Two Tickets To Paradise

He could hardly believe it, but he was going to see his hero in the flesh. For the past few months, Rutherford’s been going to the mall at least once a week for the sole purpose of entering the “Two Tickets To Paradise” contest located in the entryway of Sears. Always using his best penmanship—can’t take any chances when it came to seeing “the grooviest cat of all time”—Rutherford made sure to double, and even triple check the slip of paper for errors before dropping it in the over-sized fish tank. Louise, his adoring yet cautious wife, was worried he was getting his hopes up for nothing and that it’s probably just some big scam to get people’s personal information. Ford, as his old Army buddies called him, refused to surrender hope until the lucky winner was finally announced. He was optimistic after all, seeing that the giant fish tank wasn’t even half full and it was getting pretty close to the end of the contest.

“Is this Rutherford L. Gilmore?” a friendly female voice inquired on the other line. “It is!” he answered feeling a quick buzz of excitement remembering that the drawing date had just passed. “This is Martha from Pascal Entertainment. I’m happy to announce that your name had been drawn from the fishbowl and you won the big prize….you’re going to see Tony! Oh and I see here that you’ve also won the third place prize as well. You must have entered quite a few times huh?” “Oh, is that against the rules?” Ford sheepishly asked afraid that he might get disqualified for his overzealous act. “Not at all sir. In fact, I’m glad to see the prizes go to such a dedicated fan. Sometimes they go to some bored mall-walker just trying to kill time. Anyway, here’s what you won: Two lower-deck tickets to tonight’s performance, a limousine ride to and from the venue, and because you won the third place prize you also get a free dinner at Murray’s Steakhouse before the show.” Ford was trembling. “Just present your ID at the ticket office and they’ll let you in, have fun and congratulations!” He had the urge to ask what second place prize was but before he could, she hung up. Rutherford set the cell phone down still a bit numb with disbelief. 

Ford was so frantic he just now realized that she said the tickets were for tonight’s performance. “Boy they sure don’t mess around,” he thought as he went to tell Louise the news. “Louise, guess what?? I won, I won the contest!” Louise looked up from her magazine and peered above her bifocals with wide eyes. “Ruthie! You mean it’s real, not a scam?” “Apparently, unless Mr. Bennett tries to sell us a timeshare during intermission or something. Well get dressed hon, we also get a free steak dinner, and a stretch limo ride. And may I take this time to just say…I told you so,” Ford joked as he brushed his silver (well grey but it made him feel younger to call it silver) hair back with his curved arthritic fingers. “You mean the show is tonight?” Louise asked hesitantly. “Tony sold out shows all week at the amphitheater, can’t you pick another night Ruthie? Remember Gail is coming over.” Rutherford’s heart sank a bit. In all the excitement he forgot about Louise’s sister coming in from Maine. “There’s no chance they gave you three tickets is there?,” Louise asked knowing it was a longshot since the name of the contest clearly stated “Two Tickets To Paradise.” Rutherford looked down and just shook his head no. “I guess seeing Tony Bennett was just not meant to be, at least for me,” she said with a small hint of regret. Louise knew how much Rutherford wanted to see this show and didn’t want to keep him from it so she suggested he go with one of his buddies instead. “But it just won’t be the same without you Louise.” “I’m not taking no for an answer Ruthie, I know how much you love Tony and this might be your last chance to see him. He’s not getting any younger you know, and neither are you,” Louise said with a half-kidding smile. Rutherford chuckled, “Thousand bucks says I end up outliving him.” After a few more minutes of futile negotiation, Rutherford realized Louise would not be accompanying him to the show. She’s much too polite to call her only sister and cancel plans at the last minute, anyhow he had two strong candidates for the extra ticket, and if they were busy he had a definite possible maybe as a third option. 

His first call was to his best friend since childhood, George. He and George always accompanied each other when the wives weren’t available, or when they just needed to get away for the occasional “guy’s night out.” But Rutherford didn’t even make it past George’s wife who claimed he had already gone to bed for the night. “But it’s only 5 o’clock Dorothy!” Rutherford said in a skeptical tone. “Well…he’s just…he’s just not feeling well,” she replied sharply. Rutherford conceded and as he hung up the phone he heard a faint voice on the other end that sounded a lot like George ask, “Who is it dear?” Before Rutherford could call her on it, Dorothy quickly hung up. She’s never really liked Ford. Not since he took her Georgie out for his 70th birthday (of all places) to the sleaziest pub in the neighborhood. George, after a few too many whiskey on the rocks, accidentally pocket-dialed Dorothy and she ended up hearing most of the frisky conversation he was having with that “fake red headed tramp” Bethany, the waitress. Dorothy had always blamed him for her husbands behavior that night even though Rutherford was in the restroom for most of the verbal discretion.

