Flashbulbs stain you. He puts down the L.A. Times, noticing the ember on the end of a neglected cigarette.
Flashbulbs stain you. There it is again. Of all the bedlam happening in front of him, it’s the only strung-together inkling he can't shake from his mind. He’s terrified of cameras, and the press is hammering him about the perpetual non-release of his band’s debut album.
To a keen eye, he’s just trying to protect himself. His eyes are locked in a daze sardonic behind dark Wayfarer lenses, cloaked from all the spitting questions. MTV creeps. Rolling Stone geeks. Noisy freaks. Dazed finks. Bullett kinks. And—Spin? Really?
He mulls over “The UnHoly Trinity,” the three fallen angels romantically splayed across the front page of the paper. The UnHoly Trinity sounded like just another garage band, some acid-damaged societal abortion from Venice Beach like Rhett and his band, gang, cohorts, whatever . . . but they weren’t. The UnHoly Trinity was something else entirely. Alien and dangerous. They represented something we all wanted to be.
There. Another inkling. Ideas strung-together, dangling delicate like shoddy Xmas lights.
He looks at the face of the cheap Casio on the inside of his wrist—9:30. That must be A.M. Jumping Christ. He remembers nodding off at dawn, but he doesn’t remember arriving here, in what looks like the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, in a chair, at a table, in front of a microphone, flanked by his three band mates.
He picks up the placard in front of him, turns it around, reads the name: Rhett Masson.
Rhett’s grinding his teeth, jaw’s getting sore. It’s been a while. He turns to Charlie (lead guitarist) and asks her in a whisper, “Are we all out?”
She looks at him, annoyed, as if she hasn’t heard that question for the zillionth time this morning. “You’re a busted fucking record, dude.”
“I’m about to scratch a pair of fucking eyes out!”
“Cool them nerves, big daddy. These things don't usually take long.”
Why is nothing ever enough? Between the fans, the label, and now the agency their band has all the pills they could ever fucking want. So why the goddamn fuck are they always out at the most crucial moment? Like now. His teeth are on that old amphetamine grind. His face and palms thick with sweat. If he was coming down, he’d rather comedown in a sarcophagus.
When he asks, “What about blues? We gotta at least have some fucking blues, yeah?”
Charlie says nothing, her buzzed skull clenched.
He’d take smack at this point. Does anyone do fucking smack anymore? Flashbulbs stain you.
One of the geeks in the crowd with black, thick-rimmed glasses and vague plaid stands and points his pen directly at Rhett. “It’s been six weeks since the mass suicide of your sister band, Ritalin for Debutantes, and you’ve yet to make a public statement concerning the events surrounding that night. You were, in fact, present, were you not? Are you able to shed some light?”
They represented something we all wanted to be.
“Mass suicide?” Rhett responds with a blank smile. “Isn’t that a tad dramatic? There were only three of them.”
Nervous, subdued laughter among the crowd. It’s too early in the morning to be dealing with dead friends, but this dickless blogfuck of a journalist isn’t relenting. “Has it not had an effect on you? Being that the delay of your LP was announced just days after the bodies were discovered near the Salton Sea—?”
Starr (bassist) lets out a seething scream, cutting the journalist off. Everyone cringes. Echoes through the high ceilings.
Rhett takes a deep, slow drag. Gray snowflakes dissipate down into the black tar pit of a used ashtray. They say sometime after adolescence, on the brink of adulthood, one loses 50% of their neurons. They call this “synaptic pruning.” All adults are naturally fitted with cosmic lobotomies.
Charlie’s quick to pick up on Rhett's growing distance, and begins speaking for him, breaking the pressing silence, as she always does. Buzzed head, smoky eye makeup, and body tats galore, Charlie’s the diplomat/ mediator/ ambassador/ press secretary for the Menstruals.
“There’s no reason to spread melodramatic rumors about the delay of the album,” she says to the journalist. “We can bore you with all the sluggish studio logistics and label in-fighting, but in the end, we’re going to say, as a band, we wish not to release anything to our fans that we don’t consider . . . ready.” She, Starr, and Dalton (drummer) share a hushed laugh.
Rhett’s not sure if, after three years, he even really knows them. But it doesn’t matter because they’re all stuck with each other now, all four of them—Rhett, Charlie, Dalton, and Starr. Girls: 3 Boys: 1. That’s how Rhett saw it. That’s how Rhett wanted it. In fact, he’s gotten everything he’s wanted. Everything he’s worked to erect (or resurrect) in the last three years is now manifest. So why the cynicism? The skepticism?
Maybe it’s because three of your friends are gone and never coming back.
