’t want to seem too anxious,” I said honestly.
“Are you anxious?” she continued, like a pestering prosecutor.
“Uh … yeah, in case you can’t tell,” I said.
She laughed, finally setting me at ease.
“I’m glad you called,” she said. “Did you write a song for me yet?”
“How did you guess,” I said.
“Sing a little bit of it to me over the phone,” she said with a delightful, playful tone. “This is your audition to woo me. No pressure or anything.”
For some reason, I had a feeling she knew I had written a song about her and I was prepared.
“I’m in orbit around your beauty,” I sang into the phone. “Round and round I spin, lookin’ for a way in. Are you picking up my radio waves, bouncing from Earth to Mars to Jupiter? Come in Saturn, do you read me? Come in Saturn, do you hear me? Come in Saturn, do you feel me? Come in Saturn, do you love me?”
The five longest seconds of silence followed.
“Um … that was pretty fucking good, Vin,” Saturn finally said. “You might have a shot with me yet.”
“I hope so,” I said. “It’s called ‘Saturn.’ The band doesn’t know about that tune yet.”
“Good,” she said. “Let’s keep it that way for a while. When you do love me, you can play it for the whole world. What are you doing right now?”
“Talking to you,” I said.
“Funny,” she said. “Any plans for the evening?”
“Nope,” I said.
“Come over to my place,” she said, five words I’ll never forget.
“You tell me where and when, and I’ll be there,” I said.
Her apartment. East side of Providence. 7 o’clock.
It was a date.
On my glorious drive to the east side — past the multitude of medical buildings, coffee shops and upscale apartments filled with Brown University students — I wiped my sweaty palms on my blue jeans more than once.
Then my cell phone buzzed, disturbingly interrupting my love-starved dreams of Saturn and what seductive outfit she might be picking out to wear at that very moment.
Oh shit. It was Uncle Al on the line. I thought about letting him just leave a message, but I actually felt pretty good about how far the band and I had come in the few weeks since his ultimatum: become a rock legend fast or die a painful, mobster-style death.
“Hi Uncle Al,” I answered. “How’s it going?”
“Fabulous Vin,” he said, seemingly in a happy mood. “Your mother tells me she saw your new band play in Providence the other night.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It was a great show. She seemed to like us. We found an awesome guitar player named Freeway Wilson. We’re writing a ton of original songs together.”
“Very glad to hear you listened to me, Vin, and that you’re doing something with your musical talents,” Al said. “This makes your Uncle Al very happy. When is your next show?”
“Halloween at the Heartbreak again,” I said. “We’re second on the bill that night because it’s a big party and we’re still new, but we still get to play for almost an hour. We’re even starting to make a little money for these gigs, you know, in case you want to collect some of my share.”
“I’m flying up from Miami the day before so I’ll come see the show,” Uncle Al said, shocking me. “I’ll collect in person.”
“Great,” I said, already getting nervous about my performance that night.
“And don’t forget what I told you, Vin,” he added.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“No gambling,” he said.
“None,” I assured him. “I haven’t bet on any football games.”
“No games at all, right?” Al said.
“Zero,” I insisted.
“Good job, Vin,” he said. “I’ll see you next week.”
“Yeah, see you at the show,” I said, hitting the off button on the cell phone.
Great. Now my mind was completely distracted heading into what could be one of the best nights of my young life. The light turned from red to green and I just sat there in my truck for a couple of seconds.
I woke up and slammed on the gas. Screw Uncle Al. It was time for my first planned rendezvous with Saturn.
CHAPTER 9: PYRO
I buzzed Vincent Masoli into the stairway that led up to my third-floor apartment at around 7:15. Acceptably late, I suppose, considering I not exactly the picture of punctuality either. It was an especially windy evening. The shutters were flapping and the leaves from the trees near the sidewalk were swirling around our old white east side tenement. The landlord, an older woman with two cats, lived on the first floor. Two college-age guys that attended Johnson & Wales culinary school occupied the second-floor apartment. I shared the top floor with the latest in a string of roommates I’ve had in the three years I’ve lived here. Morgan, who moved in mostly on her daddy’s dime two months ago, was a senior at Brown University. She also was a DJ at WBRW, the college rock radio station. We never really got along and Vin’s arrival on the scene was about to make that situation much, much worse. But on that particular late October evening, my mind was not focused on Morgan. I was excited to see Vin and welcome him to my humble home.
“Hi,” I said, opening the door and watching him ascend the narrow stairway to the third floor. He was wearing a blue, long-sleeve collared shirt, faded blue jeans and sneakers — slightly better than I expected for a teenage boy. His short hair was gelled and spiky, and his handsome Italian face looked more nervous this time than when I met him after the show. No dark rooms or screaming band mates to hide behind this time. It was just going to be me and him … and Morgan, who unfortunately happened to be home at the time.
“Hey Saturn,” he said, giving me a warm hug as I greeted him at the door wearing a tight white top, blue jeans and short, black boots. I toned it down considerably from my look for the show, but I still looked hot.
“Did you get lost?” I asked him.
“No, not at all,” Vin replied. “Your directions were great, but my uncle called on the way over. He has a way of distracting me.”
“Come have a seat on the couch,” I said, motioning him over to the brown sofa in our cozy little living room, which had a picture window overlooking the street. The kitchen and adjacent bathroom also were in the middle of the apartment. The two small bedrooms were on opposite ends. “Want a beer?”
“Seriously?” Vin asked with a big grin.
“I’m 22, Vin,” I said with a flirtatious smile. “I’m allowed to buy beer. I know I’m not allowed to give it to you, but I’ll let you have one if you don’t call the cops on me.”
“Deal,” he said. “No pigs, no sirens.”
“Good,” I said, popping the cap off and strolling over to the sofa. He took the beer, kissed my hand and guided me onto the sofa next to him. Nervous or not, the kid wasn’t a virgin. He clearly had some experience with girls. But I was a woman. It would be interesting to see if he was ready to make that leap.
Speaking of girls, that’s about the time Morgan popped out of her bedroom and headed toward the kitchen. Of course, she stopped to check out my visitor. She was petite, cute, perky and annoying. She had shoulder-length red hair, blue eyes and virtually no tits, but she still managed to get quite a few boys to chase her. Morgan had entertained at least four in just the two months since she moved in. She had just turned 21 and she was taking full advantage of it. Now the Brown senior was sizing up the equivalent of a freshman to my right, and he gave her a healthy look, too. The rocker boy and two potential cradle robbers. Yes, it had all the makings of a bizarre lust triangle. All we needed were some reality TV cameras to complete the picture. Thankfully, there weren’t any.
I broke the awkward silence.
“Morgan, this is Vincent,” I said. “Vincent, my roommate Morgan.”
She came over to shake his hand, which was totally unnecessary. What a slut. He obliged with an enthusiastic handshake, no doubt undressing both of us in his mind and fantasizing about a threesome. Typical male.
“Saturn told me you’re in a band,” Morgan said as she slowly retreated toward the refrigerator.
“Yeah, Freeway & the Vin Numbers,” Vin was happy to report.
“That’s so cool! I’m a DJ at WBRW,” she said, grabbing an apple and biting into it as she stared at him while never looking at me. I had told her Vin was in a local band just to see what would happen. Did I mention I was a bit of pyromaniac as a child? No? Well, I was. Anyway, some people are so fucking predictable. I wasn’t really jealous at that point. It was more amusing than anything.
“Really?” Vin took the bait. “I heard on the radio you guys are doing a promotion at the Heartbreak on Halloween.”
Morgan beamed like a red light in Amsterdam.
“Yes, why? Are you guys playing that night?” she asked giddily.
“Yeah, we’re not headlining, but we’re going on second to last,” Vin replied, his nerves completely gone thanks to yet another helpful distraction. I was tempted to shout, “Why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with!” but I held my tongue.
“Holy shit!” she said. “I’ll talk to the guys at the station. Maybe we can interview you guys during my air time on Wednesday to help promote Thursday night’s show.”
Vin drooled like a horny customer in Amsterdam.
“That would be so friggin’ perfect!” Vin said, warily glancing at me for the first time in days, then staring back at Morgan.
“Great, I’ll set it up,” Morgan squeaked. “What’s your number?”
I turned my head slightly and rolled my eyes. Perhaps the tiny fire I started was going to burn out of control after all. Whatever. He’s 18. She’s 21 going on 16. I’ll be the matchmaker and find a 28-year-old rich guy like I’m supposed to instead of some teenage rocker boy.
But that’s when something very strange happened. Vin actually turned to me and asked my permission.
“Is that cool?” he asked me.
I was slightly shocked and had to search for an answer.
“Sure,” I said, quickly adding a jab. “You only get one chance to be interviewed by WBRW.”
Vin hesitated for a second, studying my eyes. Did he get it? Did he remember when I said you only get one chance with me? I didn’t think so. I could tell the wheels were just spinning in his brain and going nowhere. They were caught in the sticky muck of alcohol, revving hormones and new potential song lyrics that must inevitably swamp a singer’s mind when he’s confronted by what he thinks is a threesome. Morgan, of course, towed him out.
“272-2131,” she said. “Bring the whole band.”
“Awesome,” he said, punching the numbers into his cell phone without looking at me.
Satisfied, Morgan smiled and happily sauntered off to her room with the parting line, “See you Wednesday.”
Vin and I traded a couple of weird glances, but I cut through the awkwardness with one decisive kiss. Yeah, I made the first move. I simply set another fire to counter the first one I started. It worked. It was hot. And I made sure he wasn’t thinking about Morgan the rest of the night.
CHAPTER 10: ON THE AIR
Pepe, Buck’s 6-foot-4, 260-pound Dominican ass-kicker, was hired as our driver, roadie and security chief. He also was handed the keys to the Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon, a super-sized black van Buck had purchased and custom-painted with red-and-gold dragon flames along the sides. The van, inspired by Freeway’s song of the same name, would become our primary tour bus. The first time we all rode in it together was the day before Halloween. The band was quite pleased with me when I told them I had landed us a live interview on WBRW, one of the most popular radio stations in Providence for people in their late teens and 20s.
“That Saturn chick is a good luck charm,” my buddy Craig said, punching me in the shoulder as we sat in the second seat. Buck rode shotgun. Freeway and Friday were hanging in the way back, giggling and marveling at some of the posters of naked women Buck had stuck to the ceiling and walls of the plush, red-carpeted Paddy Wagon. “This radio gig could be big, man.”
“No shit,” I said. “The funny part of it is Saturn’s roommate is the one that made it happen. Her name is Morgan and she’s a DJ at the station.”
“Is she hot, too?” Craig asked.
“Yeah, but more cute than hot,” I said.
“Hook me up,” Craig said, his big brown eyes bugging.
“I already did,” I said. “I got us the interview with her so all you have to do is charm her.”
Friday couldn’t resist jumping into the conversation at this point.
“No chance,” he said, leaning toward us with a big grin. “The girl is mine.”
“You got enough girls already, Friday,” Buck shouted from up front. Pepe and Freeway busted out laughing.
“You can never have enough,” Friday protested.
“So are you and Saturn aligned with Venus, the Goddess of Love?” the affable Freeway asked me as only he could.
“You could say that,” I said, trying to avoid the urge to turn the Paddy Wagon into a locker room.
“I did,” Freeway persisted. “What do you say?”
“We didn’t go all the way or nothing,” I said. “But it was a very good time the other night, especially for a first date.”
“Congrats, man,” Freeway said. “How’s your initial investment in this band looking right about now?”
“Better and better,” I said with a smile. “And you’ll be fighting off groupies before you know it, Freeway.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Move over, Rover, let Freeway take over!” Freeway shouted, quoting Jimi Hendrix from the song, “Fire.”
Friday howled and high-fived his friend.
When we arrived at the WBRW studio, a producer ushered us into a room next to the DJ room and we could see Morgan talking into her microphone. The “on air” sign was lit when we arrived and all the band members smiled. Craig and Friday were definitely checking Morgan out and ribbing each other, but Morgan mostly snuck glances at me through the glass and smiled as she finished up a traffic report. When the producers cut to a commercial, Morgan left her mike and opened the door.
“Hey guys,” she said, shaking everybody’s hand. “I’m Morgan. Me and another DJ, Ryan, will be interviewing you guys. He should be up here any second and we’ll get started. He’s actually seen one of your shows so that’ll make it even better.”
“Sweet,” I said, shaking Morgan’s hand. “Nice to see you again.”
“Right back at you, Vin,” she said with steamy look.
Freeway’s eyes caught the quick exchange and his eyebrows jumped toward his afro as he smiled. When she turned away, he pointed at me with his long index finger and whispered, “You got a problem,” then smiled even bigger. I shook it off and shrugged.
Ryan, a skinny college kid with purple-streaked, brown spiky hair who looked even younger than Morgan, finally arrived and introduced himself. After that, we all entered the “on air” room. The DJs each had a mike and the rest of us had to share the other two on the opposite side of the booth. Freeway and myself took the seats right in front of the microphones. The others were happy to stand behind us, except Friday. He grimaced and looked like he wanted some air time. Knowing Freeway, I was sure he would put his crazy pal’s mouth in front of the mike at some point during the interview.
“You’re back on the afternoon show here at 95 WBRW with Morgan and Ryan,” Morgan said on the air. “Right now we’re going to talk to a brand new band that’s going to play the Halloween show WBRW is sponsoring tomorrow night at the Heartbreak Lounge. They are called Freeway & the Vin Numbers. Hello guys and welcome to the studio.”
“Hello world,” Freeway said tentatively with a mischievous smile, drawing a chuckle out of everybody in the room.
“You must be Freeway,” Morgan told the listeners.
“He is,” Ryan confirmed.
“Yes, Ryan has seen the band perform before at the Heartbreak,” Morgan said. “I have not.”
“Shame on you,” I interjected.
“But, Vin, I will tomorrow night,” Morgan countered.
“Good,” I said, staring at her.
“So, since I don’t know anything and neither do most of our listeners, who does what in this band?” Morgan asked us.
“Freeway plays lead guitar, Craig plays rhythm guitar, I play bass and Buck plays drums,” I said.
“And both of you guys sing,” Ryan jumped in.
“Yeah,” Freeway said.
“Freeway and Vin both sing,” Ryan repeated for the benefit of the listeners. “And then this guy, what’s your name?”
Freeway pushed Friday toward the mike stand.
“Friday,” Friday said with a smile as we all bottled up our laughter with our hands.
“Friday here,” Ryan continued with a chuckle, “just kind of stands there like a bad ass basically.”
“Yes, but Friday has unknown talents that are still yet to surface,” I jumped in. “We’ve been plotting some tricks for the Halloween show and …”
Morgan smiled at me as I spoke with increasing confidence on the air. She seemed to like the way the interview was going.
“No, Vin, don’t give anything away,” Freeway said, shaking his afro and regaining control of his mike.
“Never,” I said.
“For those just tuning in to WBRW, we’re talking with Freeway & the Vin Numbers,” Morgan said. “They’ll take the stage around 10:30 or so tomorrow night and go on before the headliners, The Afterglows, at our Halloween show. How did you guys come up with the name for your band? I mean, is Freeway your real name, Freeway?”
“My real name is Prince because my momma loved Prince, but there’s already a Prince, you know, and I jam by I-95 all the time so the nickname kind of stuck,” Freeway said.
“Then Buck here came up with the rest of the name,” I jumped in, ushering Buck toward my mike stand.
“Well, we had Vin right here,” my bookie said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “And then I was watching all those cars whizzing by on the highway one night — that’s a lot of VIN numbers flying by. The rest is history.”
“Vehicle identification numbers for those out there who don’t know what it stands for,” Ryan pointed out with a smile. “Did you know that Morgan?”
“Um, I think so,” she said with a feigned ditzy expression.
“Now the show I was at, you guys opened with a cover of ‘Love or Confusion’ by Jimi Hendrix,” Ryan said. “And Freeway, here, does bear a strong resemblance to the late rock legend. For those who haven’t seen him, he’s got the afro, and his guitar playing is pretty amazing.”
“Thanks,” Freeway said shyly.
“You guys have a sound that is kind of bluesy and retro, but it’s kind of refreshing compared to what’s on the radio these days,” Ryan said. “Is that what you’re going for, like a 1960s or ’70s revival?”
“We’re definitely influenced by bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors and Led Zeppelin,” I said. “So we’re trying to mix that with our own musical experience and modernize it for kids of our generation. We’re so new at it that it’s all kind of experimental at this point, but we’ve written like 20 original songs already so something is working. It’s been a blast so far.”
“Have you guys recorded anything or have a demo yet?” Morgan asked.
“We only formed last month,” I said. “But we’ve been talking about getting some recording time before the end of this year.”
“Yeah,” Freeway added, “we’d like to put out a CD early next year if we can. Right Friday?”
Friday smiled and leaned toward the mike.
“Get paid, get laid,” he said, setting off another round of laughter in the studio. The producer had to bleep out the fourth word.
“So Ryan, you’ve heard these guys play,” Morgan said. “Which songs were your favorites? Which songs should they record and put on the CD?”
“I actually liked a bunch of them, but I don’t really know the names because they’re not on a record yet,” Ryan said. “The first original song they played the other night was awesome. There was a wicked fast tune with ‘medieval upheaval’ in the chorus. And the encore song, the paddy wagon song.”
“Translate that for us, Vin,” Morgan said.
“Nice choices,” I said, nodding at Ryan. “We really like those tunes, too. They’re called ‘My Paul,’ ‘Medieval Upheaval’ and ‘Shaggin Dragon Paddy Wagon.’”
“Wow,” Morgan said. “Crazy names.”
“Yeah,” Freeway said. “Freakier the better.”
When the interview ended and we all filed out, Morgan pulled me aside.
“I’ll see you at show, Vin,” she said, her blue eyes glamming me for several seconds.
“Cool,” I said, feeling slightly awkward. “Thanks for this. Seriously. This is huge for us.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll let you make it up to me later.”