His hopes were dashed yet again when his second “sure thing” fell though. Turns out Derek never much cared for Tony Bennett, and being Ford’s “well-meaning but extremely blunt friend,” let him know that he’d rather catch the Patriots game from the couch than spend the night “bumping elbows with those bleeding-heart yuppies.” Rutherford, although disappointed, refused to put up a fight. He would rather go alone than drag his friend kicking and screaming to a show he really didn’t want to attend anyway.

So now he was down to his last hope, Samuel, his most antisocial friend by far. According to those who actually knew him, Sam was just one or two steps from going “living off-the-grid in some remote cabin stockpiling for the inevitable collapse of society while writing his Manifesto” crazy. “If you’re selling something, I don’t want it. If you’re asking for donations, forget it. If I know you, just leave a message and if I feel like it I might call you back.” beep! Samuel was almost as blunt as Derek. Rutherford wondered when all his friends became so bitter. “Um, I…hate leaving messages Sam but this is Ford. Hey I won some tickets to see Tony Bennett and wanted to know if you wanted to come with. Call me soon or…um, if you get this later on just meet me at the ticket booth at the amphitheater around 7:30. Um, thanks.” Rutherford hung up knowing his call was probably in vain since Sam not answering meant he was either ignoring the world, which was often the case, or he was off losing his ass again at the casino. Sam had many vices. 

Rutherford let out a sigh of someone who had just run out of options and resigned to the idea of going to the show alone. He kissed Louise on the forehead and gave her a long, deep, loving look. Usually Rutherford is quick to look away or slightly above eye contact (a strange habit he picked up back in his Army days) but this was a direct, caring gaze that took Louise by surprise. Something about venturing out by himself made him appreciate the kind face of his wife, and knowing he had her to come home to brought him some peace. “Be sure to take a picture or two so you can show me what I missed out on,” Louise joked as she gently shut the door behind Rutherford. 

He kept his phone on him in the very unlikely chance that Sam calls back, and as he plopped down into his cozy ol’ car’s leather seat, he got a tingle of excitement knowing he was on his way to see his long-time musical idol. “Oh, speaking of the man,” Rutherford said out loud and extracted one of Tony’s duets albums from the glove compartment. He bobbed his head in time to the swingin’ sounds as he pulled out of the driveway and sped onward to the steakhouse for his complimentary third place prize dinner. His neighbor Larry was mowing his lawn and witnessed Ford’s antics. Like usual, he just shook his head at what he considered Ford’s “typical juvenile behavior.” Although Rutherford had no ill feelings toward Larry, Louise had been known to ask Ruthie what their grumpy neighbor had “up his ass” from time to time.  

He arranged for the limo to pick him up at the restaurant and bring him right to the show. That way he could enjoy a celebratory martini and not worry about having to drive right afterwards. Knowing this, Rutherford parked his big yellow 1961 Lincoln Continental right under a lamp post, you know, just in case some young punk gets any ideas while he’s at the show. At least the bright light may deter any potential thievery such as what happened last year. Someone made off with his entire CD case (filled with his favorite albums of course) and twenty dollars in parking cash after breaking his rear window in the middle of the night. He checked his phone one last time. Still no call from Sam. Rutherford wasn’t surprised. 

It wasn’t until he entered the limousine after dinner that Rutherford felt the weight of being completely alone. “Why do I have this pit in my stomach? Here I am going to the concert of my dreams with a belly full of great food and even a martini, and yet I can’t seem to shake this hint of emptiness inside.” Rutherford scanned the spaciousness of the car. On either side of him were two long rows of white cushions illuminated by neon blue rope lights. Just above them were crystal clear empty buckets that are probably used for keeping champagne chilled. He imagined all the exciting times that had probably taken place inside this limo, in fact right where he was sitting. “Okay, that’s enough imagining,” he thought as he shuttered and placed his fancy purple handkerchief under his lap. 