The frightening truth is that they all knew the reason for the delay of their debut album, which is far too complicated to think about. And thinking was the last thing Rhett wanted to do—hence all the pill-popping. As much as he loathed the media, he knew they weren’t the bad guy (even though it’s all like psychopathic high school drama). The poor bastards get paid in nothing but coke anyway.
He breathes in another drag. Nerves calm, then rattle, calm, then rattle—a cycle that coincides with sucking a fag down to the filter and then some. Rhett looks up as their manager, Larry Bob, leans in and whispers in his ear about putting his cigarette out, while handing him a dark blue pill. Rhett gobbles it immediately.
The bearded-groomed reporters and agent provocateurs of online lynching mobs—stirring in their neat row of folding chairs, fumbling through notes, fighting over the next question—slowly grow distant, eventually fading to a blur—like arbitrary beacons in spacetime. Curtains of dark energy begin tuning to Rhett’s frequency, shrouding everything, and it’s all souped up in the ether now.
In Rhett's induced force field, the crinkled newspaper is the only thing that comes into focus. The three famous ghosts flaunt its cover—next to demands for opiate Rx reform in the wake of Prince’s death. Images of The UnHoly Trinity burned into his third eye like the flashbulbs. They represented something we all wanted to be.
What was their impetus? Were they driven mad by the summer heat and the shitty economy and the trillion-dollar wars and the sleeping inside bars that were home until 2AM and then they're kicked out of those too?
Who are they? Facial recognition has proven ineffective. They’ve long abandoned their smart phones and their student loans and their prescribed junk and their shit jobs and their social networks . . . V A N I S H I N G into the hazy rays of the California sun.
They took photos in old photo booths and mailed them to the cops with taunts. There they’d be, on strips of black & white celluloid: in dark shades, aviators, big gaga glasses and other black alien lenses that shielded feminine eyes . . . in old black band shirts and torn white tank tops . . . in long hair covering bare skin . . . kissing and licking each other . . . sucking on middle finger gestures . . . “CATCH US IF YOU CAN HA! HA! HA!” . . . tongues loose, lips curled, teeth gritted, tits out. Markers of the free.
By then they were already feared (and revered). By then, blurbs in the L.A. Times had started popping up.
They gave a fatale first impression. If you see them, you will know it. Their buzzing, seething, snarling exuberance saturating whatever atmosphere they chose to harass, molest, liberate. When they came, they came in dusty convertibles, always a different classic model from different owners held at gunpoint while pumping gas. They came cackling like witches on broom as they rode in from the desert void to stick up, sabotage, and smolder to ruin the same strip mall chains of corporate retailers and fast-food pimps that replicated themselves like cancer cells—developing—spreading further into the Trinity’s domain.
They killed cancer. They raped the grid.
When they came, they came in dusty convertibles, letting the old beauties idle while they raided Whole Foods like masked pirates. Hot bodies in thrift shop garb and long blonde hair with dark roots half-buzzed to the skull—bearing pearly smiles and shiny handguns—snatching up register cash and wallets from otherwise snooty shoppers now shaking and recoiled into corners like abused housecats. Aisles of spilt milk flowed like rivers. The sight of a Mac-10 with extended magazine gripped naturally in soft, white feminine hands (nails painted teal and black and wrists decorated in old concert bracelets) shattered suburban sentiments. Petty vandalism quickly turned to scorched parking lots—plastic boxes burning putrid fumes between the lines—huge piles of shopping carts, strollers, purses, cosmetics, and phones ablaze along with them—small bottles of nail polish popping in the heat, splattering colorful lacquer over the flames.
The articles never ceased, despite the twenty-four-hour news cycle circus. The country grew obsessed, incensed. They’re to thank for the L.A. Times print resurrection, as it managed to slip from under the ubiquitous bankruptcy grip. Print may have been dead, but no one counted on the nostalgic twinge of hard copy. Everyone wanted copies, especially in color. Feigned high school virgins, debutante queens, and Prozac princesses trapped in McMansions like suburban ivory towers would cut-up and collage the Trinity on their bedroom walls—much to the chagrin of wrist-wringing parents everywhere from Bel-Air to Bedford.
Rhett blinks. The new moisture blurs the Trinity’s colored-paper image—the outlaw trio that may have jolted Rhett on any other morning. Today, somehow, their existence made sense. He’s not sure if it’s because he’s getting older—or if it’s because he can’t trust those around him—or if it’s because the world really is this strange.
He time travels a few years back when things were simpler. Though Rhett didn’t see it that way, not then; but does anyone really? His world had fallen apart. He lost Dagny, and because he lost Dagny he lost his music, and eventually the overall stimulus that comes with youth like that. He took it all so seriously, not knowing it would only get worse. And he hadn’t realized this until now, here, in the middle of this godforsaken 9 AM wake-up call of a press conference.