Thoughts of Saturn raced through my head, but I kept my options open.
“I will,” I said, kissing her on the cheek and apparently making her day.
No, I couldn’t bet on football games any more. But that rush had been replaced by the thrill of making meaningful music and gambling on my own dicey ability to handle more than one woman at the same time.
CHAPTER 11: HALLOWEEN MAYHEM, PART 1
The Halloween show at the Heartbreak. Where do I begin? You’ve probably seen some of the videos by now capturing the mayhem. They’ve gone viral on the Internet. They’ve only added to the buzz behind the band. Let’s just say Freeway & the Vin Numbers won’t be playing at the Heartbreak again anytime soon.
I managed to get that night off mostly because it was a Thursday show and I was already lined up to work Friday and Saturday night. Vin and his band mates were in the dank little warm-up room passing around some fat joints and chatting with members of The Afterglows, the headliners, in between finalizing their set list. That’s when I walked in to make sure they still wanted me to do my part in the little sideshow they had planned.
“Saturn!” Vin shouted, jumping up from the nasty couch to greet me and smelling of pot. “Happy Halloween!”
I kissed him with some hesitation. He seemed a bit fucked up as he backed up a few inches to check me out. I wore a short, tight black dress with my brown hair teased up wild and long black heels. And yes, my ample tits were falling out as requested by the band.
“Hi Vin,” I said.
“You look perfect,” he said, wearing a black T-shirt with a street light on it. All three lights were bright blue instead of green, yellow and red. “Who are you for Halloween again?”
“J-Woww from ‘Jersey Shore,’” I said, referring to the MTV show about a bunch of guidos and guidettes. There are plenty of those in Rhode Island, too. “I told you who I was gonna be.”
“Oh yeah,” Vin said. “Are you all set for your part?”
“Yeah, I got it,” she said. “Just make sure Friday doesn’t whack me with that thing when he’s running around with it.”
“Don’t cut her up, Friday!” Vin yelled toward the couch.
Friday smiled, gave the thumbs up and then took a big drag on his joint. That was reassuring.
“I’ll see you after the show,” I said, turning to walk away. Vin grabbed my arm.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
“It’s gotta be something,” he persisted, his pleading brown eyes more focused on me now.
“I just have a weird feeling some shit is going to go down tonight,” I said prophetically.
“Weird shit? In general or between you and me?” Vin asked.
“Probably both,” I said, leaving him to mull that over as I quickly left the room.
The Heartbreak already had nearly filled to capacity in the time after the opening band finished and before Freeway & the Vin Numbers took the stage. Most Friday and Saturday nights didn’t get this busy until midnight, but this was Halloween. All the hell-raisers were either in the building or standing in the long line outside by 10:30. The costumes were pretty standard: Barack Obamas, Sarah Palins, witches, French maids, naughty nurses, tons of “Jersey Shore” and “Twilight” characters, etc. There were also dozens of sluts and groupies — oops, they dress like that year round. Wink, wink. I also noticed more cops than usual near the entrance and outside. And of course, there was Morgan. She was dressed like a genie, happily exposing her size-zero midriff to the world. Her and a male DJ were set up in a booth next to the mixing station with the WBRW banner draped over it.
I tried to ignore her, but she made a point of waving at me so I gave her a beauty queen parade wave as I walked by quickly and headed for the bar. There was no sign of Danielle, Vin’s mom, this time. Then again, there were so many people at this show that she could’ve been there and I would never have known. Amy hooked me up with a shot of Jagermeister and a beer chaser. She and I both knew this wasn’t going to be a wine kind of evening.
When the stage lights went dark, everybody screamed and jammed closer to the front of the stage. At first, only Freeway walked out and the blue spotlight glared on him. His afro was even bigger than usual. He wore the same shirt Vin had on, with the street light on it, and crazy, multi-colored stage pants. It also looked like he had some cool, pointy alligator-skin boots.
Freeway strapped on his red Les Paul guitar, smiled at the anxious crowd and led off with the sleepy, melodic blues of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “The Wind Cries Mary.” The screams of the crowd died down instantly and we could hear every beautiful note. Freeway began his amazingly soft and soulful vocals by singing the third verse instead of the first or second. Suddenly, the band’s T-shirts made sense:
“The traffic lights they turn blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed,
The tiny island sags downstream
’Cos the life that they lived is dead
And the wind screams Mary.
Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past,
And with this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, ‘No, this will be the last.’
And the wind cries Mary.”
Freeway waited a second to enjoy the moment. The crowd savored the pure beauty of the song and so did I. Then, as the cheers went up, yellow stage lights hit the other members of the band in their positions. They all wore matching afro wigs, black-and-blue street light shirts and huge smiles as Freeway’s monster riff led the charge into the second half of the Hendrix montage that kicked off the show. The band performed “Fire,” sequenced beautifully, just as it follows “The Wind Cries Mary” on Jimi’s album, “Are You Experienced.”
Again Freeway did the singing:
“You don’t care for me
I don’-a care about that
Gotta new fool, ha!
I like it like that
I have only one burning desire
Let me stand next to your fire
Let me stand next to your fire”
Later, Freeway had a little fun with the lyrics:
“Oh! Move over, Rover
And let Freeway take over
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about
Yeah, get on with it, baby!
Partially wasted or not, Vin seemed to have no trouble jamming away on the fast bass parts, and you could tell the whole band loved the song. The crowd completely fed off that, raising their hands, dancing it up and going wild.
After the song ended, Freeway managed to utter a few words into the microphone in between screams.
“Happy Halloween Heartbreak Lounge!” he said with a smile. “We are Freeway & the Vin Numbers. Yes, we’ve got some tricks and we’ve got some treats for you. Here’s a brand new treat called, ‘Sirens & Songs.’ Feel free to raise your freak flag high!”
Vin sang this tune as the whole band powered into a fast-moving groove:
“Damsels in distress
Various states of undress
Thrill of the chase!
Thrill of the chase!
Thrill of the chase!
Not a second to waste
Crossing yellow lines
Blowing red lights
Not knowing rights from wrongs
Not knowing sirens from songs
Crash on the rocks!
Crash on the rocks!
Crash on the rocks!
Balloons, bananas, kites and tambourines
Mushrooms, bandanas, pipes and submarines
Black leather, pink lace
Thrill of the chase!
Thrill of the chase!
Thrill of the chase!”
I could see that little bitch Morgan blowing kisses at Vin after that song, but he seemed pretty absorbed in his own world, not looking much in her direction or mine at that point. He clearly enjoyed wearing his afro wig and looking down at all the tramps’ bouncing cleavage in the first few rows.
In between the band performing previous favorites “Jamming by the I” and “Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon,” a tune which also proved to be prophetic later in the evening, Freeway sang a new song called “Crazee Leaf,” obviously an ode to whatever the band was smoking before the show:
You got my heart skippin’ beats
And triangular prisms
Of psychedelic rainbows
Crossing from east to west
In the midnight skies
Of my daydreams
Your love’s a crazee leaf
Curing my purple grief
So come what may
While here I lay
Looking up at you
Falling down on me
Hey, crazee leaf
Don’t fall too fast
On this summer’s day”
Indeed, that crazee song was my cue to head back stage and participate directly in the circus that was to follow. The stage went dark and people shuffled around. The blue stage lights glared on only Freeway once again.
“Having fun?” he said with a laugh.
The crowd roared its approval. I took my spot on the far side of the stage not too far from Freeway as he said:
“The band would like to ask you for your vote.”
More screams went up.
“Who here is the most boring fan?” Freeway said with a big smile. “Find that wallflower and point him or her out right now.”
The crowd went crazy with this rare opportunity to see somebody get publicly embarrassed. And every person in the club wanted to make damn sure he or she wasn’t at the receiving end of this Halloween trick.
Naturally, the crowd targeted a skinny, pimply white kid up against the back wall who didn’t even bother to wear a Halloween costume to the show. The stage lights captured the chaos as fans pushed him forward, eventually hoisting him up and bouncing him along in a wave toward the stage. Cameras and video phones were following every second of the madness. With the help of some security staffers, the geeky kid with the tie-dye shirt and blue jeans was deposited in front of Freeway, who helped him up and put his shoulder around him as he spoke again to the crowd. The kid tried to smile, but he looked like he already might have pissed his pants.
“What’s your name, bro?” Freeway asked the kid.
“Stan,” he said shyly.
“So, are you sure Stan here is your vote for most boring fan?” Freeway asked the crowd, not unlike what Pontius Pilate did with Jesus and the blood-thirsty Jews more than 2,000 years ago.
The fans reaffirmed their vote with a loud cheer and Freeway giddily set the gag in motion.
“We’ve got just the cure for your boredom, Stan,” Freeway said as the spotlight flooded down on me and he shoved Stan in my direction. “Go play Twister with Saturn, goddess of the Solar System. She’s even hotter than Venus.”
Shit yeah I was nervous with all these people looking at me, but it also was kind of fun. I bowed to the audience and guided slimy-palmed Stan over toward the Twister mat. The people in the crowd were laughing their asses off as this kid looked around like a dumbfounded deer in the headlights. Yes, his schoolboy fantasy suddenly had come true, but I’m guessing the scene was far different than what he had imagined. Poor kid or not, I couldn’t help but chuckle a few times myself.
“Drum roll please,” Freeway requested of Buck, the normally cue ball-headed drummer who now looked pretty goofy in his afro as he pounded the skins under a lime-green spotlight. “Saturn, do all four of your spins at once for the benefit of the crowd and Stan here. Then Stan can spin.”
I spun the Twister wheel four times, then placed my hands and heels on the proper colored dots, contorting my body for maximum erotic impact. To put it more crudely, I turned myself into a fuck-me pretzel and watched virgin Stan practically blow his load to the delight of the live studio audience. They hooted and hollered in all their slutty and ghoulish costumes as I peered at them from a strange angle. Perhaps a career as a game show host was in my future yet. And don’t forget. Hundreds of video cameras were capturing all of this insanity, people. Good thing both of my parents were dead and my grandmother, who raised me since I was 13, didn’t know what YouTube was.
“Stan, your turn,” Freeway bellowed into the mike. “Spin that wheel, man.”
Stan nervously spun the wheel, saw the result and got ready to approach me on the Twister mat. This was the one moment in time in which all my hopes and prayers rested with that pothead gangster Friday, of all people, who was supposed to come to my rescue. I didn’t want some sweaty, pimply, nervous virgin within six feet of me, never mind wrapping his limbs around mine and copping a feel.
Thankfully, before Stan brushed up against me, I heard the sound of that revving chainsaw reverberating from somewhere back stage. Talk about sweet music to my ears.
A second later, Friday pounced onto the stage with his grotesque “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” mask and a huge orange and white Stihl chainsaw blaring as loud as it could. No, this “trick” had not been sanctioned by Heartbreak Lounge management. Fortunately for all of us, and especially Stan, it was all over very quickly. Stan took one eyeball-popping look at the lunatic running toward the Twister mat and instinctively dove head first into the crowd. The people quickly dropped the poor kid onto the floor because they couldn’t believe their eyes and ears, and they didn’t want to miss a thing. Friday jogged the length of the front of the stage with his crazy mask and waved the chainsaw around above his head, and then he disappeared back stage again within seconds. The frozen looks on the faces of all those costumed weirdoes in the crowd could only be described as way beyond priceless. Before they went fucking crazy in the ensuing moments, they all were completely stunned for a second. Nobody had expected a stunt like that, All-Hallows-Eve or not. Friday had made them look like a bunch of first-time trick-or-treaters at a kindergarten Halloween party. Some even had to replay the video of it on their cameras and phones right away to relive those precious seconds because it had happened so fast.
The stage went dark again for 30 seconds or so, and I slowly returned to the buzzing crowd.
The show did go on. Live chainsaw or not, nobody pulled the plug on Freeway & the Vin Numbers at that point. That would come later because, yes, the mayhem was far from done. Figuratively speaking, I have to catch my breath. Part two of the infamous Halloween gig is coming up next.
CHAPTER 12: HALLOWEEN MAYHEM, PART 2
When the stage lights flashed back on, the boys were back in their normal positions, including Friday. The “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” mask he was wearing earlier was replaced by his fake afro and his bad-ass, shit-eating grin. People in the crowd saluted him for his stunt as he prepared to stand in front of them and do nothing again.
For a change, Vin did the talking before the band cranked up three brand new tunes in a row.
“Stan, where are you? You OK man?” Vin asked with a laugh.
The crowd laughed, too, as the spotlight focused on Stan, who had recovered enough to manage a smile and wave from the relative safety of the rear bar area.
“Here’s a song about a stalker who didn’t stop, even after her man kicked the bucket,” Vin said. “It’s called, ‘Hell Phone,’ and it’s perfect for Halloween.”
Craig, who actually improved on his ugly mullet with the afro wig, led into the song with some creepy keyboards as Vin sang:
Hey girl I just died
Don’t keep tellin’ me what to do
So she crossed the great divide
And stalks me in the next life, too
She’s a psycho ghost clinger
Still puttin’ me through the ringer
Yeah, she dug me up, dug me up, dug me up
Every clinger digs a singer
She’s tap-tap-tapping on my tombstone
She’s ta-ta-texting me on my hell phone
She’s got me lookin’ around corners
And hidin’ in back alleys
Chillin’ up in the hills
And laying low in valleys
All my worldly possessions
Consumed by her obsessions
There’s no ghost of a chance
I’ll escape her spooky glance
She’s tap-tap-tapping on my tombstone
She’s ta-ta-texting me on my hell phone
Won’t stop haunting me with her Ke$ha ring tone
I’m not sure that song worked very well. It was just plain weird, but the crowd rolled with it. Some loved the reference to new pop it-girl Ke$ha. Don’t worry, Vin. I won’t stalk you, but Morgan might. The little red-headed genie was now ogling Vin from the side of the stage, probably hoping to land a post-show interview.
Freeway used his persuasive guitar on “Bucket of Blues” to return the show to its earlier bluesy vibe, slowing down the down and singing:
“Every time you paint the town, girl
You leave me with a bucket of blues
Every time you paint the town, girl
You leave me with a bucket of blues
You’re a no-good dive bar diva, girl
Ruling the dance floor with those dagger-heel shoes
Just trample my heart a little harder, girl
And I’ll drown myself in this bucket of booze
Bucket of booze for a bucket of blues
Yeah, a bucket of booze for a bucket of blues
Go ahead, girl, I can take it
I was born to mop the floor
With this here bucket of blues”
Freeway followed that up with “Wayward Wanderer,” a tune that seemed to reignite Friday, who smiled proudly and reveled in the gangster references. He bopped to the beat and flashed various gang signs to the oblivious crowd:
“She’s the wayward wanderer
On the side of the road, hitchhiking
She’s the wayward wanderer
Could be an Indian, or maybe a Viking
She’s the muse behind the scenes
The news inside the paper
That we roll when we rock
The stage of our dreams
Damn the river, beware the streams
Sometimes she comes in drips
Most times in floods
Sometimes she comes in Crips
Most times in Bloods
How she comes, it don’t matter
She’ll always get you in the end”
Alas, love songs were hard to find in this Halloween set list. Death, death and more death.
Next, the band fired everybody up again with its uplifting anarchy song, “Medieval Upheaval.” Buck went wild on the drums throughout the onslaught, and Vin tossed his microphone stand around as he screamed the chorus over Freeway’s soaring guitar:
“What we need right now
Is a medieval upheaval
Of cataclysmic proportions
I’m talking muthafuckin’ earthquakes
Of volcanic distortion”
Then Vin added a few new lyrics at the end of the tune:
“Do you feel our energy
Burn from green to black?
Now go tell your momma
That rock is back!”
The crowd went berserk for that song as usual. Too bad the show didn’t end right there, on a high note. Nope. Vin had to push his luck by wrapping it up with “Papa Was A Gravestone.” Some of his cohorts in the band knew his Uncle Al was somewhere in the crowd (I had no idea what he looked like until later) and they egged him on to try out some alternative lyrics with his uncle in mind. Vin, who already wasn’t very adept at anticipating the consequences of his actions, apparently had smoked enough pot before the show to go for it without fear.
“This last one’s called, ‘Papa Was A Gravestone,’” Vin announced to the crowd. “You guys have been great tonight. Stick around for The Afterglows and we’ll see you again next time.”
With that, the band jammed hardcore and Vin sang with more edge in his vocals than ever before:
“Packing sixes and rolling sevens
Living hells and dying heavens
Chasing moons and seeing stars
Shooting beams and smashing cars
Gambling todays and paying tomorrows
But I’m still stuck on yesterdays
Yeah, I’m still stuck on yesterdays
Then came the chorus with the controversial lyrics and the other band members gleefully providing backing vocals:
Papa was a gravestone (still is)
Mama worked the brass pole (still does)
Uncle was a mobster (still is)
Auntie preferred the butt hole (still does)
Ouch. Vin pronounced it very clearly and the crowd totally got off on it. So the band rocked that same chorus again, but this time Uncle Al was listening. It was kind of hard to see from my vantage point, but a short, stocky guy who definitely looked like he could be a mobster and a much bigger goon next to him were shoving their way through the crowd, bull rushing toward the stage and wildly pointing at Vin. I could see Friday and Pepe, the band’s driver who was on the side of the stage not far from Morgan, converging toward the two men from different directions. Heartbreak security people also noticed the potential fracas and started jumping into the crowd. Once again, camera phones were popping up to catch the action. I propped my ass up on the bar. Amy rushed next to me and tugged on a lock of my long, brown hair. We could see fists flying not far from where Vince was singing on the stage. The band cut the song short, cops started rushing in from the club entrance and someone screamed, “Guns! They’ve got guns! Get the fuck out of here!”
I immediately jumped behind the bar with Amy and we ducked down together holding each other. We could hear the sounds of a stampede and plenty of screaming, but thankfully, no gun shots rang out. A minute or so later, Tyler, a cute security staffer with a buzz cut, joined us behind the bar and crouched down to give us an update.