The driver turned his head and the tinted window that divided them came down automatically. “We picking anybody up on the way sir?,” he asked his sole passenger. “Sadly no, I guess that’s what happens when you win last minute tickets,” Rutherford quickly retorted trying not to feel too much like a friendless heel. “Ah, no shame in going by yourself Mr. Gilmore. Of course it’s a blessing to be surrounded by friends and family but there are just some moments that call for you to go it alone.” Rutherford was a bit taken back. “Excuse me son, but how did you know my name?” The driver just kept driving like he didn’t even hear him. “Well at least tell me your name,” Rutherford insisted. “Pete sir, and it’s an honor being your driver for such a special occasion.” Pete put the window back up leaving Rutherford once again on his own in that big, empty, neon backseat.

Maybe the dirty martini finally kicked in, or perhaps just exchanging words with the mysterious, possibly hard of hearing, yet polite chauffeur, eased his distress. Rutherford reclined back in the soft leather seat and felt a warm comforting sensation fill his entire body. They must have been pulling up to the amphitheater because the car was now filling up with light. Rutherford imagined a larger-than-life marquee illuminating the entire entranceway that read Tony Bennett SOLD OUT. The limo came to a stop, the window descended, and Pete gently said, “We’ve arrived Rutherford L. Gilmore.” Suddenly, all at once, every ounce of loneliness, not to mention sadness, pain, doubt, and fear, left Rutherford as he looked up in wonder at the enveloping light of the marquee. 

Rutherford was pronounced dead that Friday morning. Louise had discovered him unresponsive after she returned from her morning walk. The paramedics showed up as quickly as possible but there was just no life left to save in Rutherford’s tired old body. There he laid looking as peaceful as he did back in his carefree days when he and Louise had just met. Playing faintly from the clock radio was Rutherford’s favorite Tony Bennett CD, Duets. He never won that contest even though he had entered multiple times. Some mall-walker who was just killing time ended up with the grand prize. The medics removed Ruthie from the bed and then, in a zipped-up plastic bag, from his home for the last time. George and Derek got the news later that day and hurried over to comfort Louise. And Samuel, although he was not able to be reached until a few days before the funeral, surprisingly performed one of the most meaningful eulogies in recent memory. Here’s a snippet: 

Sam hadn’t made a speech since he was forced to back in high school. Wanting to curb his apprehension he came up with the brilliant idea of playing one of Ford’s favorite songs, Fly Me To the Moon, from his portable cassette player to fill any awkward silence as he spoke. He pressed play and nervously cleared his throat. Though he was almost paralyzed by his numerous social phobias, he imagined Rutherford watching from beyond and it filled him with a powerful energy. It was similar to when he was a kid and the doctor gave him a shot of adrenaline during an almost fatal asthma attack. And so he carried on. “I’ve thought about death many times, and I always imagined it being like winning tickets to an incredible concert and wanting to take all your loved ones with you. So one-by-one you offer them tickets but for some reason or another they just can’t go that night. You almost go crazy trying to convince them how amazing the show is going to be but still, no one bites. So you leave everyone to their daily routines, their families, jobs, vices, mortgages, homework, tv shows, etc, and reluctantly head off to the show….completely alone. You have to do it alone ya know. While you’re taking up space here on Earth you can blanket yourself in the safety and comfort of other people all you want, but in the end you’re going to that concert all by yourself. At least, as far as I’m concerned, until you walk through those venue doors and realize that there was never really any such thing as ‘being alone.’” 
Sam paused, and then in his usual awkward social manner, folded his notes and clumsily placed them into his coat pocket. He then tuned around and slowly walked to his car and drove off. Sam’s grand exit left the small gathering speechless, but the silence was filled by the Tony Bennett song which Sam left playing at the podium. They let the entire number play out and didn’t make a sound or move a muscle until the last lyric was sung. I………..Love…………You. 

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Honeymooners’ Fan Fiction: Alice’s Tea Club

Honeymooners Lost Episode Alice’s Tea Club

OPENING SCENE:
Kramden’s Apt. Ralph is coming home from a long day as a bus driver and sees the apartment is decorated to look very fancy. Ralph looks as though he had just walked into the wrong apartment. On the table is a nice place setting and 3 teacups. 

