“ARBUCKLE DREEN” by ETHAN GATHY

“But whatever might be my opinion of friendship, to mention only the pleasure that it procured me, of a quality so mediocre as to be something half-way between physical exhaustion and mental boredom, there is no brew so deadly that it cannot at certain moments become precious and invigorating by giving us just the stimulus that was necessary, the warmth that we cannot generate ourselves.”

— Marcel Proust, A la recherché du temps perdu

 

 

 

─ Thank you for cuhling Whurlld Spice this is Anu Singh speaking how may I hulp you?

─ Rrrm yes, do you take fiery curry shits when you shit?

─ Axcuse me, sir, I am naht sure what you are meaning?

─ I mean don’t it burn your asshole and all?

─ Ai do nuht  dhink you are being kind, sir. Why do you cuhll?

─ Because I’m milking a goat and all that’s come out–

─ No! I duhnt want to know.

─ And all that’s coming out is boiled eggs and thread spools and I just wanted your help.

─ Dhat is nuht possible; do nuht try to pull on my leg. I am hanging up dhe phone. Good. Day.

*click*

─ Okay you have a good one now, ya hear?

Jessie put the phone down and let out a cackle that had more consonants than vowels and more dissonance than assonance. He looked at his two accomplices with a toddler’s grin, his mangy jowls upturned and his teeth gleaming like electricity.

He prodded his proboscis aimlessly and shot a booger towards heaven. Georgen watched its arc and nodded. The loose mucusoid disappeared behind the vinyl shelf. Georgen was really called George Nambley but a mole-eyed substitute teacher from Tucson changed that a decade ago with a simple mistake. He took another hit off the joint and dusted off his bathrobe and offered the burning thing to Jessie. ─ Jessie, man, you’re a lunatic. Like crazy, man. Like I wish that I had your cojones, just bothering people, not giving a shit. Oh do you want any more, James?

James shook his head.  ─ Not right now. I’ve got to go in a minute. On the floor sat James lacing his Converse, laces frayed and worn black and grey and their tattered tongues overextended. ─ Like where does 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person come from? ─ Well you’ve got to be your first person obviously. ─ So you’re the first person you ever know and then the second person is collectively everyone else outside the womb and then the third is the God you meet at the end of it all, ya know? ─ What about folks without egos like enlightened yogis?─Whoa, man.

The robed man rolled his head around and rattled on about Chinese children building our widescreens and whether they could afford marijuana until he squeezed his eyes shut and said ─ Last night, guys, I tried eating that ham in the fridge. Georgen blankly stared at the twenty inch Zenith in the room; their bootleg cable had been going awry and hadn’t worked in a week.  James sidled towards the door as Jessie fussed with the phonebook on the floor before returning it to an already chaotically arranged drawer. ─ Ya know it’s four months past the “use-by” date?  ─ Should I be worried?  ─ Ehh they just put those on there to move more ham units … or maybe that’s the “sell-by” date. Hell if I know, said Jessie, how are ya feeling, pardner? ─ Well my stomach’s kinda unsettled. Hey, James where’re you goin’? Are you picking up that Xbox? Oh man I dunno about that ham…

Si, I got a good deal on this one.

─ Remember we have band practice tomorrow, ya hear! The show is in three days!

James closed the door and went out to claim his entertainment system, glad to be free of the smell of cigarettes and sweat for a second. The August air was a constant hot towel to any exposed areas. Arizona, O, arid zone most temperate and tempestuous, how your phoenix lies so still, so flat. Glass and concrete are your makeup and all that’s underneath is worthless dirt and huesos de tu pueblo. He had one hundred dollars in his pocket; he tapped the steering wheel to the rhythm of a Chaka Khan song while he waited to make the deal.

 

* * *

 

─ Hello, thank you for cuhling vworld spice this is Anu Sing speaking how may I halp you?