“You ladies OK?” he asked, studying us with his attractive hazel eyes.
“We’re fine,” Amy replied, still hugging me close.
“What the fuck happened?” I asked.
“Two guys pulled guns, but they were both subdued
quickly and the cops just removed them and arrested them,” Tyler said. “They’re throwing them in a paddy wagon as we speak.”
“Good,” Amy said.
“Is the band OK?” I asked, wondering what happened to Vin.
“Yeah, they’re fine,” Tyler said. “They’re back stage, but that chainsaw guy got arrested. He drew a gun when the other guy flashed his.”
“Friday got arrested,” I said.
“Friday? That’s his name?” Tyler said.
“Yup,” I said. “Probably not his first time being arrested either.”
“The police said they are going to clear this place out, so when you feel safe, Amy, you can start cleaning up and get the hell out of here,” Tyler told us.
“What about the headliners?” I asked.
“No Afterglows tonight ladies,” he replied with a grin.
“Thanks for the update Tyler,” Amy said.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “It’s safe to stand up now and do what you gotta do.”
I knew what I had to do: go find Vin, yell at him and remind him how accurate my crystal ball was. Perhaps I should’ve been the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween.
CHAPTER 13: EXCUSE ME WHILE I KISS THIS GIRL
My Uncle Al kept screaming at me as he was being restrained by police officers and dragged away alongside his gun-toting crony Eddie.
“You’re gonna get it up the ass, how about that, you disrespectful little shit!” he yelled. “I’ll be coming to see you tomorrow at your mother’s house. I’ll shove that afro up your ass. You better be there, Vincent!”
Yeah, I guess he didn’t like the alternative lyrics for “Papa Was a Gravestone.” Now I was squarely back on his hit list. As the pot wore off, I realized I must have a death wish. What other explanation could there be for my suicidal switch of the lyrics? Then I looked at Freeway, smiling ear to ear as he strolled arm-in-arm with a naughty nurse on one side and a sexy cat woman on the other. Yup. It must’ve been peer group pressure that made me do it.
“That was bad ass, Vin,” Freeway said, patting me on the back and taking in the whole chaotic scene as we stood on the street outside the club. “I got mad respect for you, man. See what happens when you wear an afro. It’s all about musical integrity. You called a spade a spade, man. You called a mobster a mobster.”
Yes, I was still wearing the afro wig.
“Yeah, too bad I insulted my aunt, his wife, in the process,” I lamented, trying to play it cool as I envisioned my very short future on this planet and wondered where the hell Saturn was in the middle of all this.
“Don’t worry about it,” Freeway said. “We got your back. Speaking of which, we gotta go bail out Friday before I retire for the evening with these beautiful ladies.”
They both purred at Freeway as I tried to shake myself out of my daze.
“Good point,” I said. “That was awesome of Friday and Pepe to stop those goons. I owe them big-time.”
“Pepe’s gonna drive us over to the police station if you want to hop in,” Freeway said.
“I gotta find Saturn first,” I said. “The station ain’t far from here. I’ll run over if I have to or have Saturn drop me off. She’s got her car here somewhere.”
Morgan found me first.
“There you are,” the out-of-breath genie/DJ asked us. “Can I interview you guys about what happened?”
“Vin will tell you all about it,” Freeway said with a smile as he escorted his ladies of the night toward the band’s paddy wagon, not to be confused with the police paddy wagons on the scene.
“And excuse me while I kiss these girls,” Freeway playfully added, a gender-changing reference to Jimi’s famous lyric in “Purple Haze.” Back in the day, Jimi often would often sing “excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of the original lyric, “excuse me while I kiss the sky.” Legend has it, Jimi heard some girl say “excuse me while I kiss this guy” outside a club in London.
Too bad I wasn’t in a playful mood at the moment.
“See you at the station, Freeway,” I said before focusing on Morgan and her cute, earnest little face.
“Vin, please tell me what happened,” she pleaded. “They canceled The Afterglows and everything.”
I tried to sort it all out in my confused brain.
“I changed a few lyrics on that last song and my uncle was actually here for the show, so he got pissed off,” I told her. “Him and his buddy kind of started a fight. They were coming after me, but Friday and Pepe, our driver, got in the way. Some security people got in the way. It was mostly just pushing and shoving near the stage, but then a couple of guys pulled guns. The cops arrested them. That’s it. Just another Halloween show at the Heartbreak, right?”
Morgan shook her head in disbelief.
“You and your uncle don’t get along,” she said, trying to figure out how to turn the mess into a sound bite.
“It’s kind of a long story,” I said. “I’m sorry things got so fucked up.”
“Yeah, it’s a shame,” she said. “You guys put on a great show, except maybe for the chainsaw and the guns.”
“Yeah, wow, what a night,” I said. “I guess they won’t want us performing here again anytime soon.”
Morgan had a hard time disagreeing with that statement, but she looked at me for a second and kissed me anyway — right on the lips. And for some reason, I kissed her back.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You guys are gonna be great. Everybody can see that, everybody can hear it. You’ll get a gig somewhere after this, especially with all the publicity you’re gonna get after this show. I know we’re going to talk about it on the air tomorrow, that’s for sure. And I know there will be plenty of videos on the Internet. Some of them might be up already.”
“Really?” I said.
“Definitely,” she said. “I hope you’re ready. You’re 15 minutes of fame start now.”
“Holy shit,” I said. “I hope I’m alive long enough to see it.”
Morgan laughed. I didn’t.
And fittingly, just as I said those words, I noticed Saturn looking at me from about 30 yards up the street while standing with a couple of other people. She started walking toward me.
“Here comes Saturn,” I said.
Morgan briefly looked at her, too, and then back at me.
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” she said. “Give me a call sometime if you need a friendly voice on the other end.”
I didn’t answer her right away. I looked at Saturn slowly approaching me in all of her sexiness and agonized over how I had fucked everything up once again.
Morgan made sure to hug me before Saturn arrived.
“Yeah, thanks Morgan. Maybe I’ll take you up on that,” I said, wondering if Saturn had seen the kiss as well.
Morgan quickly bolted in the other direction and Saturn only stared at me. I could tell she wasn’t happy. Her brown eyes looked drained.
“Were you looking for me?” Saturn asked.
“Uh,” I hesitated. “Not yet. Morgan was kind of interviewing me about what happened with the show and all.”
“I see,” Saturn said, keeping a poker face and possibly holding onto an elephant-sized piece of information — whether she saw Morgan and I kiss or not. “Are you OK, Vin? Did your uncle try to shoot you?”
“Sort of,” I said. “He had his goon coming after me, at least until Friday and Pepe stepped in.”
“Can we please talk in private instead of out here on the street with a bunch of freaks running around?” Saturn requested.
“Absolutely,” I said, finally taking off my afro wig. “Can we talk in your car? I don’t have mine and I told the other guys in the band I would see if you could drop me off at the police station. I kind of wanted to be there and help bail out Friday since he had my back a little while ago.”
“Sure,” she said with the curtness of a taxi cab driver before strutting along the sidewalk with her long black heels. “I’m parked one block over. Follow me.”
Saturn beeped me into the passenger seat of her cozy little silver Honda CRX and then got into the driver’s seat. She didn’t start the car. She got right to the point.
“Vin, this isn’t going to work between us,” she said, coldly. “You’re too young, you still have a lot of growing up to do and that’s OK. You’re 18. That’s what you should be doing.”
I listened and immediately felt a sharp kick to my gut.
“You saw us didn’t you?” I said.
“Saw what?” she asked, waiting for me to slit my own throat.
“Morgan just kissed me,” I admitted. “And I kissed her back.”
“No, I didn’t see that,” Saturn said, looking right at me like she meant it. “Sounds like a great interview, Vin.”
I hung my head.
“I appreciate your honesty,” she said. “You didn’t have to admit to that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I blew it, my one chance. This is over so fast … over before it barely started. That’s what really sucks.”
“The truth is, Vin, I would have never even thought about dating an 18-year-old guy until I saw you the night of your first performance,” Saturn said. “I’m 22. I should be dating guys who are 25, not 18.”
“Then why did you want to meet me back stage and start something?” I asked.
“Because you’re a handsome guy, you’re special and you connected with me on some level with your music,” she explained. “Tonight everything felt different, weird, not right.”
“What was it?” I asked.
“Where do I begin?” Saturn asked herself as she gripped the steering wheel. “The pot, the chainsaw, the gang signs, the guns, Morgan … every fucking song about death. Don’t we have enough death in our lives already, Vin, with my parents and your father? What about life? What about love? How’s that for starters, Vincent?”
“Oh,” I said.
“I didn’t even mind my Twister thing, that was kind of fun,” she said, trying to soften the blow a little. “I know it was Halloween and all, but could you guys include one fucking love song in your set? Just one?”
“I knew it,” I said, pounding the dashboard with my hands. “I wanted to perform the song I wrote for you and sang for you over the phone, but I was afraid it didn’t really fit for Halloween.”
“Vin, with all the gambling you do and all the risks you like to take without thinking of the consequences, that was the one gamble you should’ve taken tonight,” she said. “I would have loved that. That would’ve made all the other shit worth it.”
Damn. That fucking hurt. Tears crept into my eyes.
What a blown opportunity. What a gutless idiot.
Saturn put her hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t beat yourself up over it, Vin,” she said. “You’re 18. You’ll be fucking up and making these kinds of mistakes for the next 10 years, even more so if you’re in a band and you’ve got all these women chasing after you. That’s what being young and foolish is all about.”
“Really?” I said.
“Really,” she said.
“And look at it this way,” Saturn continued, looking right at me. “If you had sung me my song in front of all those people tonight, and I caught you kissing Morgan on the street after that, you wouldn’t be here talking to me right now. I would’ve punched you in the face 10 times and you’d be lying in the gutter.”
I was completely dazed again.
“Wow,” was all I could utter.
Saturn drove me to the police station. We both sat in silence for the short trip. The “what ifs” taunted me again and again.
“Can I get one last kiss?” I groveled as she pulled next to the curb and stopped the car outside the Providence police station near a bridge overlooking I-95. I certainly wasn’t “Jamming by the I” at this horrible moment in time.
“No,” she said flatly, her pretty brown eyes showing no tears, no letup from literally dumping me on the curb. “Save it for Morgan. She’s all yours. Better watch out with her. She might be kissing another guy right now … or worse.”
Man, this girl knew just how to slice me up with her words. She was a Jedi master and I was a pathetic, fucking amateur.
“I’m sorry,” I said again as I got out of her car.
“Don’t be,” she said. “We all fuck up from time to time. This just wasn’t meant to be right now. Down the line, who knows, Vin? Grow up a little. Write some better songs. Don’t get killed by your uncle. Kick ass with the band. I’m not closing the door on us forever.”
A precious little slice of hope. It was all I could’ve asked for.
“Good,” I said. “Cuz I’m not.”
And with that, I closed her car door and waved goodbye to Saturn. Yes, that beautiful young woman had orbited out of my life almost as quickly as she had arrived. But I was determined to be ready for her if the planets aligned again.
CHAPTER 14: POLICE STATION BLUES
As the seconds blurred into minutes since Saturn dumped me and I began gazing up at the stars on this clear and increasingly bitter Halloween night, I literally felt frozen on that curb outside the police station. I could exhale white fog into the night air again and again, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk into that station and face my band mates yet. I knew I should be there for Friday, but my heart was stabbed; my brain was careening between the most amazing lyrics I had ever thought of and fantasies of driving my truck into a tree; and my legs were trying to persuade me to cross the access road for a better look at the loud cars racing by on I-95.
Eventually, I did make my way over to the fence by the freeway. The nearby Westin Hotel loomed over everything, probably full of lovers ripping off their sweaty Halloween costumes and getting it on. Later I would find out that Freeway and the two hotties he picked up after the show were among them. A three-way for Freeway. Yeah, I was pretty fucking jealous, but he deserved it. There was no doubt he was carrying our band at that point.
I looked back at the hulking, glass-encased, state-of-the-art police station. If you fly over it in a helicopter, you’ll see it’s in the shape of a gun, or so I’ve been told. Big fucking deal. Typical Providence. Capital of the nation’s smallest state, but you still gotta brag about what your packing — whether it be your Italian balls or your illegally acquired gun. Don’t worry too much about getting caught either. The mayor and some of the cops were just as corrupt as the criminals in this mob-infested city. I would find out later that Uncle Al’s “friends” within the police department helped make sure Eddie got sprung right away. Friday, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. Number one, he was black. Number two, he had previous weapons violations. Friday, as it turned out, would not be getting out of jail on Halloween night or anytime soon.
But as I stood there and stared at the police station, I remembered my mother telling me how she met my father on that not-so-hallowed ground many years ago when there were many different clubs and businesses — before they all got swallowed up by “one giant muthafuckin’ pig fortress,” as Friday liked to put it. Mom and dad used to go there all the time when it was a rock-and-roll club named R.J.’s Fastlane. Apparently, my uncle went there a lot, too. It was the place to be if you were a young wannabe mobster, tough guy, biker, muscle head, alcoholic, recreational drug addict or long-haired head banger — some may well have been all of the above — and the sexy, wild-haired women who loved them.
It was more than a tad ironic that I had just gotten dumped there, literally kicked to the curb at the same spot where my parents fell in love. Saturn had certainly given me plenty to think about, and think I did. Soon, the words and ideas rushed into my brain so fast that I had to grab the pen in the right back pocket of my jeans (my afro wig was still sticking out of my left back pocket) and write them on my hands. I filled both palms with black ink in no time and started writing on the back of my left hand, too. Before long I began singing the chorus and verses to myself as my eyes darted from the freeway to the police station and back again. Chills ran down my spine. I knew I had a good song. Maybe I had tapped into some of that same “Spanish Castle Magic” that Freeway discovered every day on his front porch as he channeled the forever-27-year-old soul of Jimi Hendrix into the strings of his Les Paul. Or maybe it was that afro wig in my back pocket. Either way, it felt amazing that I could create something so good and pure out of heartbreak. I’m quite sure it also felt much better than shards of glass and bark of a tree in my cold, dead face. No, I wasn’t ready to die just yet. I wanted to see what this mysterious life had to offer. Mostly, I wanted to create music. I wanted to be inspired … and to inspire. Love, which seemed far more mysterious than the power of music, would have to take care of itself in time, I figured.
Little did I know, I was about to debut my new song to complete strangers. Clumps of drunken revelers occasionally would stumble across the bridge over I-95 that connected the access roads on opposite sides of the highway. Two girls in costume saw me through the fence, clearly checked me out for a few seconds and then took a right down the sidewalk toward me.
“Yes, it’s him!” one of them shouted. “I told you.”
The taller, hotter one had long, dark hair and was wearing a red leather coat, tight black jeans and black horns. She looked Hispanic. The other one was shorter, plumper, Italian and trying her best to look and act like Snookie from “Jersey Shore.”
“Hey, do you play in a band?” the shorter one asked as they approached me.
“What happens if I say yes?” I asked, forcing myself to be playful, which was becoming easier the more I gazed at the taller one and she stared right back with gorgeous milk chocolate eyes.
“Well, if you’re one of the singers in Freeway & the Vin Numbers, which I think you are …,” the shorter one said.
“How can you tell without my afro on?” I interrupted, smiling at both of them.
“You are him,” the taller one said in a sultry tone.
“Yes!” I confirmed.
The two girls high-fived.
“Good eyes, bitch!” the Devil praised Snookie.
“We saw your show before the one tonight, too,” Devil informed me. “That’s how we know it’s you.”
“We friggin’ love you guys” Snookie shouted, clearly drunk in the midnight hour. “Too bad those losers started that fight. Usually, we start fights, but not tonight. Now we’re out here walking the street like a couple of hookers instead of partying in the club!”
“Actually, her car got towed because Snookie here parked illegally and didn’t think the cops would be checking. Now we’ve got to go in there and cry for sympathy and a lesser fine,” the Devil said, nodding toward the police station.
I guess our band wasn’t the only one with legal troubles on Halloween night. In fact, we were indirectly the cause of Devil and Snookie’s legal troubles, too.
“It’s Vin, right? What are you doing out here all alone?” Snookie asked, empathetically putting her hand on my arm.
“Yeah, I’m Vin,” I said. “It’s a long story. What are your names?”
“I’m Angel,” the taller one said. “Get it?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” I said. “Angel dressed as the Devil.”
“Nice to meet you, Angel, outside the police station of all places,” I said, smiling just as much as she was as we shook hands.
“And I’m Pauline,” the shorter one said, forgoing the handshake and bull-rush hugging me. The upper tufts of her generously hair-sprayed black hair only came up to my chest.
“Nice to meet you, Pauline,” I said.
“Did you guys get in trouble, is that why you’re here?” Pauline probed as she stepped back from me a few feet so I could breathe again.
“Yeah, remember the dude with the chainsaw, he got in some trouble for pulling a gun,” I told them.
“Holy shit,” Angel said. “That was a crazy show.”
“You guys come packing for a show? What the fuck!” Pauline shouted, more impressed than anything. “You don’t mess around.”
“I don’t blame them,” Angel said. “Remember what happened to that guy from Pantera at that show in the Midwest a few years ago.”
“No shit,” Pauline said. “Good for you guys.”
“All it takes is one crazy nut job and it’s all over,” Angel said.
“That’s why you guys shouldn’t be walking the street late at night, especially on Halloween,” I said, Mr. Chivalry all of a sudden.
“The cops are right there,” Pauline said. “Plus we’re pretty tough. We know how to protect ourselves. We’re good at kicking people in the balls!”
Pauline tried to kick the fence with her black heels and almost fell over. Angel and I laughed as we helped right her ship. If nothing else, these girls were providing a little comic relief and helping me forget about Saturn. But for some reason, I decided to bring her up. These girls seemed like they would be cool to talk to about my situation. And if Angel wanted to console me over it, all the better.
“Another reason I’m out here alone is my girlfriend just dumped me when she dropped me off here,” I admitted.
Both girls went, “Nooooooo!”