Ralph: ALICE! ………ALICE! …..ALLLLL!
Alice casually strolls out of the bedroom fixing her hair and looking very classy. 
Alice: Oh hey Ralph, how was work? (Acting like nothing has changed as she tends to the place settings)

RK: Don’t give me this “Hey Ralph” routine….What’s with the doilies?
Just then Trixie walks in looking elegant as well. 
RK: (sarcastically) Well I guess MY invitation to the Homemaker’s Ball got lost in the mail. 
AK: Oh Ralph don’t get excited. Trixie and I decided to start a little tea club and we’re meeting tonight. 
RK: (looking flabbergasted) Well isn’t it going to be a bit awkward for you…holding your tea club while I’m eating my suppa?
Trixie: Oh we thought of that. Alice and I packed you and Ed some bag dinners that you can eat on your way to the lodge tonight. 
RK: (acting sarcastically relieved) Ohhhhh. What a relief!!! For a second there I was afraid I was going to have to go hungry. But at least I get to eat my supper out of a paper bag! I suppose I should drink from someone’s yard hose too since we’ll be dining on the go!
AK: I’m sorry Ralph you know I don’t usually like to break your routine. 
RK: (calming down) Well….I suppose I can eat a bag supper this one time. 
AK: (looking a bit nervous) Um, Ralph…our tea club is going to meet once a week.
RK: (now fully enraged) Once a week?! Once a week?? I have to eat a bagged supper once a week? 

TN: I don’t know what you’re getting so excited for Ralph, you and Ed get to go to the lodge all the time and we don’t complain. 

In walks Ed Norton holding a paper bag.

RK: Can you believe this Norton? We have to eat cold dinners so our wives can have some fancy tea club party.

EN: Whadaya mean? A cold bag supper is considered fine dining compared to Trixie’s usual cookin’. 
RK: So you’re not steamed?
EN: What’s there to get steamed for? We’re gonna be having fun down at the lodge, what’s so bad about the girls having some company over?
RK: (looking at the table) Speaking of company, I noticed 3 place settings, who else are you expecting, it’s not your mother is it?????
AK: No Ralph, mother wasn’t invited. It’ll just be me, Trix, and Gregory. 
(Ralph’s eyes get big and Ed looks a bit confused.)

RK: Gregory? Gregory? You invited a man to come and have tea with you while you’re dressed up all fancy-like? 
TN: Oh Ralph you’re getting excited over nothing, Gregory’s a well -mannered man. He just has good tastes and an appreciation for the finer things in life. And he’s coming home early from his diving expedition just to be here.
RK: (long pause to get angry) He ain’t steppin’ foot in this house, not one foot, you hear me Alice! 
AK: Now Ralph!
RK: How did you happen to meet this “Gregory Cousteau” character anyway??
AK: He happens to be the owner of the jewelry store around the corner. One day I was buying a pendant for mother when we started chatting. And the next thing you know he mentioned how he used to have tea parties on his boat. So I suggested we have one right here. It sounded like fun. 
RK: Well run down to the jewelry store and let Gregory know that the tea party has changed locations, it’s now gonna be on the MOON!
Anyhow why did you make it on the same day as our lodge meetings? Afraid Ed and I would embarrass you, are we um…..uncouth or something?

EN: Now Ralph, don’t lump me in, don’t lump me in, you know I’ve been known to be extremely couth from time to time.
RK: Awwww shut up!

AK: Ralph you’re more than welcome to join us, I just didn’t think you’d be interested in this sort of thing.
RK: (sarcastically) Well perhaps I just got interested in attending this tea party. Maybe Ed and I have a sudden interest in the “finer” things in life. Maybe instead of drinking beer with the Racoon’s we suddenly want to stay here and sip some tea.
EN: (whining to Ralph) But I don’t wanna sit around and sip tea all night.
RK: (giving Ed the death stare) I said, perhaps suddenly WE want to join your tea club, and meet this…GREGORY fella you speak so HIGHLY of.

EN: (picking up on the sarcasm) Oh, oh yes, (clears throat and speaks in a crude British accent) May my esteemed guest and I join you vivacious vixen’s in a spot of tea tonight? Hmmm?
RK: Yes, Ed and I graciously accept your invitation to the tea party. Now come on Ed, go get ready, we don’t want to embarrass the girls. Alice, Trixie, don’t worry, Ed and I will be the definition of “couth” tonight! Tea time at 7 I presume??
AK: Yes Ralph, but you’re acting all jealous over nothing.
(Ed and Trixie begin to leave)

AK: Oh Ed can you bring down two extra chairs when you come back? 
EN: Since Ralph will be joining us are you sure we shouldn’t just bring an extra table too??
RK: (Screaming) GET OUT!!!
————————————————–
SCENE 2:

Tea party has started with Alice and Trixie sitting on the far side of the table sipping tea and chatting. In walks Ed all dressed up complete with a monocle and cigar. 
EN: (Once again in an accent) Don’t get up, I’ll introduce myself, I am Sir Edwardo Norton of Chauncy St. (Walks to the table) Mmmm pardon me, is this seat taken? I was dallying about town when I had the sudden urge to partake in a cup of tea. So I told my driver to pull over and here I am!
(Alice and Trixie giggle)

TN: Have a seat! We’re having some English Breakfast.
EN: Sounds delectable, (looks around) And when are we expected to be graced by the presence of Sir Ralph Kramden of Chauncey St.?
AK: He should be out any second, he’s been in the bedroom getting ready for a while now.
(Ralph walks out dressed to the gills in a penguin-like tuxedo and an extra tall top hat. He takes his time as he half models his outfit as he sits down next to Ed on one side of the table.)
EN: Ralphie, I mean Sir Ralph Kramden may I say you look very couth tonight. 
AK: Yeah sweetie you’re quite a spectacle.

RK: (looks around) So, looks like this Gregory fella isn’t exactly concerned with punctuality. 
EN: (in a snooty tone) Uncouth, uncouth indeed.

(Just then there’s a sturdy knock on the door. Alice answers it and in walks a tall handsome man elegantly and stylishly dressed. (Gregory Sterling)

GS: Excuse my tardiness Alice, I guess I do my best to be fashionably late. 
(Ralph and Ed are immediately intimidated and look a bit silly in their tuxes compared to Gregory)

GS: And how is the lovely Trixie this evening?
EN: (in his regular voice) That’s a….Mrs. Norton to you pal….(clears throat and returns to his accent) I mean sir.
TN: Oh Ed, don’t be silly. 
GS: I wasn’t expecting such a large group for tea.
RK: I bet.
GS: I wasn’t aware it was to be a costume party either. (Looks at Ralph and Ed.)
(Ralph and Ed look at each other in slight embarrassment, Ralph rubs his face as he’s holding in his anger)

(Alice jumps in knowing Ralph is about to lose it)

AK: Ah, Gregory, this is my husband Ralph and this is Trixie’s husband Ed.
GS: Very nice to make your acquaintances. (Sits down) I have to say you are a couple of very lucky gentlemen. You have such wonderful wives to come home to each night and I….I have to fill my time with mere material possessions such as sailboats, yachts, and cars. I have to fill my soul with paintings, poetry, and sonnets. And I have to fill my stomach with dinners prepared by my personal chef. I don’t get home-cooked meals prepared with love by an adoring companion. 
RK: (half under his breath) Yeah it’s gotta be murder. 
TN: So Gregory, since we’re all pretty new to this, can you tell us what usually goes on at a finer things tea party?
GS: I’d love to. Well first we try the tea (takes a long slow sip) and then comment on its characteristics, we explain what we both find pleasing as well as not. Ralph would you like to go first?
(Ralph realizes he hasn’t taken even one sip yet. So he sits up straight, sticks his pinky out while he takes a tiny sip making a slurping sound.)
RK: (long pause as if preparing a long and detailed report)….I kinda like it!

(Gregory smiles thinking Ralph was kidding but quickly realizes he wasn’t.)

GS: Ah, Ralph, would you like to elaborate a bit?
RK: (Looking quite lost) I REALLY…really kinda like it…..a lot! (Smiles nervously)
GS: (trying to help Ralph save face) That’s good, that’s good Ralph, a positive review. 
TN: Gregory, would you like to go next?
GS: My pleasure. May I say the initial impression of this English Breakfast tea was met with a bit of skepticism since I have a summer home in Yorkshire so I believe my palate has been refined from such direct native exposure. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the earthy, almost toasted aroma followed by the malty comforting boldness of the black tea blend as it passed my tastebuds. And how smooth the lingering essence long after it had been consumed, brings me right back to the cafe’s I so frequent back in England. May I be so bold as to proclaim this to be comparable to those I have experienced overseas? Splendid, simply splendid. 
(Everyone at the table looks at each other in amazement, Ralph feeling very small.)