─ Good morning, I’m with UPS. Your order of 90 boxes of carnivorous plants is almost complete and ready to be delivered to your house. To finish the transaction we just need you to sign.

─ What? I order no plants.

─ To finish the transaction we just need you to pay the $300 and we’ll be out of your way so you can enjoy your plants, sir.

─ NO! If you kehn nuht prove you are telling dhe truth I must say you are a bad man and deceiver!

─ Oh okay I’ll see you there. (pfhaha) I’ll set things straight for you. For UPS.  I’ll set you real straight, buddy.

─ Goodbye I kent believe in what you are saying and I will not talk to dhe UPS. Bodder someone else end geht a life!

─ Y’all take care now.

The three roommates howled with laughter as Jessie returned the telephone to its receiver; they shared impersonations of their dialogist’s outrage. The idea of using recordings of the calls in their music was brought up and unanimously approved. The trio was the core members of experimental rock band, Arbuckle Dreen, the name being a highly learned allusion to a gag from Looney Tunes. They played the local scene and sometimes even got to tour surrounding areas. Soy un perdedor.

Kindred souls were rare to nonexistent as the local scene was mostly an excuse for groups of punks to socialize and drink. The punk rockers were never fond of Arbuckle Dreen’s mix of psychedelia, noise, and traditional folk from various cultures. It was a wonder their band hadn’t been outright banned from the clubs so anathematized was their sound. So they were used to being spit on on Friday nights. Sometimes small art magazines would cover their music and give them a hint of publicity with half-coherent semi-praise like: “Their shit-smothered sound will really test your artistic patience” or “Think of the Beatles: but on opposite day and they all have really big earplugs in and are trying to play with mittens on” or “Arbuckle Dreen is the musical equivalent to a three-year old eating a crayon. I mean I don’t know if they are musical.”

James sauntered towards the dusty record player and put on a Sun Ra album, one of the ‘70s releases where the band would focus on layering exotic scales over the constant and sometimes erratic swing of the drums until a kind of hypnosis was achieved. All three of them could admire the sound and liked to imagine they sounded something like that at their best though none would say it.

Georgen spoke ─ Guys, you don’t think I’ll be sick … right? I want to make it to the show on Friday. I mean I like nuked the ham in the microwave beforehand so I think I should be fine. Georgen looked as pale as Phoenix’s climate would permit a half-Hispanic, and beneath his eyes one could discern rings.

Don Cherry launched into a searing trumpet solo, not a flashy one but something that showcased a certain cunning for harmony and dissonance. ─ Goddamn, listen to that! I’m gonna do something like that. Listen, James, play that kinda thing the drums are doing. You know: lots of toms with a big meet-the-emperor feel.

─Yeah I can do that. Are you okay, Georgen? Oh hold on, see this.

He went to the apartment’s bedroom and retrieved the black console in a Ziploc bag. James held it out and gave it a shake; dozens of dark figures scurried from each corner, their flocculent spindle legs frantically struggling against the transparent film.

─ The thing has cucarachas in it! Just my luck, it works totally fine besides that but I can’t play Halo without courting infestation!

─ Oh man sounds like a real boner, brah. Maybe you ought to call the guy.

─ I’m pretty sure he was aware.

─ The uhh bacteria should be like vaporized from the ham because it was like searing hot when I got it from the microwave. So I should be alright, I think. I might look bad but. Oh maybe the microwave can work for you, man. You can just … nuke the roaches. Wait… nahhh.

─ Yeah you don’t look too hot, Georgen. You know you might have killed the bacteria but spores are supposed to be hard to kill.

─ Wait I thought it was viruses and bacteria that made folks sick.

─ Guys, I thought if it smelled fine it’s alrig–

─ Bacteria produce toxins. Some ar–

─ Well if it had a buttery smell…

─ Spores are the reproductory stages of toxins which–

─ The butcher told me once that it took 36 hours but he was a shifty bas–

─ No no no spores are like dormant toxins…

─ I have like a slight pain in my stomach. It’s just my imagination right?

