How odd. I appear to be dying.
No, seriously, I think this is the real deal. I can’t seem to stay awake, my gut is cramping something awful, and I’ve just noticed that my fingernails are starting to turn a nasty shade of blue. Junkie blue. Okay, deep breath, deep breath.
Shit, wheezing. Means fluid is building. Maybe I should just go back to sleep. Any minute now, I expect I’ll be passing out one last time. Then I’ll drown in this damn bathtub, dead, gone, and forgotten.
I just wish I could bring myself to care.
What the hell is wrong with me? Where’s that goddamn survival instinct you hear so much about?
I wonder if this is what it was like for Jim Morrison. I wonder if he gave a shit at the end. Maybe somewhere he’s getting ready to welcome another wayward soul to the party. “Look at the poor bastard,” I can hear him ranting, half-empty bottle of Chianti in his hand. “What a loser! Ended up in a bathtub in some shithole, just like me.”
A bathtub in a Paris shithole, just like Jim. No, Paris was yesterday.
Let’s see, where am I now? Come on, focus. Week six, isn’t it? After Paris, after Paris . . . oh yeah, Amsterdam. Amsterdam. Is that where I am? Hah, cool little rhyme—I’m gonna have to remember that. Might even be able to write a song around it.
Yeah, right; some chance of that happening. Hell, I’ll probably be lying on a slab in some Dutch morgue by daybreak. Not that I’ve been able to write any music worth a damn in more than twenty years, not since those fucking lawyers ruined my life with that fucking piece of paper. A piece of paper that not only took my pride and my money, but every last shred of what used to be me. My pact with the devil, that’s what it was, the moment I gave up my dream and became a roadie instead.
Cody the Roadie, that’s me.
Need that mic stand put back up after you knocked it down in a drunken rage? Cody’s your man. Need a towel to clean up the puke your meth-head drummer’s been spewing between songs? No problem-o. There’s no broken guitar amp I can’t fix in seconds, no hysterical chick I can’t wrestle off the stage before she gets the singer in a bear hug, no hotel night manager about to call the cops I can’t bribe with free tickets or merch, or, as a last resort, cold hard cash from the float. Procurer of groupies, procurer of dope, procurer of all things rock’n’roll. Cody the Roadie: have black T-shirt and shorts, will travel.
I’m seeing and hearing things now. Is that condensation on the piss-yellow wall, or a ten-foot iguana sticking its evil tongue out at me, taunting me through the tendrils of steam rising in the air? Is that the drip, drip of the leaky faucet, or a Charlie Watts backbeat rousing the crowd to their feet for the final encore? “Oh, this could be the last time, this could be the last time, maayy bee the last time, I don’t know.” Before they became old men, Mick and Keef used to be able to harmonize pretty good, and that fake Southern accent always did crack me up. English guys crack me up in general.
Limey Bob, now that was a roadie’s roadie. Whenever he said his name, it came out sounding like “Bub.” He sometimes pretended to be one of them aristocrats, but he was really just a jerkoff like the rest of us. Back on my very first tour, he was the one who broke my cherry, who hassled me mercilessly, who taught me the Roadie’s Rules:
- If it’s wet, drink it.
- If it’s dry, smoke it.
- If it smells good, eat it.
- If it smells bad, leave it for the musicians.
- If it moves, fuck it.
- If it doesn’t move, load it on the truck.
Ain’t a roadie in the world who can’t recite those lines backwards and forwards. It’s like a secret handshake—you can go into any bar anywhere in the world, walk up to any guy wearing a black T-shirt and shorts and say, “If it’s wet. . . .” If he doesn’t reply, “Drink it,” you know he’s just a civilian posing. But if he gives you the right answer, you know he’s a brother. A brother of the road.
And we brothers, we tend to die awful young. Limey Bob, he drank himself to death trying to set a new record for doing shooters one night—literally puked his guts out on the barroom floor. Poor bastard was stone cold dead for over an hour before it finally dawned on any of his equally drunk brothers to check on him slumped in the corner, insides oozing down his shirt. Now he’s legend in the roadie world.