RK: So you liked it?
GS: Oh very much.
RK: Took you half the day to say what took me only four words. 
EN: Can I have a toyn? (Ed’s weird way of saying turn)
AK: Go ahead Edwardo. 
EN: (Ed puts in his monocle and does his usual exaggerated unnecessary motions for a good 10 seconds before Ralph freaks out)
RK: Come on!!! 
(Ed’s monocle falls out and Ed jumps back)

EN: Alight alright. Hmm, to expand on what my worldly acquaintance had already stated, the essence of this tea is rich and bold and embodies the aroma of, dare I venture to guess, both Assame and Ceylon black teas?
GS: Yes! Yes! I was going to say that but hadn’t the nerve!
EN: (raises his teacup and toasts Gregory) Cheers, to the finer things. 
(Ralph, Alice, and Trixie all look completely dumbstruck)

RK: And where in the world did you come up with that??
EN: Like I said earlier, I can be quite couth from time to time.
RK: Ah shut up!
———————-

FINAL SCENE

Alice is cleaning up after the party. Ralph comes out of the room wearing a robe. He’s obviously exhausted and embarrassed by the whole party. He does his classic ‘about to freak out but isn’t quite sure what to say’ three times and finally Alice jumps in.
AK: I’m proud of you sweetheart. You were probably very uncomfortable all night but you hung in there. 
(Ralph quickly changes moods and looks big-eyed and grateful.)

RK: You know, Gregory was actually a pretty nice fellow, and he was right.
AK: Right about what Ralph?
RK: That bit he said about only having possessions to come home to, he’s right. I’m the lucky one because I get to come home to you. And most nights you have a nice home cooked meal for me to eat and you listen to me complain about my day. If you ask me, I’m the real rich man.
AK: Ah Ralph, you know those material possessions don’t mean anything to me. I love you and that makes me rich too. 

RK: Baby you’re the greatest! END

Say Hello 2 Heaven

My LED flashlight beams through the $1.27 Target rain poncho illuminating my path with a psychedelic red spotlight. Laid before me are hundreds of slinking worms seeking shelter from the storm like aimless refugees. What a strange feeling to only have a thin sheet of red plastic protecting me from such a heavy downpour not to mention the intermittent cool, almost cold, gusts of wind. 

The news of Chris Cornell’s passing just came to me in the form of two subsequent Facebook posts from trusted sources. “Please, let this just be a hoax,” commented a friend the friend. But it wasn’t. A quick Google search revealed the truth. It’s crazy how fast news can spread these days. Seeking a distraction I turn to my phone for some company during my 3 a.m. journey. An audiobook version of Stephen King’s IT was the closest app to my thumb. How odd to be walking in the rain while listening to the scene where Georgie does the same, chasing a paper boat straight to his demise. I hurdle another group of worms. 

The pelts of rain grow stronger and I have to point my flashlight up to make sure it didn’t turn to hail. The trees are a good shelter as I pause the audiobook, turn off the flashlight, and just stand frozen on the path with only my cheap poncho to keep me safe and dry. It’s surprising how much a frail article can stand between you and a bad case of cold damp shivers. 

I think about Chris, about the impact his band Soundgarden had during my angsty yet formative years. I remember the first time the detuned grind of the Outshined riff crossed the radio waves and into my consciousness. “That singer’s really wailing. Who the hell is this?” 

Time to head back home after a heavy bout of contemplation…another legend gone. The wind catches me by surprise and whips my phoncho hood back exposing my scalp to the chilling elements. Maybe I’ll just walk backwards….but then I’ll step on worms. Okay, I’ll walk forward but I’ll pull my poncho down from the inside forcing the hood snugly to the top of my head. Crisis averted. Just then a baby toad appears, the first of the year for me. He seems frozen in his tracks. Probably thinking, “Man, the early bird truly does get the worm, just look around…hundreds…thousands maybe!” 

I return home happy to escape the Minnesota night storm, wipe the dirt (and most likely worm carcass) off my damp shoes, dump my weathered poncho straight in the trash, and marvel at how dry I am after all of that. But Chris is still gone and the Temple of the Dog song, in which he sang, still echoes in my mind…”Say hello 2 Heaven, Heaven, Heaven.” Rest in peace Chris Cornell and thank you for weaving yourself into the nostalgic fabric of so many of our lives. -Mike G

Testament, “Sepultura”, Prong, and maybe some other band? Review (First Avenue MN (5/3/17)

By Mike Geronsin

Opening Act: Not even sure there was one, but if there was we showed up late like bastards and didn’t catch a single lick. I ordered a few drinks and noticed my friend Christopher was frantically searching his pockets as if he’d misplaced his wallet. Turns out it was his earlplugs that were missing…his $175 earplugs. (This may seem excessive but he’s a recording engineer so hearing is somewhat important to him.) He raced back to the car to find them as I dodged the onslaught of black metal T-shirts entering the front doors, delicately balancing both of our drinks until getting violently shouldered (like high school) by a thick man in a STAFF shirt. Christopher’s Captain Diet ran coldly down my forearm as I waited for the next band to begin. 