─ The one with the beard? I thought he was a nice guy.

─ What about these cockroaches??

─ Meat is really the last thing you should eat after the expiration date, ya know.

─ Toxins are produced by fungi or bacteria though so…

─ Guys, guys, guys, guys, guys.

─ …

─ …

─ I think I’m just going to try to make myself vomit to try to get it out of my system.

─ Try reading some fanfiction then.

James went to flip over the record and Georgen took off for the restroom. James walked to the kitchen whistling along and did the dishes like he always did. He was a diminutive man and met Georgen in 7th grade English back when he was called Jim (a brief phase imposed mostly by other people but “Jim” never really stuck). James had been the one to introduce the other two to their favorite bands. Georgen had been the one to introduce the other two to their favorite substances. After some retching and a flush he’d emerged from the facilities. Jessie was looking between various junk food wrappers, brushes and aerosol cans. He pulled a bottle with a crude graphic of a dead ratón.

─ How about we poison the darned critters with this, eh James?

Georgen lit another joint on the couch saying ─ We can’t. It won’t do; you can’t kill cockroaches with rat poison. We’re too advanced, man. Too specialized. The poison wouldn’t like recognize their genetic code and then couldn’t kill them.

─ And I don’t think that would be very good for the Xbox’s system, added James helpfully.

 

* * *

 

─ Myes, hello dhis is Anu Singh.

─ Hello.

─ Who eez dhis?

─ Oh, buddy, I’m the fungus growing on Krishna’s foot (a magic mushroom at that). Clinton promised a bridge to the 21st century and I’m the troll living under it.  It’s a wonder; isn’t it? The way telephone lines can get crossed or contaminated just for the helluvit? You’re fucked, friend, there’s no staying celibate. Hell, I lost mine when I was still sucking my thumb, Shiva promised me three arrows and all I got was one, pointing up. I’m with stupid; I’m with clueless; I’m with Cupid; I’m with Buddhists; I’m with Snoopy; I’m with Euclid. I’m Sandra Bullock in drag. I’m Samuel Beckett crawling his way out of a wet paper box.

─ Whaat. Why are you keep calling me? I am most tired of you are constant calling of me at work. I hehf tried to be welcoming and I still don’t know what you are talking of?

─ Oh you don’t need to understand. This is bigger than you and I. This is for the people that do understand and they ARE listening and they don’t know they understand but they do. I’m trying to say that your sister stepped on a grasshopper yesterday letting loose another hundred years of oilspills, happy pills, and assorted shit but it’s not her fault. I think we have spooky action at a distance on our hands but they’re tied. Try it; rearrange the numbers on your phone and you can see its true intentions: it’s all maya! I mean Christian radio stations in Omaha can roleplay as Jesus’s DJ, so it’s best to pretend we’re Anakin, Luke and Padme in a three way. When this is all over I can’t guarantee moksha but a fish in the river told me I wouldn’t have to pay a drachma if I only buggered a believer. Because Charon is Karen and Karen is creepy, but so’s everyone.

─ Stupp all of dhis dalking; dhis is ridiculous and not funny. Goodbye, do nut call again.

─ I’llbereincarnatedasaroachandyouwillapig

The phone returned to its cradle and the three roommates laughed conspiratorially and high fivedeach other. Georgen wiped snot from his nose and said ─ I couldn’t tell whether you were having fun or having a breakdown. Good stuff. Jessie sat in the lotus position on the floor as he took another drink from his ninth bottle of beer. Georgen noodled aimless on an unplugged bass while James headbanged facetiously to it.

─ Hold up, folks, Georgen where’s your camera? How about we take a picture of your Xbox, James, with a copy of the new Fallout and add a caption that say: bought new game, its crawling with bugs! People’ll love it! They’ll be trampling over each other trying to award us a new Xbox in compensation for our humor!

