Hello! I am serializing my novel Rat House over the next few months. A chapter every other week. If you enjoy this story, please support it with a purchase of the paperback, Kindle, or Nook edition available here:
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David W. Friedman
“We have the Northwest Music Association showcase gig at The Vogue next week,” I said standing in the living room, our instruments and amps forming a semi-circle around the drums. I looked at each of my band mates in turn to make sure they understood. There were slight nods from each, although those nods signified nothing resembling apprehension, more like a conditioned reflex. They weren’t stupid, they just didn’t know what was on the line. When I got to Eugene, he gave me a look of complete clarity. Thank God for Eugene.
“This gig is our make or break moment. It’s sink or swim,” he said. “There will be A&R reps there and reporters from magazines and newspapers. We could get signed. It’s a big deal.” At this everyone nodded more vigorously ascertaining that they did, indeed, understand.
If something didn’t happen from the showcase gig, I was quitting the band. I’d had just about enough of Howard the anti-drummer and Ritchie the Hunchback. I didn’t care much for Bill and Buzz, Eugene’s brothers and erstwhile sound men and roadies, but I did feel bad for Eugene, he wanted to be in a band so badly he sacrificed a great deal. I liked the immediacy of the creative process, the instant communication between band and audience, but too much bullshit had happened.
I was tired of treading water, it was sink or swim. How did I end up in this do or die situation? I glanced over at Howard and he scowled at me, par for the course. It was like that ever since I befriended Eugene. Jealousy? Perhaps. Howard had known Eugene since they were teenagers, or it was nothing more than psychosis.
We all lived in a house on a wasted dead end street in South Park, Seattle, Washington State, United States of America and the year is 1988, something very big is about to happen. It isn’t going to happen to us. We’re just witnesses to a larger drama than our own unhappiness and creative failures, we’re going to see the world change. Soon everyone will be wearing flannel shirts and combat boots, just like Howard, Bill and Buzz. Oh the irony that these clueless clods would start a fashion trend, if not a cultural revolution. I was part of it, I was there and this is my testament to irresponsibility and the saving power of being in a State of Grace.
We were living in a house full of fleas. I was convinced we would all get the plague if we stayed in the house in South Park. The fleas bit the rats that lived in the trench behind the house where our waste expelled. We were flea-bitten. Our legs were covered in red welts from the bites. Sooner or later one of us would get the Black Death. I was waiting for the black boils to show up then I’d desperately rush myself to the hospital. However, you can’t beat one hundred dollars a month rent for each of us. Since none of us worked full-time this was a God-send amount, even with the prospect of black boils welling up on our bodies from plague.
The house was a patchwork of repairs, all done in a half-ass fashion by our half-assed landlord. It rested, leaned is more like it, toward the Duwamish River that was only 500 feet away. The floors were splintering wood and the walls were moldy. I called it the “Rat House” because of, yes, the rats. They lived in the open sewage trench that ran in back of the house and emptied into the Duwamish. Clark wanted to name the house the “Flea House” and Eugene voted to call the house the “Plague House”. Eugene even created a postcard-sized artwork using the cover to Dostoevsky’s The Plague and some collage. No, it was the Rat House because it bugged the shit out of Howard whenever I said it, reminding him that I was a rat and he was a horse and the horse doesn’t get along with the rat.
It was quaint how we all lived together, but it was sheer economics on my part. Once I lost my job I couldn’t afford the one bedroom apartment I had in Green Lake. Clark was up for a move, he had to buckle down somewhat to keep his stipend coming from the University. He taught a second year English class and worked on his dissertation about Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and political disappearances as related to television sit-coms in the 1960s.
Howard always hauled his trailer somewhere, usually wherever Bill had a place, but this year Bill was living with Buzz in a one bedroom apartment down the street from us. Hanging out at our place was his modus operandi, but he did bring his vintage pinball machine over for storage. It was a Gottlieb Grand Slam from 1953 and probably the only valuable thing he owned. It was completely functional, the only rule was we couldn’t smoke or drink near it, no cigarettes resting on it, no beer bottles on the glass. We often had tournaments with it to see who the Grand Slam king was. More often than not it was me, since being drunk is more requisite for pinball than being stoned, which is what Clark was, or apathetic, which everyone else at the house was.
We didn’t have any real furnishings. Eugene had brought a desk and chair he’d gotten at a university salvage sale, one of those old metal desks and a wooden rolling chair. I had a futon and an assemble-it-yourself dresser, having sold all my furniture when I moved. There was a beat up couch from the Salvation Army. Clark had a bed and a dresser made of milk crates. When he wanted to do real work on his dissertation he had a carrel at the university’s library. Then there was Eugene’s crappy stereo. It was an all in one tuner, turntable and tape deck with two cardboard thin speakers attached in the back.
Howard had the most stuff since he lived in his trailer all the time, whenever he moved all his stuff went with him. It was a small Airstream trailer, easily hauled around by Bill’s pickup truck. He ran an extension cord from the house to his trailer and a single electric light bulb would blaze through the night like the beacon on a lighthouse as Howard would write his cryptic and hysterically inappropriate lunacy on paper. Mostly these were his dreams for the future, of being rich, of finding money on one of his long walks around South Seattle. These ramblings were esoteric on one level, involving flights of fantasy seldom shown on his usually dim demeanor. He wanted money, but wasn’t motivated enough to earn it.
My day would begin with a quick glance out the window to see if my car was there. I used to drink heavily when I went out and sometimes I would get a lift home. If it was there I might roll over and go back to sleep, if not I had to figure out where the last place was I’d been the night before. Sometimes I would have to wait until the afternoon for the bar manager to get in so I could phone and ask if my car was out front.
I’d make a pot of coffee and smoke about three or four cigarettes just to wake up and get my bowels working. I called it “The Breakfast of Champions.” Then it was two or three hours of guitar playing, song writing, and learning cover songs. After that, lunch, and then I would read a book. I went to the library every week and picked up six or seven books to read. I’d been through everything Hemingway wrote, including A Moveable Feast and the Nick Adams stories. Around four Clark would come home from the university, take a bong hit or two, and we’d start drinking. I liked beer, but anything would be acceptable: drink jugs of Romanian Red Wine, which we called “gelatinous wine” since it had a jelly like quality, Two Fingers tequila in the black bottle, gin, vodka, and Four Roses whiskey.
It was a good life, leisurely, loaded with potential, yet not overwhelming in complexity. I had no boss, no wife, and no problems except how to stretch my meager unemployment compensation to last the week. I also had to bullshit the good agents of the government about my job search, which consisted of me looking through the classifieds once a week, usually Sunday, and making calls on Monday for jobs that I was unsuited for. There were big software companies across the lake, but I avoided applying to them because I was having too much fun. Who knew, maybe I would write that one song that makes a million dollars. It would be much harder to write it if I was working at Microsoft or Nintendo.