Prong: The trio got very little front stage lighting making them appear as three menacing silhouettes. Their banner, which displayed their signature pitchfork logo, was draped in vain behind Testament’s drum kit making it equally cryptic. The band was given the typical “opening band” mix, which baffled me since Prong had obviously paid their dues throughout their 31 years in the metal scene. The drums were easily the loudest instrument heard, being masterfully played by Art Cruz. Not only is he a tremendous drummer, he can also play complex beats while tossing and catching drumsticks with his roadie. Missing on the bass guitar was the always intense Jason Christopher. I recall him almost pummeling an annoying fan at The Cabooze show about a year ago. He might either be back playing in the band Ministry or he’s enrolled in anger management, who knows. So the “new bass dude” was second loudest followed by Tommy Victor’s husky vocals and sadly coming in a distant 4th place, Tommy’s signature guitar work. I seriously considered inching my way to the soundboard, discreetly reaching over, and nudging the guitar up a db or two…or seven.

They were tight as ever, notably Whose Fist Is This Anyway? caught my ear as particularly locked-in, as well as their closing number Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck. What makes that song so great is the systematic groove (simplistically driven by kick and snare drums) glued together with the unrelenting main riff. But for some reason they opted to play it at almost double the speed. So instead of feeling the irresistible urge to thrust my hips “Jim Carrey style”, I was left with the sensation that Prong either wanted to get the song over with as quickly as possible, or the stage manager was mouthing “WRAP IT UP!”.

With a better mix (more guitar!), a few spotlights, and maybe one more Jack on the rocks in me, Prong would have had one of the best sets ever.

Sepultura“: Let me just get this out of the way. The next band to play was NOT Sepultura. Having no one with the last name Cavalera left in the band, they neither looked or sounded much like the raw Brazilian metal gods from my youth, BUT (and that’s a big but) they were decent, damn decent if I may say so. And though I longed for the manic head-banging dreadlocks of the Cavalera brothers, they did eventually win me over with their own brand of “punch you in the dick” metal. They eventually dipped into the old school catalog in which I (with snobbish sarcasm) exclaimed to my friend, “Seems like we’re watching a really good Sepultura tribute band.” Christopher, already tired of my ill-mannered pessimism, just nodded probably hoping I would just shut my trap and enjoy the show.

Earlier days
Testament: After a quick changeover, the lights dimmed, the intro music began, and the screen slowly lifted (a First Ave staple) exposing a triple-headed snake backdrop and billowing smoke. As the band took the stage I was ecstatic to see that Eric Peterson had rejoined the group on rhythm guitar. He was part of the original Testament lineup but wasn’t with the band the last time we caught them. His presence really solidified the power of the band not to mention his stylish choice of Explorer and V-shaped guitars.

The music began and memories of being a teen head-banging in my room to Practice What You Preach and The New Order rushed into my now Jack-soaked memory. And then, from out of the smoke, appeared……..a lightsaber? Yes, vocalist Chuck Billy was wielding his signature mini mic stand but this time it was glowing red like Vader’s laser blade. It appears that he had upgraded since last time. The band continued pounding out their opening song and Chuck, not content with just holding the glowing mic stand, turned it sideways and began “air-guitaring” alongside Alex Skolnick. What a sight! You’ve got 4/5th’s of the original Testament lineup in front of you and on top of that you have Chuck Billy head-banging and air-guitaring with a lightsaber. How strong was that drink anyway?

The juggernaut of sound filled the venue and brought back familiar riffs, some of which I haven’t heard in years. Songs like The Ritual and Low were particularly on-point. Chuck said he was sick of playing the “same damn songs” every time they visit so they worked hard to ensure a fresh set, and they did, having a decent balance of new and old. I guess you can call it the old and new Testament, haha. Chuck reached up and pretended to tune his air guitar saber. 

Like James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, it seems that the years have softened even the heaviest of metal’s finest, as Chuck had a few light-hearted moments. During one song he erroneously yelled, “Let’s hear ya Milwaukee!” Catching his mistake he busted out laughing and mumbled a few back-tracking words which were inaudible to me. After the song he told a story of how he and the band spent the day at our local Surly Brewing and made sure to mention Minneapolis and First Avenue to make up for his mistake. What Chuck probably didn’t realize was that most of us were probably thinking, “He’s Chuck Billy and he has earned the right to call us anything he damn well chooses.” It was good to see a frontman of over thirty years genuinely enjoy performing not to mention hearing his voice was as powerful as ever.