─ Your humor…

─ But your Xbox!

Georgen got the camera and the picture was made and sent out for the world’s enjoyment. They sat in front of the screen waiting for responses and idly checked their emails and checked again and took a look at what was popular to compare to their creation and slowly they saw appreciation increase though not to any astronomical figure.

─ Well I’ll go check the door and see if anyone’s has left us any gifts now that we have given to the world.

─ Dudes, dudes, you know where you never see bugs?

─ In an airplane?

─ No, man, in the arctic! Bugs hate the cold. And we have a fridge.

─ Yeah let’s freeze them sons of bitches.

─ Um I’ll make sure the plastic bag is sealed…

 

* * *

 

─ Hello, Sneed’s Feed and Seed. This is Sneed speaking.

─ So once there was a little bunny na– wait huh, who is this?

─ This is Sneed. We sell seed, sir.

─ Where’s Georgen, man?

─ You’d like to speak with one of our employees?

─ Jessie, what are you doing, man?

─ The phone rang so I answered it. I thought you were on the can.

─ Give me the phone… Oh hey sorry if my friend messed with you. He’s harmless.

─ Uhh yeah don’t worry about it. So what kind of story do you want tonight?

─ Jessie, that’s Ethan Gathy. He’s been calling me every night and telling me bedtime stories to help me sleep. I told you I haven’t been feeling good.

─  Oh okay, go on then. I guess I’ll go to sleep. (Man, we should be able to afford cell phones, I swear) hrrm.

─ Sorry, Ethan. It’s not weird. Go on…

Arbuckle Dreen always practiced in the cheapest place they could at the last minute they could. Often this meant the practice space at Soundplace where the PA never worked properly and the rooms always smelled like a homeless shelter. The room had acoustic properties of some kind which were a plus and the décor of unicorns in tie die and Pink Floyd posters was always motivating.

The band set up quickly and played a warm up jam. The unspoken rule was that practices were always sober and only when on stage could they don the masks and ramble drunkenly and perform improvised theater pieces. James made some suggestions on what everyone would play and how the set for Friday could be structured. Georgen told the band ─ I took my temperature yesterday and I think it was all just … psychosomatic. I’ll definitely be able to make it to the show. The other two expressed their relief and Jessie inquired about how the storytime went. ─ It’s not storytime. It’s totally normal, geez. Ethan is a really cool guy. I … forgot where I met him though. He called you a mercurial asshole though, Jessie.

─ Me? A mercurial asshole?

─ Yeah but it didn’t sound so … judgmental when he said it. Really! It seemed like he knew you well too.

─ James, am I a mercurial asshole?

James shrugged his shoulders noncommittally and remained silent on the matter.

─ Well I guess that settles it. I’m a mercurial asshole. That’s okay though. Anyways I’ve got this new one we can do called “Phone Confusions and Roach Solution”.

─ I like it already, offered James, I checked the fridge today and it looked like they were all finally disposed of by the icy hand of fate.

─ Dude, I actually had a dream I was a cockroach last night. It was … uhh Ionesco-esque.

─ You don’t know what that means.

James sat behind the drumkit playing in time signatures which were probably imaginary numbers or at the least hardly real. His playing lent the band a precision that tethered the surrounding chaos, though to the untrained eye his work resembled the drumming of a Muppet called Animal more than any of his human counterparts. Georgen swayed arhythmically while leisurely plucking notes from his bass. He would always say he learned a lot by smoking pot and listening to Lee Perry and King Tubby but mostly that a bass part could be great without too many notes and with lots of space between. As usual the song devolved into Jessie shouting profanities in as many languages as he thought he knew.

─ Hey folks, we’ve been passing out those yellow flyers for the show around and so people will be there on Friday.

─ Yeah?

─ Aaand we’ve got a fridge full of dead roaches. People liked the Xbox gag so we can go big and scare the shit out of them with the cockroach carcasses. It’ll be shocking!