“You poor thing,” Pauline said, hugging me again with even more vigor.
“Dumped at the police station? That’s horrible. What happened?” Angel asked, even more attentive to me than she was before.
“She gave me a few reasons, but mostly because she’s 22 and I’m only 18,” I said.
“Wow, you are young,” Angel said. “You can’t even drink yet.”
“Sure he can. You look older than 18 anyway. Hotter, too! Right?” Pauline said, banging her hip into Angel.
“No argument there,” Angel said with a smile. “We both turned 21 this past summer.”
“And we’re drinking as much as we can, can you tell?” Pauline said.
“Yeah, who’s driving?” I asked them. “The cops ain’t gonna let you drive your towed car away if you’re both drunk.”
“I’m OK,” Angel said. “I only had one or two like way early in the evening. I’ll drive her car.”
“Cool,” I said. “Anyway, part of it is my fault that this girl dumped me. I kissed another girl after the show.”
“Well then you deserved it,” Angel said.
“I’d let you kiss other girls,” Pauline said. “What’s the big deal? Just let me in on the action.”
I chuckled and looked at both of them. They were the perfect audience, just what I needed at that depressing and confusing moment in time.
“You guys are a Halloween night riot,” I said. “I just came up with a new song called ‘Police Station Blues.’ Can I test it out on you right here by the highway?”
Pauline gasped for air, bent over and nearly fainted.
“Yessssss,” she finally uttered, looking up at me like I was the second coming of Bono or something.
“We would be honored,” Angel said.
That first raw a capella rendition of “Police Station Blues,” amid the ebb-and-flow roar of I-95, went a little something like this:
“Her name is Angel, but she’s dressed as the Devil … just kidding,” I said smiling, as Angel and Pauline laughed their asses off.
“Good one,” Angel said, warmly clutching my arm and restoring my confidence as I slowly rediscovered my sense of humor.
OK, the second time it was for real:
“I’m too young to fall in love,
Like Motley Crue say
She told me to sing about love
After she took hers away
She left me at the station
My biggest crime is youth
I swallowed every bullet
fired by her Colonel of Truth
Too young to fall in love
But old enough to fail
Yeah, I made some mistakes
And went directly to jail
No, I ain’t coming out
So don’t pay my bail
Just need some time to think
Cuz this heart ain’t for sale
They gave me one phone call
But she won’t answer
Somewhere a dance floor is open
But I got no dancer.”
CHAPTER 15: ALL SAINTS DAY
What’s worse than getting dumped by your hot new girlfriend? Well, having to apologize to your grandmother for stealing from her certainly ranks right up there. It was the evening after Halloween, All Saints Day ironically enough, and this teenage sinner was sitting on the couch next to his senile nana in the home of Marie, Uncle Al’s sister, the place where the sin took place some seven weeks before. Marie was too pissed off to even be in the living room with us. Uncle Al was breathing down my neck from the chair to my left. My embarrassed mother, mascara running down her cheeks, was sobbing into her wad of Kleenex in the chair to my right.
“Nana, this is your grandson Vincent,” Uncle Al had reminded her moments before, putting the final peaceful touches on the nasty, draining confrontation earlier in the day that produced this painful encounter. “He’s here to make a confession.”
I held my grandmother’s frail hand and looked into her slightly bewildered blue eyes behind thick glasses and under curly, short gray hair. I thought back to a time not all that long ago when she still had all her wits about her and she warned me “life is not all a bowl of cherries.” I fought back tears and made my confession.
“Nana, I stole some things of yours to pay off a gambling debt,” I said softly. “I was wrong. It was one of the worst things a grandson could ever do. I’m so, so sorry.”
My mother’s sobbing grew louder and that sent me over the edge. I broke down and put my head in my hand as I sat next to nana.
My grandmother let me off the hook pretty easy.
“What’s he crying for?” she asked my Uncle Al.
Al paused and thought of something to say. Apparently, nothing came to mind. Awkward silence and competing sobs from my mother and myself continued for several more seconds. Then nana tapped into her deep reservoir of Catholic memories and offered this gem:
“Say two ‘Our Fathers,’ three ‘Hail Mary’s’ and make sure it never happens again,” she said.
All Saints Day actually had started off pretty well, especially considering I woke up with a headache and that sick feeling in your gut that inevitably coincides with heartache.
As it turned out, WBRW was the perfect antidote. I had recalled Morgan telling me that the infamous Halloween show could kick-start our band’s 15 minutes of fame, and I was curious to hear what the station was saying the next day on the air. So I flipped on the clock radio as I lay in bed and listened to the morning DJs. Morgan didn’t work the morning shift. After suffering through a traffic report and several commercials, the morning duo of Seth and Scarlett provided the first dose of a recap.
“For those of you hoping to see The Afterglows at the WBRW Halloween show last night at Heartbreak Lounge in Providence, the Heartbreak is bringing back just them on November 12th for a free show so you can see them then,” Seth said. “For those who didn’t hear what happened last night, all I can say is you better never miss another WBRW Halloween show for as long as you live, right Scarlett?”
“Pretty much Seth,” Scarlett said. “Because you never know what’s going to happen. We were there. We saw it all. The ProJo (newspaper) has an article about it, there’s videos all over YouTube this morning. Freeway & the Vin Numbers — the same crazy guys Morgan and Ryan had on the air two days ago, the band that took the stage before The Afterglows — stole the show and then they literally stole the show away from The Afterglows.”
“That’s right, Scarlett,” Seth chimed in. “Not only did they wear a bunch of afro wigs in honor of their front man Freeway and their late hero Jimi Hendrix, but they also tore the place up, literally and figuratively. They opened their set with Hendrix covers of ‘Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Fire,’ and then they played all originals. These guys don’t even have a CD out yet, but they’ve got some great songs.”
“Yeah, wicked good,” Scarlett said. “My only complaint was the butt hole song. Not cool.”
“And apparently that’s what led to the melee that ended the whole night early, the cops shut the place down, but more on that later,” Seth said.
“Yeah, that sucked big time,” Scarlett said.
“But for those who weren’t there last night, let me just say Freeway & the Vin Numbers did some crazy stuff before it all ended … and I’m not talking about music,” Seth said. “They brought the most boring fan out of the crowd as chosen by the audience, suckered him into a game of Twister with some hot chick and then pulled the old bait and switch on the poor kid.”
“I’m actually watching video of that right now on YouTube and it is friggin’ hilarious,” Scarlett said.
“Just when the kid was thinking he was going to score with this chick, somebody comes running on stage wearing a ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ mask and brandishing a real chainsaw on full throttle …”
“And he just completely scared the crap out of the kid … he wasn’t bored anymore,” Scarlett added. “He must’ve pissed his pants. I would have if I were in his shoes.”
“Me, too. He just dove headfirst into the crowd and never looked back,” Seth said. “It was complete insanity.”
“To put it mildly,” Scarlett said. “Right now we’ve got to take another short commercial break, but when we come back, we’ve got a caller lined up who says she got serenaded by Vin from Freeway & the Vin Numbers outside the Providence police station after the show. She’s going to tell us all about it after this on 95.5-WBRW.”
I was cracking up listening to these two rattle on about the show and I couldn’t wait to hear my “after show” review. Who was the caller? Angel or Pauline? The Devil or Snookie?
“We’re back,” Scarlett said. “We’ve got Angel from Cranston on the line (fist pump!) and she says Vin from Freeway & the Vin Numbers was hanging out outside the Providence police station after their show got cut short at the Heartbreak. And that makes sense because the ProJo story says one of the band members or a member of their entourage got arrested for pulling a gun.”
“Yeah, apparently somebody rushed the stage, started a fight and showed a gun,” Seth said. “Like we said, it was a crazy, bizarre scene.”
“Not a night out at the Brown University library, let’s put it that way,” Scarlett said with a chuckle.
“No, and we don’t mean to put all this too lightly, because we’re glad no one got hurt,” Seth said.
“True. So Angel from Cranston,” Scarlett said, “what can you tell us? You met Vin outside the Providence police station, right?”
“Yeah, my friend Pauline and I were walking there because her car got towed for illegal parking,” the familiar, sexy voice of Angel magically emerged from my bedside radio.
“Been there, done that,” Scarlett chirped.
“Yeah, right?” Angel said. “But we totally recognized Vin because we’ve seen that band twice now. He was really cool in person.”
“Did he say what the hell happened with the show?” Seth asked.
“No, not really,” Angel replied. “He did say the guy with the chainsaw got arrested for showing a gun.”
“Oh OK, Angel, well that certainly seems fitting,” Seth said. “Maybe he got arrested for the chainsaw stunt, too.”
“Not sure,” Angel said. “But to tell you the truth, most of the conversation wasn’t even about the show. Vin told us his girlfriend had just dumped him after the show.”
“Really?” Scarlett prodded her.
“Yeah, he was pretty bummed out,” Angel said. “He said he kissed some other girl after the show and she cut him to the curb right at the police station.”
“Ouch!” Seth said.
“Good for her,” Scarlett jumped in.
“He also said she told him she was too old for him because he’s only like 18 and she was 22, 23 or something like that,” Angel said.
“Wow, Angel, you’re really good at digging up dirt,” Seth said.
“Yeah, you should be like a gossip columnist or something,” Scarlett said, making them all laugh.
“So, Angel, did you console Vin in his hour of grief?” Seth asked. “Did you seize the moment?”
“Yeah, a little,” Angel said. “He’s pretty hot. My friend Pauline practically jumped him. But not really. It was just cool to hang out with him and talk. I was surprised he was so open about all of that and then he sang us a song he had just come up with. He had the words written in ink on his hands. It was pretty cool because we were the only ones there to hear it.”
“What was the song called … ‘Apology to The Afterglows?’” Scarlett asked. “Or was it ‘Apology to The Heartbreak’ for trashing the place?”
Seth and Angel cracked up. So did I.
“Good one,” Angel said. “No, I think he called it, ‘Police Station Blues.’ I don’t really remember the words this morning, but we loved it. You had to be there.”
“Well thanks, Angel, for all the info,” Scarlett said.
“Yeah, we’ll have to make you our unofficial Freeway & the Vin Numbers correspondent from now on … if another venue allows them to perform that is,” Seth said.
“Yeah, right,” Angel said. “Sounds good to me.”
“Thanks for calling in,” Scarlett said.
“You’re welcome,” Angel said, signing off.
I was allowed to smile and savor that WBRW recap for all of about five minutes before Uncle Al stormed through my bedroom door, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and firmly sat me down on the same sofa in my mother’s living room where he had punched me in the gut. Like a misbehaving little kid, I was back in time out. He did not punch me this time, probably because my mother was standing right next to him. She was smoking a cigarette, looking a little crazy and definitely fuming under the surface as she stared at me with disappointed eyes. Clearly, Al had called her and filled her in on some of what happened, maybe all of my transgressions, who knows. I was about to find out.
“Al says you horribly insulted his wife, Aunt Sally, during one of the songs in your show last night, is that true Vin?” my mother asked. “I want to hear it from you. I want your version of what the hell happened?”
“It’s true,” I admitted.
My mother started pacing and chain-smoking.
“Why, Vin, why would you do that?” she asked. “You don’t even know her. Please tell me I raised you better than to say your auntie prefers whatever the fuck you said … in front of all those people I might add.”
“I just changed the rhyme. The guys in the band kind of pushed me to do it. I know it was stupid and I’m sorry to her and to you, Uncle Al,” I said.
Al shook his head in disgust. My mother wasn’t satisfied either. I got frustrated.
“Uncle Al, you told me to become a rock star and your orders were something like, ‘I don’t care how you do it, just do it and do it fast,’” I said, attempting to stand up for myself. “I called my mother a stripper, which she is. I called you a mobster, which …
“I am not a mobster,” Al protested. “I’m a business mogul.”
My mother actually forced a laugh through her angry tears.
“Yeah, and I’m a Broadway actress, Al,” she said.
“Yes, I crossed the line,” I continued, “but my point is we’re trying to find our way as musicians right now and part of that is trying different sounds, different lyrics, whatever. We need the freedom to do that to get to where we want to be and where you want us to be. You and that goon of yours have no right to barge onto the stage with guns blazing and stop our show! The Afterglows didn’t even get to perform because you couldn’t control your anger!”
“Shut the hell up, you little punk!” Uncle Al erupted.
“What?!!!” my mother exploded, throwing a punch in his direction and missing wildly. “Are you fucking crazy?!!! Going after Vincent with a gun?”
Apparently my uncle had left out that little detail in his version of last night’s events to my hysterical mother. She also didn’t read the paper or listen to the news much so she had no idea what happened at the Heartbreak. She had worked until 1 a.m. as a “den mother” at the Roxy the night before and her struggle to deal with that painful transition was burden enough. All of this mayhem completely sent her over the edge.
“Get the hell out of here!” she shouted as she attempted to push him toward the door. He was too strong, fought her off with his burly arms and barely moved an inch.
“Don’t change the subject!” he demanded with crazy black eyes and his finger pointing here, there and everywhere. “This little punk disrespected me and my wife. And as long as Vin is going to rat me out for attempting to fire a bullet up his ass, which I had every right to do in that situation, I will let you in on a little secret, Danielle.”
My mother stopped her feeble assault, backed up with messy hair and took another drag on her cigarette. Here we go, I feared. Pandora’s Box was creaking.
“What now?” she said, her eyes bracing for more tears and disappointment.
“In September, this little shit went into the bedroom of my senile mother, his own grandmother, and stole cash and jewelry to pay off his bookie! He got behind betting football games and he stole from his own helpless flesh and blood. How do you like that, Danielle?!!” Uncle Al shouted, making sure every word slammed into the defenseless ears of my mother.
I slumped over on the couch and covered my head with both hands, waiting for the onslaught.
“No!!!” my mother screamed like I had never heard her before. “Vincent would never do something like that. You’re a liar!”
“Ask my sister Marie, if you don’t believe me,” Al yelled. “Pick up the phone right now and ask her. I dare you!”
My mother raced toward her cell phone on the kitchen table, but I popped back up and stopped her in her tracks before her hand touched the phone.
“Ma, I’m guilty! I did it. Uncle Al is telling the truth,” I shouted, just wanting all of this to be out in the open and over with as soon as possible.
My mother froze in place. Then she picked up the vase of flowers on the kitchen table and hurled it toward my ducking head. She threw the clear-glass vase so hard that it sailed over me on the sofa and spun down for a violent crash landing on the hardwood floor in the hallway. My mother had spanked me plenty of times when I was much younger, but she had never thrown glassware at me.
I cringed as I slowly raised my head back up and looked at her. Uncle Al stood there and watched as my mother rushed at me and shook me violently with her hands. She also slapped her only child across the face, which was a first. I knew I had fucked up, but this definitely made it sink into my heart, soul and brain. In a strange way, Uncle Al had let me off the hook with his unique plan of discipline. My mother, on the other hand, would not let rock music be my road to redemption.
“I’m sorry,” I gasped as she suddenly pushed back from me like I was cancerous and snarled at me in disgust — 18 years of her parenting thrown under the bus in one fell swoop, just as I had feared weeks ago when I thought my uncle and I agreed we would never tell her. But he ratted me out just as I had ratted him out for trying to assassinate me at the Heartbreak Lounge. A rat for a rat. I had new respect for Friday as I thought about him sitting in jail at that very moment. The poor gangster probably would be a free man right now if it weren’t for a couple of beauties like Al and me.
Strangely, as we all stood there in silence for a few awkward seconds and contemplated the utter dysfunction of the entire situation, Uncle Al began to gaze at me with much softer eyes and an expression that almost seemed sympathetic toward me. It truly was a turning point in our relationship and I’ll never forget it. Sort of like Saturn did with a few uplifting words at the end of our depressing conversation last night outside the police station, Uncle Al’s subtle change of face handed me one precious slice of hope out of this family picnic basket full of shit.
All that stood in the way of me returning to my band and making more music was apologizing to my grandmother. On that All Saints Day evening at least, Uncle Al’s plan of discipline and loan sharking would have to take a back seat.
Confessing to nana became my first mandatory step in a long road to redemption in the crushed, glassy eyes of my broken-hearted mother. And once it was done, I think we all started feeling slightly better.
CHAPTER 16: POWER CHORD
The first time I heard the name Freeway & the Vin Numbers was Groundhog Day, 2011. I’m a music writer for Power Chord magazine. Just as Punxsutawny Phil was scurrying out of his hole and likely not seeing his shadow somewhere in Pennsylvania, my editor Tim popped his head into my New York office and threw the band’s debut CD on my desk as I was talking on the phone.
“I gotta go, Sully,” I said. “Yup. I’m so glad you scored last night. Later dude.”
“What’s this?” I asked Tim.
“Jenny recommended them for the New England region,” Tim said. “They’re getting some buzz on college radio.”
“What’s this for again?” I asked groggily, still waiting for my morning coffee to kick in.
“Don’t you remember, Brad?” he persisted. “Spring issue, best indie bands nobody’s ever heard of. You said you’d prefer New England this year instead of your old stomping ground, the Upper Midwest.”
“Oh yeah, vaguely,” I said, shaking my long, blond mane that was perfect for head banging and filtering out assignments I’d prefer to forget. “So where are they from? Don’t tell me you’re sending me to Bumblefuck, Maine. It better be somewhere within a hooker’s ass of the city and within three bars of a cell tower.”
“Providence, I believe,” Tim said. “Right up I-95. I e-mailed you the download of their record as well.”
“Can’t wait to hear it,” I said sarcastically as my extremely tolerant editor happily departed my office.
Tim wouldn’t be so tolerant of me and my unique personality if I couldn’t write. Fortunately for me, I had been cranking out pretty good shit for Power Chord over the last five years. I started as a freelancer when I was 23 and would work for chump change. Hell, I was always going to rock shows anyway — might as well write about them and the bands behind the music. I was offered a full-time gig here in the Big Apple in 2008. I preferred either long, in-depth pieces or quick reviews of concerts and records. I wasn’t a big fan of annual canned packages like who’s hot, who’s emerging, who’s sucking enough corporate dick to get played on the radio, etc.