As us older guys began feeling the effects of standing for four hours (ironic how the mosh pit, once known for its potential to inflict great bodily pain, had now become a way to stave off old-man aches of stagnation), I was ready to call it a night as the band left the stage for the first time. Luckily Christopher (my ride) wanted to gut it out because I would have missed one of the best encores in recent memory, which included my favorite “old Testament” song Practice What You Preach. Alex made the virtuosically impossible solo seem easy as he stood on one of the three monitor boxes making his stature almost match his enormous soloing ability. The batteries in Chuck’s light saber appeared to have died slightly before the band held out their final crescendo. The crowd roared, almost as if they were honoring the 30 years of service that Testament had provided them.

As we exited the historic venue, we really began to feel like old men. Many of us with sore legs and backs, already feeling tired at 11pm, and removing earplugs (some fancier than others) in hopes of retaining some of our remaining hearing. But one thing that will always remain are the feelings and memories you take home with you, those little adrenaline rushes when a familiar song starts or when the crowd sings together in solidarity. Testament’s legacy continues to roll on, thirty years strong.

Phobiæ

I think God, or whatever, works in mysterious ways; like giving me claustrophobia during a tour of the Catacombs in Paris, just so I’d get off my high-horse about not having any phobiæ. (That’s really the plural of phobia, I looked it up) Once my friend and I were walking though the streets of Vegas and we had to cross an overpass to get to the next casino. I looked back to see him holding onto the rail with trembling arms, wobbling like he was trying out ice skating for the first time. I never knew this about him, he was terrified of heights. In my “high-horse-ness,” I gave a sarcastic smirk and yelled over the passing car noise, “What are you afraid of man, it’s not that high?” He looked at me with desperate eyes like a man who had just accidentally swallowed a cyanide pill. “Fuck off! Just…..just go ahead and I’ll meet you on the other side,” he uttered still clinging to his aluminum lifeline. Being the asshole I was, I skipped, galloped, and even pretended to almost fall over the edge as I made my way across the short bridge. As he struggled down the stairs that led him off the overpass, he was pale and sweaty like he had just run a 5k while holding his breath. “Well there’s no way in hell I’m going back so enjoy the hotel room by yourself tonight,” he joked, kinda.
Fast forward to Paris: So there I was, walking down the never-ending stairway that lead to the buried, yet neatly stacked, bones of the Catacombs. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Catacombs I’ll summarize by saying it’s about 6 million human bodies worth of bones that were transferred over when cemeteries began to overflow around the late 18th century. They had since opened it up for morbidly curious tourists.) We started out as a wide line, maybe three people across and who know how many deep, but as we descended the space began shrinking forcing us into a single-file line. That I could handle, probably because of my years of public schooling where walking in single-file lines was the only way to travel.
Soon the air began to grow heavy, and warm. What pushed me into my first claustrophobic episode was the thought that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t just turn around and get out. The line was just as long behind us now than was in front. Faking an asthma attack seemed like a viable option. No, what good would that do? It’s not like the entire back of the line would just say, “Okay let’s all just stop, turn around, and exit in an orderly fashion so this asshole can catch his breath.” Nope, I was going down whether I panicked or not. This is probably what it’s like to go to Hell. No falling and screaming but waiting in a hopelessly long line as conditions slowly begin to grow more and more upsetting. The air grew even heavier. A flash of heat took over my upper body and I probably would have started crying if at that very moment they didn’t start blowing cool air on us. It reminded me of the little air vents that airplanes have above each seat, probably for the very same reason. Ah, it makes so much sense now. We finally reached the burial grounds where the countless human remains now seemed like child’s play compared to what I had already put myself through.

Just for good measure, in months to follow, life generously doled me out a few more phobiæ. They weren’t as intense but once at the Mall of America (everyone should have a phobia of large malls in my opinion) I suddenly couldn’t deal with the amount of open space that seemed to be hovering all around me. And though I never caught the “fear of heights” bug, I did one time feel hopelessly trapped in my own skin. How strange to be encased in this half-Asian body for all these years, and like the Catacombs line, only death could free me.

So thank you God, Life, Universe or whatever, for whipping me into shape once again. Never will a mocking word leave these lips about another person’s fears. “Oh you have a fear of small holes, I get it!” “Oh you freak out at the texture of mustard, high-five sister!”