Kind of a joke, too, truth be told.
I guess that’s gonna be me after tonight. “Hey, man, did you hear about Cody the Roadie? Drowned in a fucking bathtub, just like Morrison.” They’ll raise a glass and drink a toast to my misfortune before moving on to the next bit of tour gossip, about the lead singer who nearly had his dick cut off by some psycho groupie, or the drummer who shat in the bidet, or the bassist caught in bed with the keyboard player. Every tour has its share of drama. I guess it’s to be expected when you get so many dysfunctional people together in one small space . . . especially if some of them have egos the size of a stadium and others the brains of a gnat. Add in the assorted motley crew of hangers-on—the dope dealers, the groupies, the crazed fans—and it’s no wonder that every tour spawns its share of mayhem, homicide, suicide, and tall tales . . . most of them true.
Something weird is happening to my face now. Or is it that I’m actually smiling? I guess that’s a good sign. Maybe I do care after all. Maybe I should try to do something to get myself out of this goddamned tub.
No, that’s not gonna happen. Shit. You spend your whole life effortlessly moving your limbs, and then the one time you need them to work, the bastards let you down. Maybe I just need to close my eyes and rest a bit. . .
Five little roadies looking for a score, one smoked some rotten hash, now there’s only four. Four little roadies going on a spree, one bought a suit and tie, now there’s only three. Three little roadies smelling like a zoo, one copped some hotel soap, now there’s only two. Two little roadies having them some fun, one met a city cop, now there’s only one. One little roadie, stoned as he can be, showed the rest his secret stash, now there’s 43.
Where am I now? This can’t be heaven, it smells too bad. No, that’s just my puke. Can’t be hell, either: no fucking lawyers here.
Oh, right, still in that goddamned bathtub in that goddamned piss-yellow hotel bathroom in goddamned Amsterdam.
Still dying, too.
I wonder who will come to my funeral. That’s one of my favorite mind games, actually. I change the list every day, depending on who I think gives a shit about me and who I think I’ve pissed off in the past twenty-four hours. Usually, though, the list is pretty short. Hey, I got an idea: laminates. I’ll have the first funeral to issue laminates. Get a rent-a-goon to man the door and check everyone’s name off on the list, then issue passes: Memorial Service Only. Cemetery VIP. All Access.
Yeah, that’s good; I’ll have to try to remember that. Funeral laminates.
Okay, let’s see. There’s Katie, of course. Katie is pretty much the only name that’s always on my list. I never could get her to love me, but I always knew I could count on her. She knows the way I want to go out; we’ve even talked about it. No doubt she’ll be the one to deal with the assholes in the black suits at the funeral home. “Oh, no, I don’t think he’d want anything fancy,” she’ll say. “Just lay him out and dress him in his work clothes: black T-shirt, black shorts. And no expensive casket, either. A plain, simple box will do . . . as long as it’s fireproof.” Shit, a guy’s entitled to a last wish, ain’t he? Like Limey Bob always told me, a man should be able to put some “fun” in his own funeral. What’s so wrong about wanting to include a little pyro in your final send-off, anyway?
Donnie will be there too, of course. I mean, he woulda been there. Damn, I never thought I’d outlive the Mick bastard. Hey, Donnie, heading up there to raise a brewski soon with you, bro.
Who else? Shithead Schiffman, he’ll want to make an appearance, I’m guessing. Strictly for show, of course, but he’s the last person I want there. Definitely leave his name off the list, get the goon at the door to block his ass from coming in.
And then there’s Hinch.
Fucking Hinch. I never can decide if he’d have the balls to show up at my funeral. Sometimes I think he couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity, then I resign myself to the likelihood that he won’t give a shit. My closest goddamn friend in the whole wide world and he won’t give a shit.