I powered down the rest of my coffee and grabbed the CD, which was thicker than usual for an independent record. The cover art had a girl dressed as an angel rolling around with what looked like a grim reaper in the back of a paddy wagon.
“Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon?” I muttered to myself. “Freeway & the Vin Numbers. Catchy like an STD.”
I flipped the CD over and almost fell off my chair.
“A double fucking album? Are you kidding me?” I protested to myself out loud. “What independent debut band puts out a double album? 24 songs?”
The label was Ocean Drive Records out of Miami. I was familiar with Ocean Drive, big fan of it actually because it’s quite the party spot. But I had never heard of the label. I scanned the song list and found more than a few interesting titles.
The first CD included:
Papa was a Gravestone
Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon
Police Station Blues
When She Wears Clothes
Sirens & Songs
Dashes to Ashes
The second CD included the following songs:
Bucket of Blues
Freeway in the Front Yard
Takes Us There
Some Other Shore
Jamming by the I
Colonel of Truth
My interest was piqued enough to look inside right away, not something I usually do with indie records unless I’ve heard of the band. Wow. These guys must have some money behind them. Complete lyrics and even some photos of the band performing live. Three white guys and two black guys, one of whom was trying to look like Jimi Hendrix and succeeding pretty well. One of the white guys had a mullet and looked a lot like D.J., a guy I went to college with in Milwaukee. The record was recorded in Providence and Miami and mixed in Miami. The band included Freeway Wilson on lead guitar and vocals; Vin Masoli on bass and vocals; Craig Hurley on rhythm guitar and keyboards; Buck Griffin on drums and Ronnie “Friday” Barnes on question mark … as in “?” It was already one surprise after another with these guys and I hadn’t even listened to one note of music yet.
The record was produced by Butch Sevigny. Again, never heard of him. The band was managed by Al Masoli. Very interesting. Same name as the bassist. Some kind of nepotism going on here or what?
I closed my office door, popped the first of the two CDs into my computer, crashed onto my “listening couch” and closed my eyes.
The first track, “Too Quick,” was a polished, bluesy and moody song with soft, smooth vocals and a simple, catchy guitar hook that got my attention and wouldn’t let go. The guitarist and singer had to be the Hendrix-like guy. He was more than a look-alike. He was trying to pick up where Hendrix left off and did it quite well. I especially was impressed by the weight and power of the lyrics:
“The Axman, the Lizard King and Moby Dick
Death came and took y’all too quick
Lives too thin, legacies too thick
Break down the door that stands between us
And let us in
Fill up the shore that stands between us
And let us swim.”
I also thought it was a bold move to begin a double CD with a slower song like that. Clearly, these guys were setting the tone for their music by crafting an original tribute to the legends who inspired them. Just one song into the album, I immediately had a sense that Freeway & the Vin Makers had the potential to be a special band if they weren’t special already.
Then I listened to the other 23 songs at various times over the course of that Groundhog Day. There were some clunkers for sure, but I counted at least 10 tunes that deserved to be played again several times over. The songs possessed enough bluesy depth, raw power or pleasant melody to grab the ear and, depending on the track, enough lyrical pull to grab the brain, heart or funny bone.
A few lyrical pieces that initially stood out included:
“Her name is Angel
But when she wears clothes
She likes to dress as the Devil
Yeah, I see you girl
But are those pretty eyes on the level?
The Stones painted you black
The sea washed you gray
Now all I see is white
Oh no, where’d you go?
Don’t lose your color, girl
Never fade, beautiful rainbow”
That’s from “When She Wears Clothes” off the first record.
“Some pimp the river to Jordan
Some ho the Garden of Eden
We jam the freeway to freedom
And most days there’s nobody on the road
Block out all the lies and be your own truth
Swat away all the flies and be 200 proof
200 proof, 100 percent real
200 proof, 0 percent fool
That’s from “200 Proof.”
“Driving like a madman
A dangerous game of chicken
Somewhere way up ahead
A time bomb is tickin’
Bipolar ice caps
Schizophrenic shrink wraps
Yellow men in jock straps
Cats caught in mouse traps
Thinking they got nine lives
When all they got is eight
Shake it all up, flip it around
And whaddya got?
A fucked-up world
Better change the maps!
A fucked-up bed
Better change the sheets!
A fucked-up hood
And a ho lot of empty streets!”
That’s from “Empty Streets.”
“You robbed from Peter
So I could play my Paul”
That little gem was one of my favorites. It’s from “My Paul.”
And lastly from “Colonel of Truth,” the final song on the CD, the band clearly makes another reference to James Marshall Hendrix:
“The Marshall of poets
Walks the Field of clover
He spots General Bland
His head still stuck the sand
Many generals have come and gone
We salute the Colonel of Truth
He took us places
We’ve never heard before
Unlocked the magic room
Before we ever saw the door
Even now, ahead of his time
We’re still fishing for pennies
In his fountain of youth
Even now, no sign of his dime
We’re still wishing on pennies
In his fountain of youth
Yeah, we’re still reaping (still reaping)
from the Colonel of Truth.”
The next day, I began doing some research on the band, watching a few crazy YouTube videos and made plans to go see Freeway & the Vin Numbers perform at their CD release party. It would be held at a place called the Sea Mist. Just what the doctor ordered for my nagging head cold and my mid-winter blues: A blustery February night at a club on Matunuck Beach in Rhode Island. These guys had better make it worth the trip. I had a feeling they would.
CHAPTER 17: VALENTINE BEACH BASH
Practically from the opening note, I understood why there was a line out the door to this seaside shanty bar in southern Rhode Island. Freeway & the Vin Numbers kicked ass. And they didn’t need the Twister games, guns or chainsaws from the now infamous YouTube videos to do it.
The Heartbreak Lounge, as I had found out in my research, no longer wanted the band to grace its stage after the shenanigans of last Halloween. But the smaller, more rustic Sea Mist was thrilled to draw hundreds of fans — who ranged in age from 21 to a few 50 somethings — for the band’s CD release party two days before Valentine’s Day. The wind chill was 12 degrees outside where the waves crashed into the rocks beneath the beach bar’s rear outer deck. But inside, the band members were warm and toasty, thanks to a whole lot of hot bodies crowded around the stage. Other fans flocked to an outer ring of merchandise tables, buying up the debut double album and other trinkets as fast as the band’s helpers could hand them out. The band members wore colorful bathing suits, white muscle shirts and Hawaiian leis as they opened with a fitting beach-side cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Castles Made of Sand,” off his 1968 album “Axis: Bold As Love.”
Freeway played the beautiful guitar melody, but started out singing the second verse and familiar chorus:
“A little Indian brave who before he was ten,
Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends
And he built a dream that when he grew up
He would be a fearless warrior Indian chief
Many moons passed and more the dream grew strong, until tomorrow
He would sing his first war song,
And fight his first battle, but something went wrong
Surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night
And so castles made of sand, melts into the sea … eventually”
“Welcome to our CD release party and winter beach bash! We are Freeway & the Vin Numbers,” Vin Masoli screamed into his microphone as the crowd went wild. “Here’s a new song you won’t find on the double album because we wrote it just for tonight. Get ready to dance. Saturn, this one’s for you! Will you be my “Interplanetary Valentine?”
I recognized the name Saturn from one of the songs on the CD and observed a rather sexy young woman jump up and down near the front middle of the stage as I watched the show from the front left side. Strobe lights flickered and a disco ball started spinning above our heads as Masoli cranked out a funky bass line backed by Buck Griffin’s drum beat. Then Masoli sang:
“She is Miss-Chief and Miss-Understood
Her love escapes me, but not for long
I’m in my rocket and I built this song
She’s my Interplanetary Valentine
And I like the way she shines
Watch her beauty in rotation
Spinning thru the strobe lights
Flash, flash, flash
She’s a ball of fire
Burning up the dark nights
She’s tearing up the dance floor
Spinning thru the strobe lights
Wrap, wrap, wrap your rings around me
Oh girl, what a hot sight
Our love will rise like an orange sun
Our love will surprise in the long run
But now it’s time to get spun
Round and round, she’s a hot one!”
It was a pretty groovy tune and the crowd definitely got into it with some dance gyrations. I was impressed they had an extra song that wasn’t on the double CD. Later, they would come up with yet another new song for the encore.
The next tune they played was the title track, “Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon,” followed by “Jamming by the I.” Both songs sounded great and the fans, who knew them better than I, were singing right along and pumping their fists, especially to the feel-good chorus of “Jamming by the I – I-95!” I guess people take their one major interstate highway seriously in this small state.
One of the first real surprises of the night came next when Buck busted out on the drums. He had the balls to take on a good chunk of “Moby Dick,” the long and masterful drum piece by the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Then the rest of the band joined him for their original ode to Zeppelin, “Dirigible,” which was on the CD but had never been played live before. Masoli sang it with some serious mojo:
“Lead us back to that place
Where the houses are holy
And the mount is mystical
Life goes round … lost and found
Man the dirigible … let’s get cyclical”
Wild moshing ensued as the band thundered into a super-fast instrumental jam for the next minute or so. Freeway got his Jimmy Page swerve on with some heavy riffing throughout. Then Masoli returned to the microphone:
“Climb the stairway
Crash the castle
Lead us back to that place
Where the houses are holy
And the mount is mystical
Drink the hops
Smoke the poppies
Life goes round … lost and found
Man the dirigible … let’s get cyclical”
And, of course, the moshing resumed in earnest. Some of the young ladies, many of whom were wearing bikinis, had to step back from the chaos or risk losing what little clothes they had on. It was a fun scene.
The band slowed things down for the next two songs. As his band mates retired from the stage for a little break, Freeway seized the spotlight — just him and his Les Paul.
“We wouldn’t even be playing music right now if it weren’t for the legends who inspired us. They weren’t around for very long on this Earth, but the magic they created has stood the test of time and will live forever. This song’s for them.”
The crowd cheered and then went silent as Freeway poured his entire soul into that amazing rendition of “Too Quick.” Every fan who wasn’t in line for beer or a CD was mesmerized. The last lyric — “Fill up the shore that stands between us and let us swim” — was particularly powerful as we listened on the shore of Narragansett Bay.
Just Vin came out and accompanied Freeway on the next song, “Saturn.” Freeway swapped his electric guitar for an acoustic and Vin indulged his valentine with another track from the CD that he had never performed live. She melted like a chocolate kiss in the front row as Masoli crooned:
“I see the rings around your heart
You and me, we’ve got a part
In this universal drama, start
Yeah baby, start this up
Let’s make it hot
Connect the dots
Point V to Point S
Point Me to Point Yes
Come in Saturn
Do you read me?
Come in Saturn
Do you hear me?
Come in Saturn
Do you feel me?
Come in Saturn
Do you love me?”
That’s when things took a bizarre turn. A cup of beer went flying toward Masoli’s head from somewhere in the crowd. He managed to avoid most of it, but some beer did splash his left ear and shoulder as it sailed past him. Just when I assumed it was someone who didn’t like corny love songs, security guards were whisking a petite young redheaded girl out of the bar.
“Bye Morgan,” Vin said with a weird smile on his face as the crowd buzzed and laughed. His valentine looked like she wanted to go out and hunt down the beer thrower, but a couple of her friends held her back.
“It wouldn’t be a Freeway & the Vin Numbers show without at least a little drama, right?” Masoli added, drawing another cheer from the crowd.
The next big surprise came when Vin and Freeway left the stage and mysterious Ronnie “Friday” Perkins took over the spotlight. He high-fived the departing Freeway, stood in front of the microphone and, for the first time in his band’s brief history, performed something other than a masked chainsaw stunt. He rapped the second verse of “Wayward Wanderer” and had the street cred to convince myself and the crowd that these lyrics were not written lightly:
“Damn the river, beware the streams
Sometimes she comes in drips
Most times in floods
Sometimes she comes in Crips
Most times in Bloods
How she comes, it don’t matter
She’ll always get you in the end
The Wayward Wanderer”
Friday’s band mates jumped back into their places and powered through the remainder of the song with Freeway on lead vocals the rest of the way. But finally, perhaps a little bit of the “question mark” surrounding Ronnie Perkins was answered that evening.
Craig Hurley led the band into “Police Station Blues” with a catchy keyboard intro. Masoli’s vocals were strong on both that song and “When She Wears Clothes,” a much lighter tune that was quite welcome at that point in the show.
Speaking of lighter, Masoli also sang “Zero Gravity” and “Take Us There,” two tracks that seemed to intensify the band’s bond with its fans. “Zero Gravity” had never been played live before:
“I could die tomorrow
So today I sing
Like there’s no sorrow
Weighing on me
No, they’re ain’t no sorrow
Weighing on me
I float into space
And pay my respects
To the whole human race
We all got a voice
So let us sing
One world together
That’s my thing
So many people, so many places
So many hearts, so many faces
A world to inspire
Don’t be so dire
We all got a voice
So make it your choice
To be bold and sing
Yeah, be bold and sing
One world together
That’s my thing
Hey, one song to sing
I thought that was one of the band’s better moments of the night and the fans applauded them accordingly. Freeway’s vocals and guitar seized upon that momentum and took it to another level with his heartfelt, ear-bending performances of “Bucket of Blues” and “My Paul.”
The band switched from blues into crowd-pleasing, mosh-enducing rage rock for its logical pre-encore finale, “Medieval Upheaval.” Shockingly, the band did not even play “Papa Was A Gravestone,” the first single from the CD that was getting some radio airplay (sans the controversial lyrics) on the Providence station WBRW. Perhaps the Sea Mist had requested that they stay away from the tune after what happened at the Heartbreak.
The fans stomped on the floor and screamed until the band returned for a memorable encore montage that combined a new unreleased song, “Ain’t for Sale,” with a verse from another Jimi Hendrix hit, “If 6 was 9,” also off “Axis: Bold as Love.” Freeway introduced it:
“Thanks for coming,” the charismatic performer said with a huge smile as beads of sweat trickled down from his afro. “Drive safe and we’ll see you next time. This last tune ain’t on any CD. It won’t ever be. I don’t care how big or small we get, you won’t ever hear one of our songs on a TV commercial. That’s cuz we ‘Ain’t for Sale.’”
The crowd gave a huge cheer as the band cranked up the sound, and Freeway riffed and sang with more energy than his usual laid-back style:
“Grew up in a tent
But never went camping
Couldn’t pay the rent
But never went vamping
Corporate leeches sucking the world dry
If you got no soul after you sold out
Then you might as well die”
That’s when Freeway detoured into a memorable take on part of “If 6 was 9:”
“Now if 6 turned out to be 9
I don’t mind, I don’t mind
Alright, if all the hippies cut off all their hair
I don’t care, I don’t care
Dig, cos I got my own world to live through
And I ain’t gonna copy you”
Then the band did an astro-funky take on the song’s psychedelically warped bridge as Freeway updated the Hendrix lyrics from “white collared conservative” to something all Rhode Islanders could relate to in the present beaten-down economy:
“Wall Street executives flashing down the street
Pointing their plastic finger at me
They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die,
But I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high
Wave on, wave on
Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me
Go ahead Mr. Business man, you can’t dress like me …
I’ll die when it’s time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to …
Sing on brother, play on drummer”
That was pretty sweet right there. I had never witnessed a band do such an interesting version of “If 6 was 9” and blend it with an original song to boot. Freeway & the Vin Numbers finished off the show with the final verse of “Ain’t for Sale.” Freeway’s vocals brought it on home:
“I miss the days
When the music endured
I wasn’t alive then
So I ain’t been cured
I miss the nights
When the airwaves were free
I wasn’t alive then
Shit, don’t hang no sign on me
This song ain’t for sale
And neither are we
Did you hear me, bro?
This song ain’t for sale
And neither are we.”
It was an unforgettable encore to cap off a kick-ass show. Objective rock critic or not, I applauded right along with everybody else as the guys took their final bows. As it turned out, this band definitely was worth the trip to the nation’s smallest state. And just like that, I actually started looking forward to writing my story about Freeway & the Vin Numbers for Power Chord magazine.
Little did I know at the time, there would be far more to the story than the music.
CHAPTER 18: THE BEST GAMBLE
“Vin, you’re a special case I guess,” Saturn told me after we had just finished enjoying a romantic Valentine’s night dinner of red wine, filet mignon, heart-shaped chocolate mousse and all the fixings at an upscale Providence restaurant.
“Yeah, I thought I only got one chance with you and I blew it … badly,” I said as we wooed each other with bedroom eyes amid the aphrodisiacal glow of candlelight.
“You did blow it,” she said as she seduced me with her revealing emerald dress and her long brown hair swept up in an elegant twist that couldn’t wait to be released. “But I made an exception. I left the door open for you and for us. And you rose to the occasion. You stepped up. You proved you could be worthy of my love. No more Morgan. It’s only you and me. Can you handle that?”
“Yes,” I said without hesitation. “You’re the one I want. Just you.”
“This time I’m ready to believe you,” Saturn said with a gorgeous smile. “When I first met you, I didn’t really know you yet. I sabotaged the whole thing myself by letting you meet Morgan right away. I knew she would screw around and come between us, but I didn’t really care. I was curious to see what would happen. You failed, but I was just as guilty for not really trying. When I dumped you, I challenged you, you grew up a little and now here we are.”
“I also wrote a couple of songs for you and performed them at Sea Mist,” I reminded her playfully.
“Yeah, that didn’t hurt,” Saturn said with a wink. “Not every girl has her name, her song on a CD. Your band is talented, Vin, and so are you. I’m very proud of you and I think you’ve got an amazing and very interesting future ahead of you.”
“I hope so,” I said. “And it would be even better with you in it.”
Saturn turned more serious and looked at me with a depth to her eyes I had never seen before.
“Vin, if I give all of my love to you, you can’t leave me,” Saturn said, tears welling up. “I don’t give my heart or my love easily, especially after …”
I grabbed a handkerchief out of the pocket of my gray sport coat, reached over the warm candlelight and dabbed a tear from her left cheek.