─ Umm.

─ Dude.

─ It’d be some damned rock and roll stuff! C’mon. It’s such a rock ‘n’ roll thing to do!

─ I suppose it could be a Caroliner kind of thing.

─ Yeah let’s scare those punks right, dudes.

 

* * *

 

Inevitably Friday came around. The bar was crowded. Arbuckle Dreen’s few fans arrived and stayed in the back never to be recognized, less than a dozen of the crowd. They were the rotund men in raincoats and the bespectacled midgets and the old ladies with pink hair. It was a small venue and the smell of perspiration was already a force as powerful as any music. It seeped through the clothes of the crowd as they were squashed against one another until it became a shared life force between them, intersubjectivity realized. A real mezcla.

The first band played their set of ska (far removed from that music’s roots) to which the majority of the audience bopped and danced and pogoed with full glasses of beer sloshing with every bounce. The songs were all trumpet breaks and lyrics about teenage heartbreak. Georgen had to cover his ears to keep them all from bothering his precious pre-show vibe.

After the first band was given their due applause, Arbuckle Dreen began to ready their masks and their surprise plastic bag. Their instruments were ready and Jessie introduced them with a ─We’re Arbuckle Dreen from Phoenix, Arizona and this one’s called Spinozan Substance Abuse, which he then repeated a dozen more times. They riffed and shuffled. Jessie shimmied and jumped across the stage wearing a wooden Japanese mask and reciting garbled poetry while trying to strum a folk tune out of the guitar.

They conjured spirits and forgotten gods. They played raindances in the desert. One song slowly transformed into an impromptu theatrical sketch about a transvestite with amnesia. It took the length of the entire set for the audience to decide whether to be disturbed or inspired, meanwhile they puzzled over it while watching the spectacle of Jessie screaming into his guitar pickups. The guitars stopped while James tried to cover for them with a show of rhythmic ingenuity; as he soloed, Georgen reached over and grabbed the plastic bag and pointed it at the transfixed crowd. He spurted clumps of cockroach into the masses as Jessie laughed watching them dissipate.  Things went silent. The crowd scattered and disbanded towards corners and made for the door when they saw the insects crawling. The band stopped laughing as they realized cockroaches can slow their metabolism to survive freezing temperatures and they’d allowed them to thaw.

They put down their instruments and tried their best to herd the insects back into their plastic penitentiary. A man walked up to the trio and said, ─ Hey, you’re the cockroach guys.

─Yeah we are.

─ I really liked your meme.

─ … Thanks.

A younger girl walked in and said to James, ─ Your music is weird. Like really weird.

─ Yeah.

─ The meme you guys posted was really funny though and the callback with the bag of bugs was great. Good job!

─Yeah, t-thanks.

Jessie nudged James and said, ─ Told you they’d like it. Just don’t be an asshole about them not caring about the music and maybe they’ll start to listen.

Another man was in front of them and asked, ─ Don’t be ai what? What was dhat you said?

─ Oh, I said don’t be an ass- oh you’re Anu S-

Anu delivered a swift right hook to Jessie’s nose. The impact knocked Jessie to the floor. He clutched his nose as the blood streamed out.  ─ Goddammit, why are you even here?

─ I heard dhat dhere was a band playing draditional Indian songs and mixing them widh Western sounds.

Georgen approached the Indian man like he was about to say something. His eyes widened and before words could come out he unloosed a palette of green gunk and digestive fluid on the poor soul.

The crowd had left now mostly but the heat still lingered, a phantom image of the movements and music. Fumes were still billowing from the heads of the confused and dissatisfied and cigarette smoke still latched even on to the pink-haired old lady in the audience. Storytellers and shady sellers all afflicted alike and sweating now. The sun would rise again tomorrow to instill more and further beat its rays upon those who sought shade. There was an unknown language at play between them all.  James watched and whispered to himself, ─ Toxins. And in that moment James became enlightened.