Am I actually screaming now? I can’t tell if that’s my voice reverberating off the tile walls or if it’s another hallucination. The air is sorta shimmery now, swirling in currents and eddies, enveloping me, welcoming me. Can’t tell if I’m breathing it or drinking it. Shit, maybe I’m smoking it.
I just realized something. I’m higher now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been pretty high in my time. Hey, maybe that’s what dying is . . . maybe you just get higher and higher, until you run out of high. Maybe the infinite void is just an infinite high. Maybe the reason corpses lie there so still is that they’re doing all their tripping inside; maybe they need all the energy they can muster just to keep that trip going, with nothing left over for things like moving and thinking and breathing.
Leave it to me to figure out the eternal truth just as I’m about to kick off. I’ve always had a lousy sense of timing. Maybe that’s all it ever was; maybe it wasn’t lousy luck after all. Like that stupid joke where you get someone to ask you what the secret of good comedy is and then you interrupt them by shouting out, “Timing!” Maybe timing really is what it’s all about. Not the hokey-pokey, but timing.
Was that a giggle or a gurgle? I have no idea what this decrepit body of mine is doing any more. Can’t tell if I’m farting or heaving, can’t tell if I’m moving or if rigor mortis is setting in, can’t tell if I’m making no sense or thinking more clearly than I ever did in my whole short, sad life.
Okay, feeling sorry for myself now. Good sign? Probably not. Actually, I think I’ve always felt sorry for myself. What was it that shrink called me? Oh yeah: the eternal victim. Fucking shrink. Why did I ever stop seeing her? Long time ago, can’t remember. Can’t really remember much of anything now. . . .
What? Where? Shit, must have dozed off again.
Oh yeah, the funeral list. Amy. I guess Amy will be there. Little sister, she’d feel that sense of responsibility even if we barely know one another. But in her little straightjacket of a world, she’d be expected to attend. She and that asshole insurance salesman husband of hers. They’d probably leave the kids home, though. No need to see Uncle Cody in that box, and especially no need to expose them to Uncle Cody’s rowdy friends.
Friends? Don’t make me laugh. Not enough of them to fill a pill bottle most days. Drinking buddies, sure, I’ve got lots of those. But real friends? Count ‘em on the fingers of one hand. Hell, count ‘em on the fingers of one finger.
Hinch, you motherfucker!! You should have been my friend, not my boss. But instead you took and took and took. You took Katie’s love and you took Donnie’s life and now you’re about to take what little is left of me. I only had half a century on this planet, you bastard, and I wasted so much of that time by giving it to you instead of keeping it for myself.
So I guess if this is the time of reckoning, if this is the time of ultimate truth, then the truth is that every time I saw you up on that stage I wished it was me up there instead. Every time I saw you working that stadium crowd, every time I saw you balling a groupie, every time I saw that smarmy smile as you tooted a line or gave an autograph or granted an interview or signed a contract or cashed a check for an obscene amount of money I knew it should have been me instead and I knew that I could have done it so much better than you and I knew that I could have been so much of a better person than you.
But I never could stand up for myself, could I? So you took advantage of my weakness and you allowed me to turn into a self-loathing piece of shit barely human thing, dedicated to nothing more than hauling a piece of gear up on a stage or repairing a broken amplifier or driving five hundred miles in the middle of the night headed to yet another Holiday Inn on the road to nowhere. That’s your legacy, Hinch. I hope you get to join me in hell someday.
God, I am so fucking tired. Tired of the road, tired of being used, tired of losing everything and everyone I love, tired of hating myself.
Most of all, I’m tired of trying to stay awake in this fucking bathtub.
Yeah, life’s a bitch and then you die, but it’s more of a bitch when you waste that whole life serving the needs of some selfish bastard who doesn’t give half a shit about who you are or what you could have been. So next time you see a roadie crawling around on a stage somewhere in Sheboygan with a mag-light in one hand and a spare fuse in the other, show some respect.
For we creatures of the road are the keepers of the truth, the one immutable, eternal truth, passed down from one generation to the next: The show is just that little distraction between load-in and load-out.