“I know,” I said. “You don’t have to say it.”
Saturn’s parents died in a plane crash when she was 13. They were returning in a small plane after celebrating an anniversary weekend in Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. She had confided in me about the tragedy that had shaped her life since when we started talking again over the phone in January. She said she had dated plenty of people in the nine years since her parents died, but she had never truly loved anyone. She wouldn’t allow herself to do that. She also said she felt a connection with me that transcended music because I had lost my father at such a young age. She felt grateful she had 13 years to get to know her father whereas I don’t even remember mine. He truly was just a gravestone to me. It also didn’t hurt that Saturn got along well with my mother when they first met at the Heartbreak way back when. Saturn didn’t judge my mother at all for being a stripper. That meant a lot to me.
And now, Saturn was ready to trust me and love me. I was so excited about this new chapter because, just like her, I had never truly fallen in love before.
“Let’s go,” she said, smiling and taking my hand. “Let’s see what love is all about.”
That night it was my turn to get out of the cold and experience a night of passionate sex at the Westin Hotel. I didn’t need two women like Freeway. Saturn alone was light years better than any two other Earth women could ever be. It was the most amazing night of our lives, and it wasn’t just the pleasure either. This time it really meant something. I held Saturn’s heart in my hands and I was ready to treat it far more special than any music I could ever make.
Of course love was a huge roll of the dice. But for the first time in my young life, I believed with all of my heart, mind and soul that this gamble was one I absolutely had to take.
CHAPTER 19: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
“Tim, I know this is going to sound crazy, but this is turning out to be a lot more interesting than a story about some random indie band,” I told my Power Chord magazine editor over the phone from my Comfort Suites hotel room in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
“Really?” he replied.
“Yeah, I just interviewed the mother of one of the band members and she told me some shit that may require we expand this story,” I said.
“Are you feeling OK, Brad?” Tim asked with a chuckle.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” I said. “If I’m pushing for more space on a basically unknown band like this, then you know I’m not fucking with you.”
“Well, what have you got?” he asked.
“For starters, I’ve got a woman who is telling me a 17-year-old secret that she fears may get her killed when our story hits newsstands and she’s willing to tell me anyway.”
“Intriguing,” Tim replied. “Shall I send a photographer up your way?”
“Yeah, and maybe someone familiar with the FBI witness protection program while you’re at it,” I said.
It was late February by the time I had completed all of my interviews related to Freeway & the Vin Numbers. My deadline was March 7 and the story was slated to appear in early April.
My first interview was with Al Masoli, the band’s business manager and promoter. But Al was a whole lot more than that. A reputed mobster who owned several nightclubs in Miami, including two strip clubs, Al was the uncle of singer and bassist Vin Masoli. Through my research and periphery interviews, I learned that it was indeed Al who nearly had his nephew whacked on stage for insulting him and his wife by singing alternate lyrics for “Papa Was A Gravestone” at the Heartbreak Lounge on Halloween. Security staffers and enigmatic band member Ronnie “Friday” Perkins came to Vin’s rescue. Perkins even pulled a gun to help thwart the attack and got arrested.
Amazingly, the Masolis reconciled after the incident and Al, feeling some remorse for his part in the Halloween ruckus, used his considerable influence — which he still wielded in his original stomping ground of Providence — to help spring Perkins out of jail. He had been held for a probation violation on a previous gun charge. Al apparently parlayed that noble gesture plus a promise to deliver the band a boatload of money into becoming its manager.
When I tried to ask Al about the Halloween mayhem, Perkins or the controversial lyrics to “Papa Was A Gravestone,” he was less than forthcoming.
“This ain’t about me,” he said. “Stick to the band, the music. These guys are real good and, thank God, they’re trying to bring back real rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what your story should be about.”
My interviews with Buck Griffin and Craig Hurley were mostly light and amusing, though Buck bristled when I asked him about the lyrics to “Medieval Upheaval.”
“Vin Masoli calls you Bookie instead of Buck in that song,” I pointed out, referring to the spoken-word intro, “What we need right now is a bipartisan beat down so Bookie give me a beat.”
“Any truth to the rumor that you are Vin’s bookie, that you are a lot of people’s bookie in the Providence area?” I asked him.
“Nah, it’s just a nickname, a term of endearment,” he said with a hell-bent look that all but confirmed the rumor.
My interview with Ronnie “Friday” Perkins and Freeway Wilson on the famous porch overlooking Interstate 95 also was not as revealing as I would have hoped. They seemed honored to be interviewed and said they looked forward to reading the story in Power Chord, but they were guarded in most of their responses. They appeared inexperienced and mistrustful in dealing with a member of the media.
When I asked Freeway about the lyrics to “My Paul,” specifically who robbed from Peter so he could play his Les Paul guitar, he shook his head and smiled.
“God did,” he said. “He works in mysterious ways.”
When I pressed Perkins if he had a hand in stealing the guitar for his friend, he naturally got defensive.
“That’s my brother from another mother right there,” he said, gesturing toward Freeway. “If he say God took it, then God took it. Whatever he say is gospel, man.”
“Are you God by any chance?” I asked Perkins, pushing my luck.
Freeway bowed his head and Friday got steamed.
“Are you Satan?” he shot back. “I’ll show you hell right down the street if you want.”
I let that go and pushed a different button instead.
“How does it feel to be in a band with three white guys?” I asked both of them.
“To tell you the truth, it used to bother the fuck out of me,” Perkins admitted. “But we’re tight now.”
“Jimi didn’t care about that,” Freeway noted about Hendrix and his Experience band mates. “He had two white cats in his band. More colors the better sometimes.”
“Like a muthafuckin’ rainbow,” Friday finished his thought as only he could.
“We make great music together, that’s all that matters,” Freeway added. “Even in the recording studio, we bring our ideas together, we check our egos a little bit and it works.”
My interview with Vin’s girlfriend, Saturn, was considerably more pleasant. We chatted over breakfast and a cup of coffee at a diner on Providence’s east side.
“Who threw the beer at Vin during the Sea Mist show?” I asked her.
“My former roommate Morgan,” she said with a grin. “She was upset that I changed my mind and wanted Vin back, and that Vin wanted me back, but it was her own fault. She asked for it by getting in the way in the first place. She kissed him after the Halloween show when we were first dating. I was going to dump him that night anyway and I didn’t see the kiss, but Vin was honest with me about it. That’s one reason why I trust him now.”
“You look happy,” I said, causing Saturn to beam even more.
“Because I am,” she said. “We’re in love.”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said.
“What’s your favorite lyric that Vin has written or sang?” I asked.
“Suck my magma,” she said, bursting out laughing.
“Nice,” I said, trying to recover after nearly spitting up my coffee.
“It’s on ‘Medieval Upheaval.’ It kind of grabbed my attention at their first gig,” she said.
“And very romantic,” I teased.
“Yeah, in a medieval, deep-Earthy kind of way,” she said, flashing her contagious, “Interplanetary Valentine” smile.
My final interview was with Vin and it took place right where he wanted it to — with him sitting on the sofa in the living room of his mother’s house. She wasn’t there. I already had completed my stunning interview with her the night before, and now, unbeknownst to Vin and Al, she fled the state. More on that later.
“Why here?” I asked Vin about his location request.
“Because this is where it all started,” he said, slapping his right palm on the cushy, brown sofa. “My Uncle Al found out I had stolen stuff from my grandmother to pay off a football gambling debt. Back in September of last year, Al punched me in the gut right here. I guess it was the wakeup call I needed. I was going down the wrong road and he set me straight. He could’ve killed me right then and there, but instead he challenged me to do something with my musical talent. Now look at us. We’ve got a record out, we’re getting some radio play, we’re getting interviewed by Power Chord. It’s been an amazing bunch of months.”
“Do you think your Uncle Al has ever killed a person?” I asked.
Vin winced at the question for a few seconds, but I sensed he was wrestling for an answer so I waited him out.
“I’m not really sure,” he finally said, looking down at the floor.
“I’ve got to push you a little bit about the lyrics to ‘Papa Was A Gravestone’ because it is the first single and that was the song that caused so much controversy at the Halloween show,” I asked. “Do you know how your dad died?”
“I was only 10 months old when it happened so I can only go on what other people have told me,” Vin said. “My mother said he drowned on a fishing trip.”
“Do you believe that? Did you ever try to research it and find out more information?” I asked.
“Honestly, I gave my mother the benefit of the doubt,” I said. “Part of me would like to know more, another part of me doesn’t want to know. Either way, it won’t help. It won’t bring him back.”
“Have you ever asked your uncle about what happened?” I asked.
“No,” Vin quickly replied.
“Why not?” I asked.
“My mother told me to never ask him about it so I never did,” Vin said. “I know you heard what happened at the Halloween show. You’ve seen what Al is capable of. Draw your own conclusions.”
“Do you think your uncle killed your father,” I pressed him.
“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”
“Vin, have you ever considered the possibility that your uncle was — and still is — a gravestone, and that your papa was — and still is — a mobster?” I asked him.
“What the? Excuse me?!!” Vin shouted, nearly falling off the sofa.
CHAPTER 20: COMPLETELY STRIPPED
I conducted my interview with Danielle Nardelli, the mother of Vin Masoli, in a hotel room at the Comfort Suites. Strangely, she arrived in the lobby with a suitcase and another large travel bag. Her long brown hair was tied back in a pony tail and she wore a tight white-collared shirt and black pants under her long, black overcoat as she checked in at the front counter. At the time, I wondered if I was about to approach the wrong woman. She easily could pass for a business woman instead of an exotic dancer. She also had not mentioned anything about staying at the hotel when I requested an interview with her over the phone.
“Danielle?” I asked.
“Yes,” she confirmed with a slight hesitation. “You must be Brad.”
“Yes, Brad Wolzinsky of Power Chord magazine, nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand. “Are you checking in here?”
“I am,” she said. “I’ll explain later. I just want to get settled in my room first and then you can come and meet me there. OK?”
“Sure,” I said, trying not to sound too confused.
“What room will it be?” she asked the young man behind the counter.
“208,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said.
“When should I knock?” I asked.
“Give me 10 minutes,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” I said.
After Danielle answered her door and let me into her hotel room, she invited me to sit in a chair while she reclined on the king-sized bed with a couple of pillows propping up her attractive face and torso.
“You don’t mind if I lay down, do you?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said. “Whatever makes you comfortable.”
“I’m just a little stressed out,” she said.
“And I appreciate you coming here and giving me the opportunity to interview you,” I said. “You must be very proud of Vin and what he’s been able to accomplish with this band at such a young age.”
“I am, Brad, you have no idea,” Danielle said, forcing a smile as her brain continued to be preoccupied with something else.
I could sense her tension and tossed out a softball question to start things rolling.
“When will Vin be 19 anyway?” I asked.
“May 19th,” she said with a smile before turning serious once again. “Brad, I brought my suitcase and checked into this hotel because I want to give you some information for this story that needs to be told. However, I have held this information secret for many, many years and it will greatly affect myself, Vin, Al and our whole family. It also may cause Al to become very upset with me and want to harm me. He’s very unpredictable. He may react very well or he may want to kill me. It probably won’t be something in between. Either way, I’m taking a vacation until things blow over and I’m sure it’s safe to come back. I’m the only one who knows my itinerary.”
“OK, I understand,” I said in the most empathetic tone I could muster.
“The bottom line is I want this secret to come out through this interview and story process, and not by me telling Al or Vin directly,” she said. “I am not equipped to handle that right now. I want to give them time and let them deal with it on their own before they confront me about it.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “I am sure I can help make that happen any way you want me to.”
“Great,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I feel a little better already. You know, I’ve stripped since I was 18 and most of those years I never really felt completely naked and free because I’ve been carrying around this secret all that time.”
“That’s rough,” I said, prodding her along as gently as possible.
“Vin’s father is not dead,” she said as I nearly choked on my own spit.
“Really?” I managed to utter in between coughs.
“Uncle Al is Vin’s real, biological father, but I’m the only one who knows that,” Danielle said, looking right at me. “Wow, it feels good to finally kick that one out of the fucking closet!”
I just nodded and hoped she’d continue right on going. She took a quick drink of water from a glass on the night table and did just that.
“All of this dates back to when I was married to Frank, Al’s brother,” Danielle said. “They both kind of had a thing for me and they were both very competitive, prideful young men. Al was four years older than Frank and seven years older than me so I was dating Frank, but I knew Al liked me, too. It was all a bit weird. I didn’t really know what I was doing back then, but I loved all the attention at such a young age.”
“I confess I researched some of this on my own as well,” I said. “I found a copy of Frank’s death certificate. The cause of death was suicide by pistol.”
“It’s true,” she confirmed. “It wasn’t long after I married Frank that things weren’t going well between us. He drank too much. He doubted himself sometimes. Looking back on it, I could see that he was depressed. I don’t think marriage was the fairytale he had expected.”
“Were you still stripping during the marriage?” I had to ask.
“No, he definitely wouldn’t allow that,” I said.
“Why did Frank kill himself?” I asked.
“Al and I kind of had an off-and-on affair when things were bad with Frank and he had no idea,” Danielle said with some remorse in her voice. “When I got pregnant, I knew right away Al had to be the father because Frank and I were not even having sex at the time. We were mostly fighting.”
“Didn’t Frank put two and two together?” I asked.
“He wasn’t very good at math and I made sure we had sex a few times before I really started showing in a desperate attempt to cover it up,” she said. “The whole thing was a huge mistake. I was too young. I was caught between two crazy mobster brothers. I had no idea what to do.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said as Danielle lit her cigarette and took a nice, long drag to calm down.
“I stopped seeing Al, he kept his mouth shut about our affair and eventually I gave birth to Vin,” she said. “I guess I hoped giving Frank a beautiful baby boy would help our marriage, and it did for a little while. But during one of our big fights, when Frank was all drunk and little Vin was only about 10 months old, I told him I didn’t love him and wanted a divorce.”
“How did he take that?” I asked.
“He basically threatened to kill me if I ever left him,” she said. “That’s when I just took off with the baby and asked Al for, you know, some protection. He was happy to help.”
“And that, I imagine, led to the fateful fishing trip that Vin told me about in our brief phone conversation the other day,” I said.
“There was no fishing trip,” she said. “I just made that up. How do you tell a child, even a teenager, about this kind of stuff?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “That’s pretty heavy.”
“Al just confronted Frank and told him the truth,” Danielle recalled. “He confessed that Al and I had an affair, and he apologized for his role in further screwing up our already fucked-up marriage. But he also told Frank to move on, come to grips with the fact that I didn’t love him anymore and that he wasn’t going to let Frank harm me.”
“Wow,” I said, taking a deep breath myself as I glanced at my tiny recorder to make sure it was getting all of this. I also scribbled some notes on my yellow legal pad as we talked.
“The next day,” Danielle said before her voice quickly trailed off and her eyes filled with tears.
“That was it,” I interjected, trying to keep her thoughts audible.
“Frank shot himself,” she confirmed. “He couldn’t take it. Who could blame him? All the guilt that Al and me felt, you have no idea. I mean we basically helped put the gun to Frank’s head. He pulled the trigger, but we did all the rest.”
“Did Al ever ask if Vin was his son?” I had to ask.
“Yes,” she said. “A couple of weeks later, he asked me, but I just lied to his face. I couldn’t deal with that. I wanted no part of Al after what happened with Frank and I sure as hell didn’t want a mobster raising my baby,” she said with sharp contempt in her voice.
“Did Al press the issue at all?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “He didn’t want that kind of responsibility at that time, raising a baby. He wanted nothing to do with me either. I was toxic to him just as he was toxic to me. We both blamed each other and ourselves for Frank’s death.”
“Is that why Al went to Miami?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” she said. “He definitely wanted a fresh start. He spent a few years chasing women around down there, but he settled down. He’s been married to Sally for quite a while. They have two teenage daughters younger than Vin.”
“So Vin has a step-mother and two half-sisters he doesn’t even really know about,” I noted.
“Not to mention a father he doesn’t know about yet,” she added.
“True,” I said.
“And that’s why I got so upset with Vin after he insulted Al and Sally in that song,” Danielle said. “He couldn’t have known it obviously, but he was disrespecting his own father and step-mother.”
“And how do you think Al and Vin will react toward you when they find out what you’re telling me tonight?” I asked.
“Horribly at first,” she said. “I’ve lied to both of them for so long. That’s why I don’t want to be there when the shit hits the fan. Call me a coward all you want, but I could’ve taken this secret to the grave with me. I just decided this is the right time to be brave and let it out … with your help, so thank you.”
“I’m happy to help, Danielle. But why now?” I asked her.
“Because Vin is a young man now and he’s old enough to know the truth,” she said. “But the biggest reason is the music. Because of this band, Vin and Al are closer now than they’ve ever been. It’s my hope and belief that after they stop screaming at me and calm down, they will realize the gift I’m giving them by doing this. A father will have discovered a son to go with his two daughters. And a son who thought his father was dead all these years will get the biggest surprise of his life.”
“His papa is not a gravestone after all,” I said.
“No,” she said. “That was his uncle.”
“I think most young men would take that trade,” I tried to reassure her.
“I hope so,” she said. “The catch here is I will allow you to tell Vin when you interview him tomorrow at my house, but do not tell Al. I need to be long gone and hard to find before he hears about this. My life may depend on it.”
“Danielle, I promise I will do whatever you ask,” I said. “I absolutely think you’re doing the right thing and I have a feeling everything will work out in the end.”
“That’s the only thing keeping me sane right now,” she said.
“Well Danielle, you’ve been through a lot tonight, but you did great and now you can focus on taking a vacation in the morning,” I said.
“I can’t wait,” she said, allowing half a smile as she freed her hair from the pony tail and let it spill down her shirt. “I may be fully clothed at the moment, but deep down it sure feels good to finally be completely stripped of all my secrets. And now, if Al does kill me, at least the whole world will know why.”
CHAPTER 21: GRAVESIDE LIFELINE
I sat there utterly dazed after Brad left. The whole thing sure had the makings of some crazy dream — getting interviewed for a magazine story about our rock band and finding out Al was my father all in one shot. But every time I tried to tell myself it was a dream and I would wake up any minute, my right hand shoved my mother’s note back in my face to remind me that all of this was indeed real. Brad had given me the handwritten letter from my mother after he had successfully completed his mission and dropped his life-changing bomb on me.
I won’t rehash the whole letter, but in my mind my mother was now getting me back for wiping my ass all those times many years ago. Now it was my turn to clean up her dirty work — an 18-year lie to my brand new father and her former paramour that needed to die. She apologized many times in the letter for putting me in this position and even gave me the option of letting Al find out when the magazine story hit the shelves, but I knew what I had to do.
“Al,” I said, calling him on my cell phone. “It’s me Vin. I need to meet you right away.”
“I was planning to go to the Mohegan today,” he said, referring to a casino right over the Connecticut line.
“You shouldn’t gamble,” I said, trying to remind myself that I was now talking to my father for the first time. I was confident there was no chance I would slip and say “dad” at that point in time. It was all too surreal.
“No, Vin, you shouldn’t gamble,” Al said, “because you can’t handle it and can’t pay your debts. I gamble a set amount on blackjack that I know I can afford and if that money runs out, I don’t go back for more or steal from somebody so I can return to the table. Understand the difference?”
“Sure,” I said, cutting off the lesson and getting to my point. “Meet me at my father’s gravestone in one hour … or sooner if possible.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Al asked, clearly pissed off.
“You heard me. I have a major announcement to make that affects you, me and my father,” I said.
“Are you crazy?” he asked. “You better not be taking drugs, Vin. Don’t ruin your musical career before we even go on tour and start making real money.”
“I’m dead serious, Al,” I said. “I have a letter here from my mother. Meet me at my father’s gravestone if you want to find out what it says.”
“What? You better not be bullshitting me about this,” Al said. “Where’s your mother? Let me talk to her.”
“She took off,” I said.
“Took off where?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied.
“I’ll meet you at the gravestone in 30 minutes,” Al finally said after several awkward seconds of silence.
I drove to Rose Hill Cemetery in North Providence, parked my truck and walked toward Frank Masoli’s modest gravestone under a huge weeping willow tree. The clouds were heavy on that overcast day and the late-winter wind still had plenty of bite. It had been several years since I had come to visit Frank, my dead uncle who unknowingly inspired the words to “Papa Was A Gravestone.” I reflected on the fact that the first single for Freeway & the Vin Numbers was now just a black flag on its own castle made of sand — one big lie that was finally going to be swept into the sea of truth.
I stooped down to look at the faded words and numbers that at one time had been all too clear to the overwhelmed, innocent eyes of my childhood: “Frank Edward Masoli, born January 11, 1971 – died March 24, 1992.” Then I thought about the words that didn’t get chiseled onto his gravestone. “This guy was married at 20 and dead at 21. Betrayed by his own brother and supposed wife.”
How could I not feel terrible for my former father, my new uncle? How could I not feel a tremendous level of disgust for my new father and my fuck-and-run mother? But honestly, at that moment, I didn’t feel much at all. The whole sordid saga was too much of a mind fuck to process. The one thing I was sure about was that I never wanted to sing “Papa Was A Gravestone” ever again. I even told Brad that later in our interview. How’s that for your rock band story? This new, up-and-coming band refuses to play its first single live. Good luck with that.
Al trudged toward me wearing his black mafia hat and black mafia trench coat. It crossed my mind that he didn’t look so tough anymore. I wondered how long it had been since he stopped by to visit his brother. I thought about how it could’ve been me lying six feet under right now if he and his goon had been successful in their attempt to take me out at the Halloween show. I feared that the father I so longed to have for so many years would, now that I found him, only be deserving of my hatred, not love. Could I forgive him? Could I forgive my mother? Could I look them in the eye at some point and not think about what they did to cause the death of Frank Edward Masoli? I was supposed to be the one who acted compulsively without thinking about the consequences, not them. It was all too much. They were young adults when all of this happened. Now their shit was being dumped on me as I entered adulthood. How would I handle it? Would this new reality fuck me up beyond repair? I hoped the combination of Saturn’s love and music would be enough to cure me, but on that day at least, I had my doubts.
Al came up and stood next to me as I continued to stoop in front of Frank’s grave. We were both silent at first, paying our respects before launching into the inevitable. Then I stood up and faced him. He struggled to look me in the eye.
“Give me the letter,” he said.
“She lied to you, everybody lied to me and Frank got the worst of it,” I said, looking right at him with zero fear and shoving the letter into his trigger hand.
He took it and braced himself for a moment before opening it. That gave me the second I needed to fire off a zinger that needed to be said.
“Maybe you and my mother should make your confessions to nana, too,” I quipped.
Al absorbed the jab silently and opened the letter. He quietly read every word and learned that I was his bastard child. Welcome to the “Secret’s Out Club,” dad.
There aren’t many things that can bring a mobster to his knees, but that letter beside the grave of his brutally betrayed dead younger brother did exactly that. All the buried guilt came rushing back to the surface and knocked Al over. He bent down beside Frank’s gravestone and wept into his left hand. I wondered if he had ever truly mourned his brother when he was younger. I was glad he reacted like that, because if he didn’t, I don’t think I could have ever began to consider him my father.
I let Al cry for a couple of minutes, but then I relented and put my hand on his shoulder. We had to start somewhere. He immediately grabbed my hand, stood up and gave me a bear hug.
“I’m so sorry Vin,” he said as he wept and continued to hold onto me tightly. “You deserve a better father than me. I’m an evil person. It should be me in that dirt right now, not Frank, not Frank. He was my little brother and I fucked him over like a piece of garbage. My own flesh and blood. What kind of person does that?”
The irony of the moment was not lost on me. I guess fucking over your family members runs in our family. I recalled Al screaming at me for stealing from nana, my own flesh and blood. Lying, stealing, adultery, betrayal, suicide — somehow we needed to stop that cycle and turn this family around. Whether I liked it or not, I knew I had to throw my new father a lifeline.
“You were an evil person,” I told him as he backed away, wiped the tears with his handkerchief and tried to look me in the eye. “That was a long time ago. We’ve got to find a way to let this go and move on. Today’s a new day. My mother finally told the truth. You’re finally dealing with what you did to your brother. I found my father. You found a son. Hopefully, we’ve all still got a lot of living to do. This is a second chance to make things better.”
Al looked at me like I was the pope himself. He was truly humbled that I had given him a slice of hope and left the door open to a father-son relationship. He hugged me again.
“You’re growing up before my eyes Vin,” Al said. “Thank you for this. I swear I will make the most of this second chance.”
“Just don’t kill my mother,” I said.
He backed up, put his hands on my shoulders, then leaned forward and kissed my forehead.
“Vincent, I swear on my life I will never harm the mother of my only son and I will never harm you, I don’t care what lyrics you use,” he said with a smile. “You’re absolutely right. This is a new start for all of us.”
I smiled back.
“I’ll call my mother and tell her she doesn’t have to lam it anymore unless she really needs a vacation, which she probably does,” I said.
“I think we all do,” Al said, turning more serious again. “Vin, would you excuse me? I’d like to talk to my brother alone for a few minutes.”
I gave him a hug.
“I’ll call you later …,” I said before the tears interrupted me. “I’ll call you later, dad.”
We both started crying and I walked away so Al could make peace with my uncle.
CHAPTER 22: YEAH, THEY SUCK
After leaving Al at the cemetery, I called Saturn and drove straight to her place on the east side. I needed to see my girlfriend and talk to a sane person outside of my crazy family. I needed to tell her about his new reality and maybe she could help explain how I should feel about it because my head and guts were in knots. After that, my plan was to go see Freeway because he had his own unique way of looking at things and putting everything into perspective.
Somebody upstairs had to be fucking with me on this particular afternoon because on the drive over to Saturn’s place, what song do you think started blasting out of my car radio? Yup. “Papa Was A Gravestone.” WBRW, which did its best to support the local music scene, was plugging our first single. I knew they had been playing our song for a couple of weeks, but I hadn’t actually heard proof of that until now. It was completely bizarre to hear my own voice singing those words, some of which had now been compromised by a little thing called the truth.
If hearing that particular song on the radio at that moment in time wasn’t enough, then I had to endure Morgan’s cheap shot before the commercial break.
“That was the new single by Providence’s own Freeway & the Vin Numbers called ‘Papa Was A Gravestone,’” the voice of Ryan said.
“Yeah, they suck,” Morgan deadpanned then laughed.
“What?” Ryan responded before the commercial kicked in.
At least her sense of humor was slightly more on target than her beer-throwing arm.
Saturn welcomed me into her apartment with a huge hug and kiss. I stuck my head into the kitchen and said hello to her new roommate, a butch lesbian named Shelby with spiky black hair, lots of piercings and man clothes. She sort of smiled and sort of waved. No, she wasn’t nearly as friendly or easy on the eyes as Morgan, but at least Saturn and I didn’t have to worry about her sabotaging our relationship. Then Saturn and I retreated to her cozy bedroom. I plopped on her bed, she jumped on me and we kissed for about five minutes. It was great to get my mind off everything else. Then I stared at the framed photo of her parents on the desk across from the bed and prepared to reveal to her all of my shocking news.
“I don’t know how else to say this so I’ll come right
out with it,” I said before she put her hand on my mouth and interrupted me.
“Don’t even think about breaking up with me,” she said, only half-kidding.
I grabbed her hand and pulled it away so I could reply.
“Never,” I said. “This has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with my fucked-up family.”
“Excellent,” Saturn said with a smile as she sat up on the bed and looked down at me. “I’m all ears.”
“My father is alive,” I declared.
Saturn’s beautiful eyes popped open as far as they could go and she covered her mouth.
“What the?” she gasped.
“That’s what I said when I found out,” I told her.
“How did you find out and who is he, where is he?” she asked.
“My Uncle Al is my real father,” I said. “My mother had been keeping this a secret from him, me and the whole world since before I was born.”
Saturn just stared at me dumbfounded.
“She spilled her guts to the Power Chord magazine writer and had him tell me in our interview so she could get the fuck out of town and not have to deal with my reaction, Al’s reaction, etc.”
“Wow,” Saturn said.
“Oh, I’m just getting warmed up,” I said. “My mother had an affair with Al while she was married to my former father Frank. She knew I was Al’s baby because her and Frank fought a lot and would go without sex for long periods of time. When she first found out she was pregnant, she started to have sex with Frank more often to try to cover it up. She broke things off with Al, stayed married to Frank, gave birth to me and hoped they’d somehow go on to live happily ever after.”
“Vin, that’s unbelievable,” Saturn said, shaking her head.
“Better than fiction, right? We couldn’t make this shit up if we tried,” I said. “Well, Frank and my mother didn’t live happily ever after. They had a big drunken fight, she demanded a divorce and Frank threatened to kill her. Long story short, Al confronted Frank, told him about the affair, told him to leave my mother alone and …”
“And what?” Saturn pleaded.
“Frank blew his own head off,” I said. “Al did not kill him as I had suspected. Frank didn’t drown on a fishing trip like my mother told me. My uncle Frank was the gravestone, my papa Al is the mobster, my mother Danielle is the lying stripper and I, Vin Masoli, is now and forever the completely fucked-up bastard child. … So how was your day dear?”
I smiled a little. She did the same. We just looked at each other and tried to let all of my mad-but-true ramblings sink in for a moment.
“Al never suspected you were his?” Saturn finally asked.
“He asked my mother at one point, but she lied to his face,” I said. “And he never asked for a paternity test. My mother didn’t want me to be raised by a mobster, which I can sort of understand. The guy did almost have me killed at the Halloween show.”
“That’s right,” Saturn said, shaking her head in disbelief and glancing at the photo of her parents.
“What a night that was … and could’ve been,” I said.
“My parents are dead, but at least they were pretty normal,” she said, turning back to look into my eyes and hold my hand. “I’m sorry, Vin. This must be so confusing and horrible for you right now.”
“I’m mostly numb,” I said. “It’s so good to talk to you and get this off my chest. You have no idea.”
“No, I really don’t have any idea, but I’m glad I’m here for you right now,” Saturn said, kissing me.
“I guess the good news in all of this is Al and I just had a heart-to-heart talk at Frank’s gravestone,” I said. “I showed him the letter my mother gave the magazine writer to give to me. The letter was kind of proof of the whole thing and Al was blindsided just like me. He started bawling. He felt bad his younger brother took his own life because of what he and my mother did all those years ago. I told him we’ve all gotta move on and live better. Look at this as a second chance.”
“That’s amazing, Vin,” Saturn said.
“What?” I asked.
“That you were able to say that kind of stuff to him,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “It almost felt like I was in a movie. None of it seemed completely real. I was even surprised at some of the stuff that was coming out of my mouth at that moment.”
“But he is your father,” Saturn said.
“That’s what it comes down to,” I said. “We’ve gotta go from here. We’ve gotta start somewhere. That’s what my mother was hoping for. She saw the band and the music bringing Al and me closer together, and she wanted to get that secret off her chest. In her mind, I guess, it was the right time to take that chance and finally tell us the truth.”
“Where did your mother go?” Saturn asked.
“No clue,” I said. “She took a vacation and won’t come back until she feels it’s safe.”
“I can understand that,” Saturn said.
“Yeah, she didn’t know how Al was going to react,” I said. “Neither one of my parents is mentally stable. Is there any hope for me?”
“Stay with me, Vin, and there will be plenty of hope for you,” Saturn said, kissing me.
“I believe you,” I said, before telling her about hearing “Papa Was A Gravestone” on the radio and recounting Morgan’s off-the-cuff remark.
“That girl needs her ass kicked,” Saturn said, punching her left palm with her right fist.
What can I say? My girlfriend is usually right.
CHAPTER 23: THE SONG DOESN’T REMAIN THE SAME
It was too frigging cold to hang out on Freeway’s porch and the heat didn’t work very well at his place, so I invited him over to my mother’s house. She was still long gone and not answering her cell phone at the moment. Buck drove Freeway over in the Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon and I ushered them into the living room. Buck passed out some beers from the blue cooler he brought with him and I got them up to speed on all of my shocking news. They mostly sat in awe, just as Saturn had done.
“This is gonna be some magazine article,” Buck said.
“We gotta change the lyrics to ‘Uncle Was A Gravestone,’ I guess,” Freeway mused.
“Get this, Brad from Power Chord called me a little while ago and he said they’re sending up a photographer to get a shot of me by my uncle’s gravestone tomorrow,” I said.
“No shit?” Buck said.
“That’s not all,” I said. “Freeway, they want a shot of you jamming on the porch overlooking I-95, too. Plus they already got some pics of us performing live that Al gave them.”
“Boys, it looks like we’re going to be famous,” Buck said, grinning and reveling in the fact that he really was reliving his youth in such exciting fashion.
“I can’t wait to start the tour, man,” Freeway said, taking a sip of his beer. “That’s going be crazy.”
“Yeah, Al said we’re going to kick it off in Miami on my birthday in May and then play a bunch of clubs up the Atlantic Coast before we finish up in Providence and Boston,” I said.
“Rock and roll!” Buck shouted, pounding the rest of his beer and high-fiving me and Freeway.
“I’ve been working on some new lyrics for ‘Papa Was A Gravestone’ given the latest developments,” I told them.
“The truth will set you free, man,” Freeway said. “It’s all about musical integrity and that’s always been your song. We’ll back you up wherever you want to take it.”
“Thanks Freeway,” I said. “I just can’t sing it the same way anymore. I gotta change it up a little.”
“Can you give us a preview?” Buck asked.
“I would keep most of it the same until the last third of the song because both parts are still real to me, but the last part is what’s most real now,” I explained.
“Sing the last part, man,” Freeway requested.
So I did.
“Papa was a gravestone
Until the other day
When the truth came out
That my mother was a liar
And the mobster was a crier
But nobody’s perfect
Certainly not me
So we try to forgive
While we never forget
Yeah, it’s a whole new day
And I’m no longer stuck on yesterday
Just trying to move forward
And count my blessings
My papa’s alive
What a surprise
Just goes to show
There’s a slice of hope
With every sunrise.”
Buck and Freeway clapped while I sheepishly chugged my beer.
Then Buck thought of Led Zeppelin and their hit “The Song Remains The Same” off the 1973 album “Houses of the Holy.”
“Led Zep has ‘The Song Remains The Same’ and we’ve got ‘The Song Doesn’t Remain The Same,’” the bald bookie drummer pointed out to the amusement of us all.
CHAPTER 24: YOU’VE HEARD OF US NOW
Saturn and I were hanging out watching TV at my mother’s place when Danielle and Al walked through the front door together on that early March afternoon. My mother had spent the better part of two weeks in the Bahamas and didn’t return until A. she had a sufficient tan; and B. Al had talked to her enough times on the phone to convince her she would not be harmed for lying to him all these years.
“Welcome back, ma and Al,” I said, getting up to greet and hug them both as Saturn remained on the sofa.
“Hello, my wonderful son,” my mother said.
“And hello my wonderful son,” Al happily chimed in before depositing a bag of groceries on the kitchen counter. “How about a home-cooked dinner on me? A little sausage, peppers and pasta.”
“Yes, just the four of us,” my mother added, rushing over to hug Saturn. “It’s so good to see you again, Saturn.”
“Likewise, Danielle,” Saturn said, standing up and trying her best not to feel awkward. “It’s been too long.”
“You look good, ma,” I told her.
“Why thank you, Vincent,” she replied.
She did, too. She had a glow about her I don’t remember ever seeing before and it wasn’t just the amazing tan. She looked completely invigorated and energetic. Dare I say happy?
“You and Saturn look great, too, especially together,” my mother said with a wink. Saturn smiled.
“They are an adorable couple,” Al added.
Everybody was so sweet it bordered on sickening, but I found it refreshing. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that Saturn was there. That’s one of the reasons why I had insisted that she be with me when we all reunited; not to mention the fact that she was my girlfriend now and she should be welcome to attend a family function on occasion.
Al did the cooking while my mother, Saturn and I got a chance to relax and catch up in the living room.
“So how have you two been while I’ve been away?” my mother asked. “How’s the band?”
“Great,” I said. “We’ve been rehearsing for the tour and working on a couple of new tunes. The guys can’t wait until the Power Chord story comes out.”
“I know. I can’t wait either,” my mother said with a touch of playful sarcasm.
“So you and Al seem to be on good terms,” I whispered.
“We’re working through it,” she replied in full voice. “It’s gone far better than I could’ve hoped. Al and I both have you to thank for that, Vin. You handled this whole thing so well and you’ve helped bring us all closer together with your positive attitude. I’m sure Saturn has been a good influence on you as well.”
“No, no,” Saturn blushed, “I’ve just been supportive. Vin has grown up a lot since I first met him and that’s why he’s dealing with everything so well.”
“And Saturn is the major reason why I’ve grown up so fast,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, he’s benefited from all my wisdom because I’m so much older,” Saturn said with a grin. I smiled and kissed her on the cheek.
“I’m so happy you two are hitting it off,” my mother beamed. “It makes all of this so much better.”
And it was better. Everything, in fact. Al cooked a great dinner, we all ate like we hadn’t in months and we got along like the word dysfunction never existed. Call it the Saturn effect or whatever you like, but I was beginning to think life wasn’t so bleak after all.
When the April issue of Power Chord magazine came out a couple of weeks later, Al was back in Miami and he mailed each of the band members an advance copy. I rushed to the mail box on Monday and Tuesday and was disappointed both times, but on Wednesday, there it was. Ozzy Osbourne was on the cover and there was a small teaser line to “hot new bands you’ve never heard of.” I ran inside, jumped on my bed and got comfortable. When I flipped to page 48, I couldn’t believe my eyes: my Uncle Frank’s gravestone and I were staring right back at me. Talk about a surreal moment. On the facing page, there was a sweet shot of Freeway jamming at dusk on his porch with the artsy blur of headlights streaking past him in the background. Then I looked back to the page my picture was on and absorbed the headline: “Freeway & the Vin Numbers: Gravestone Secrets That Rock.” Holy shit.
Then I began reading Brad Wolzinsky’s story:
Freeway Wilson looks, plays guitar and sings like the second coming of Jimi Hendrix. Vincent Masoli writes songs about his dead father and then finds out later, during his interview for this article, that his father is very much alive. The two driving forces behind the Rhode Island-based band Freeway & the Vin Numbers, Wilson and Masoli likely never would’ve met if Masoli hadn’t stolen money from his senile grandmother to cover a series of bad football bets last September.
Buck Griffin, the band’s drummer and initial liaison between Masoli and Wilson, unconvincingly denies rumors that he doubles as Masoli’s bookie. In the liner notes to the band’s debut double CD, “Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon,” the musical contributions of band member/gang banger Ronnie “Friday” Perkins, who typically stands on the stage and does nothing during live shows, are listed as “unknown.” And guitarist/keyboardist Craig Hurley proudly wears a mullet because he wants to be “ahead of the curve when the hair fashion cycle inevitably comes full circle.”
If those little gems aren’t enough to pique your interest in this very promising band that nobody has heard of outside the nation’s smallest state, then just go to one of their live shows. At the band’s Halloween gig last year at the Heartbreak Lounge in Providence, Wilson asked the crowd to select the most boring fan. After the gangly young man was unceremoniously dumped on stage, Masoli’s scantily clad girlfriend, Saturn Satriale, lured the unsuspecting stooge into a game of Twister. As the fellow drooled and failed to connect the dots, Perkins rushed on stage wearing a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” mask and brandishing a real, running chain saw. He scared the boring fan out of his acne-covered skin and chased him off stage to the delight of the costumed revelers. Later that same night, Masoli changed the lyrics of the band’s first single, “Papa Was A Gravestone,” from “Auntie rocked the lobster” to “Auntie preferred the butt hole.” Though most in the crowd seemed to love the alternate lyrics, Masoli’s uncle wasn’t so pleased. Al Masoli — a reputed mobster and nightclub owner in Miami, Fla. — rushed the stage packing a gun. Perkins pulled a gun of his own and police swarmed them to stop the melee. The show was cut short, the club was cleared out and the Heartbreak Lounge has since banned Freeway & the Vin Numbers from performing on its stage.
All of that only fueled the band’s buzz and creativity. Not only did Freeway & the Vin Numbers record an impressive debut indie CD packed with two dozen rock and blues hits that dropped in February, but they also became a YouTube sensation for the infamous Halloween show videos. In addition, “Papa Was A Gravestone” (original lyrics) is getting heavy radio play from Providence’s most popular college station, WBRW-95.5. And now the band is preparing to kick off an Atlantic Coast club tour, which begins May 19 in Miami.
Freeway & the Vin Numbers put on amazing live shows, led by Wilson’s charisma, guitar talent and fervent reverence to rock legend Jimi Hendrix. The band has performed moving covers of such Hendrix hits as “Love or Confusion,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Fire” and “Castles Made of Sand.” In a February show at the Sea Mist along Rhode Island’s beachfront, Wilson segued from the band’s unreleased track “Ain’t For Sale” to a verse from the Hendrix classic, “If 6 Was 9,” and updated the lyric “white-collar conservative” to “Wall Street executive.”
“Hendrix is on another planet, man — no other Earth-based guitarist even comes close,” says Wilson, who at age 20 is still seven years younger than Hendrix when he died in 1970. “Jimi’s music is better today than it was back then because there’s nothing out today that can even touch him. He’s our muse and we channel him the best we can into our music.”
Wilson grew up in a broken home, lived for a while in a tent city among Providence’s most poor and now plays his Les Paul guitar on the first-floor porch of a three-story tenement overlooking Interstate 95. Two of the band’s songs, “Jamming By The I” and “Freeway in the Front Yard,” celebrate that scene. Another song strongly suggests that Perkins, his longtime friend, stole the Les Paul that Wilson plays. “He stole from Peter so I could play my Paul,” Wilson sings on the track, “My Paul,” one of the best on the CD.
Other highlights from the double album include the heavy rocker “Medieval Upheaval,” “Dashes to Ashes,” “Zero Gravity,” “Bucket of Blues” and the funky title track “Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon.” But it is the lead single, “Papa Was A Gravestone,” that has taken on a life — and death — of its own.
Still just 18 years old, Vin Masoli originally wrote the song last fall because as far as he knew, his father actually was a gravestone. Frank Edward Masoli died when Vin was only 10 months old and Vin was raised by his mother, Danielle Nardelli, an exotic dancer at the Roxy in Providence.
“My mother would take me to see my father every now and then when I was young,” Masoli recalls. “That’s how I always saw him: a gravestone.”
Vin said his mother told him his father drowned on a fishing trip and he never challenged her version of events, though he suspected his hot-tempered Uncle Al may have had something to do with his death.
For the first time since Frank’s suicide in 1992, Nardelli decided to share her secret with Power Chord. She confided that she was involved in a love triangle with brothers Al and Frank Masoli. Early in her marriage to Frank, she had an affair with Al. When she got pregnant, she knew the baby was Al’s but managed to cover it up with Frank until they had a major fight when Vin was 10 months old. Danielle asked for a divorce, Frank threatened her life and she asked Al for help. Al confronted Frank, told him about the affair and advised him to leave Danielle alone. After Frank took his own life, Danielle lied to Al and said the baby was not his. That’s when Al left Providence to start a new life in Miami.
“I didn’t want a mobster raising my baby,” Danielle says.
Nardelli said she always thought she would take her secret to the grave, but she changed her mind when the band brought Vin and Al closer together. After having reconciled with Vin and the band following the Halloween show debacle, Al used his considerable clout and wealth to talk the band into becoming its manager.
Clearly, Vin was not at all prepared for Danielle’s bombshell: Uncle Frank is the gravestone and his papa, Al, is very much alive.
“I had no idea Al was my father,” Vin says. “I was blown away when you told me what my mother said.”
For Vincent Masoli, his band’s first single will never be the same.
“I don’t think I can play that song live anymore … at least not in its present form,” he says. “I may have to change the lyrics for the third time.
“I also feel terrible for my uncle,” Vin adds. “But after all is said and done, I’m glad my mother finally told the truth and I’m glad my father is alive. That’s more important than any song.”
Even if their lyrics aren’t always accurate, Freeway & the Vin Numbers are attempting to resuscitate a gravely ill music scene with an injection of inspiration, passion and intensity that would make their immortal muse, James Marshall Hendrix, proud.
CHAPTER 25: LET’S GET LOCO
We kicked off our Atlantic Coast club tour in style, thanks to my father Al (weird saying that, I know) and his Miami connections. We played an intimate show for Miami Beach’s rich, famous and super models at the Delano Hotel, within a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean.
We set up in the dark and airy Rose Bar lounge with its intoxicating salt water breezes, ridiculously high ceilings and towering white linen drapes. Beyond the lounge was a sprawling outdoor garden and pool with lounge chairs, cabana beds and cozy bungalows lining both sides. A couple of tables and chairs actually were set up in the shallow end of the pool so people could sit and get their feet wet. At the far end of the pool was a fairly large outdoor bar where the beautiful people sipped tropical cocktails and mingled.
In short, it was paradise, not some seedy club more suitable for rock and blues. But Freeway & the Vin Numbers weren’t complaining. Shit, we were loving it. It felt like we had made it.
The only challenge at a place like this was getting the crowd to pay attention to the music and lure them into the Rose Bar from the heavenly pool area. Al did his best to promote the show, but nobody really knew us this far away from our home turf. The Power Chord magazine story and the popularity of the Delano helped draw a couple hundred young hipsters and plenty of rich older folks who chased beautiful women.
Saturn flew down to be with me for the tour launch and to celebrate my 19th birthday after the show. Others attending the gig included my mother, Al, his wife Sally (yes, that auntie) and my two new half-sisters, Valerie and Lauren. Considering they were only 16 and 14, Al had to pull a few strings to get them into the club for the show.
We in the band all wore Hawaiian shirts, white pants and white shoes — tropical yet classy attire that met with Saturn and my mother’s approval.
There were probably only about 50 or so people in the Rose Bar when we started to play around 11 p.m. Everybody else was outside. The place didn’t close until at least 3 a.m., but it was a hotel, so it never really closed, especially near the pool and bungalows. We were slated to play until about 12:30 a.m. and then a Miami-based DJ would take over for the wee-hour dance scene.
With all the Latino beauties in attendance, Freeway made sure to start the show off accordingly.
“Hey everybody,” he said. “We’re Freeway & the Vin Numbers from a little place called Providence, Rhode Island. We love Miami and we hope you’ll love us. Hey now, do we have any Spanish people in the house tonight? Where y’all at?”
Quite a few partiers cheered.
“All right! Do we have any people who love castles in the house tonight?” Freeway continued.
A whole bunch of hot women cheered.
“All right! Do we have any people who love magic in the house tonight?” Freeway asked with a big smile.
“Yeah!” the crowd responded.
“Well then, let’s get loco!” Freeway shouted before blasting off the sensational opening riffs of the Jimi Hendrix smash “Spanish Castle Magic,” from “Axis: Bold As Love.”
Friday stood like a rock with arms folded, Craig played guitar, Buck tore it up on drums and I jammed on the bass while Freeway sang like it was the best night of his entire life:
“It’s very far away
It takes about half a day
To get there, if we travel by my a … dragonfly
No, it’s not in Spain
But all the same
It’s a groovy name
And the wind’s just right
Hang on, my darling
Hang on if you want to go
You know it’s a really groovy place
And it’s just a little bit of Spanish castle magic”
We nailed that song and it definitely got the attention of some of the people out in pool land. Couples holding hands and other small groups of people began to trickle into the lounge to get a closer look at who was rocking the Delano on that Friday night.
Freeway kept the momentum going with “My Paul” and a fun ride through “Shaggin’ Dragon Paddy Wagon,” which actually got some people dancing in the lounge. The place was so spacious and airy there was enough room to break it on down if you had the urge.
Then I sang “Zero Gravity” and a brand new tune called “Makin’ Sense”:
“Life can be full of sound and fury
Of judge and jury
That makes no sense to me
No, life don’t make no sense to me
But you and I do, darlin’
And that’s enough for me
Your crazy earrings
You are my circle of life
You are my future wife
You waken all my senses
No more past tenses
Life is now, life is wow
Life don’t make no sense to me
But you and I do, darlin’
And that’s enough for me”
The ladies in the crowd seemed to love that song, especially Saturn, who looked stunning in a tight teal dress with matching high-heel shoes and big hoop-ty earrings. I watched her laugh when I sang the “crazy earrings” lyric. That was priceless.
I got “Papa Was A Gravestone” out of the way next. I wasn’t comfortable singing that song so I closed my eyes for most of it and included the new third verse. I made sure not to look at my mother, Al or Sally throughout that song so I don’t know how they reacted. But I never sang about anyone preferring butt holes, that’s for sure.
Freeway took over vocals again for “Empty Streets” and “Crazee Leaf,” which seemed to be popular with the Miami crowd. Then he debuted another awesome new song called “Whether Vane”:
“Clouds rolling in from the West
We can sing about the weather
Or you can tell me whether …
Hey, whether vane
Will she or won’t she rain
On my sunny days?
I gotta know
Can’t take no mo’
Will she or won’t she rain
On my eight-lane parade?
Tell me before I get in too deep
Too tired to dream
Too wired to sleep
Hey, weather vane
You’re up on the roof
Tell me what’s comin’ my way
A love as hot as Miami
Or a hate as cold as Erie?
Clouds rolling in from the West
We can sing about the weather
Or you can tell me whether …
Hey, whether vane
Will she or won’t she rain
On my sunny days?
I gotta know
Can’t take no mo’
Will she or won’t she rain
On my eight-lane parade?”
Freeway had fun with that song and it was infectious. The crowd loved it, especially the reference to Miami, after which Freeway wisely paused for effect before singing the next line. More people continued to spill into the lounge from the pool area, adding to the buzz in the room.
Friday and Freeway combined on “Wayward Wanderer” just as they had for the Sea Mist show, and it seemed to captivate the crowd in a whole different way. It was like they didn’t expect that side of our band after all the fun songs. That was pretty cool. Then I hit them with “Dashes to Ashes” and the mood got a little too somber, so I picked them back up with “When She Wears Clothes,” a fitting song for such a hot location.
Freeway put on a guitar clinic with “Bucket of Blues,” including an extended solo that dazzled the crowd. He kept that bluesy magic going as I sang “Police Station Blues.”
While the rest of us took a break, Freeway drew a standing ovation for his stripped-down solo masterpiece “Too Quick.”
Then I came out and let Freeway finally rest with my solo acoustic version of “Saturn,” which nearly brought my valentine to tears. I blew her a kiss before the rest of the band rushed out and we cranked up the sound to the other end of the spectrum. Yup. It was “Medieval Upheaval” time. Was Miami ready for this? Not really. We went crazy, but the crowd seemed slightly confused that we had a little Rage Against the Machine in our arsenal as well. The place may have been just too modern and upscale for “Medieval Upheaval.”
Al warned me that a place like this also likely wouldn’t stomp the floor for an encore, especially with a fairly unknown band, so we finished strong with our previously successful medley of “Ain’t for Sale” and “If 6 Was 9,” and wrapped the show with Freeway’s ode to the sound-bending wah-wah guitar effect that Jimi Hendrix was the first to master. Freeway’s new song was called “Wah Wah (Why Don’t You Love Me?)”:
“I can bend the sound
And I can release the hound
But can I bend your mind
To my way of thinking?
Hey girl, wah wah
Why don’t you love me?
Slam on the pedal
Let’s twist some metal
And bend this crazy world
To our way of living
Hey girl, can I bend your sensitive ears
To my way of listening?
Can I bend your foxy body
To my way of freaking?
Can I bend your sweet soul
To my way of feeling?
I can bend the sound
And I can release the hound
But can I bend your mind
To my way of thinking?
Hey girl, wah wah
Why don’t you love me?
Will you bend my heart
To your way of loving?
Yeah, bend my heart baby
To your way of loving!”
As we pounded out the rhythm faster and faster behind him, Freeway finished the show with a wah-wah-warped solo that nearly set the Rose Bar’s cascading 30-foot drapes ablaze. When we were done and took our final bows, the crowd cheered like crazy for more than a minute. We had indeed won them over and it felt like our biggest musical victory yet.
The only thing that could top that show was my 19th birthday party out by the pool at about 1 a.m. Everybody was there — Saturn, my band mates, my mother, Al and Sally (no, Al never told her about my alternate lyrics from the Halloween show), and my new half-sisters, Valerie and Lauren. The only thing that could’ve made it better was if Jimi Hendrix himself had walked across the glass-like pool water at that moment in time and joined us for a slice of birthday cake.
We all gathered near a long white table alongside the pool and posed for tons of pictures. Buck, Craig, Freeway and Friday had trouble looking at the camera because their heads were constantly on a swivel, checking out all the beautiful women parading past us.
Saturn and my mother both beamed as they worked together to light all the candles on the big chocolate cake that said “Happy 19th Vin” in white lettering. Freeway and I laughed at the red bass guitar drawn on the cake, as well.
When my mother and my girlfriend were finished lighting the candles, Saturn hugged me, kissed me, smiled and said, “Make a wish Vin.”
I looked at all the amazing people staring back at me and took it all in for a second. I may have lost a bet on this city’s football team way back when, but Miami sure was feeling like a winner right about now … and so was I.
“I don’t need to make a wish,” I told Saturn, “because my wish already came true.”
I blew out all 19 candles with one massive, tropical breeze of an exhale and everybody cheered.