by John Pfanz
The trash was piled high in and around the dumpster by building J of Lake Street Apartments that cool Friday afternoon, so much so that it was becoming an ecosystem in and of itself. Black squirrels and grey rats jockeyed for position atop the bulging, rain-sodden black bags while gnats and horseflies buzzed around them. Patch Baranski and Hotspur Adams watched from above on their balcony with glassy-eyed wonderment, forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor clutched in their bony hands and cigarettes dangling between their beer-soaked lips. They spoke loudly to each other in order to be heard over the sounds of a hardcore punk album being played at an uncomfortably high volume.
“Beautiful in a way, isn’t it?” Hotspur asked.
“Yeah, dude. All it needs is a butterfly or two and it’s like the beginning of an old Disney movie,” Patch mused. Hotspur polished off the remainder of his forty-ounce and wiped droplets of beer and spit from his beard with the back of his hand.
“Do you think I could get this into the dumpster from up here?” Hotspur asked, pantomiming the action of tossing the bottle like a basketball player lining up a free throw.
“Do it!” Patch cackled. “What’s it gonna do, make a mess?”
“What about the animals, though?” Hotspur asked.
“They’re fucking rats, Hotspur. Don’t be a hippie.” Patch replied.
Not wanting to be seen as a hippie, Hotspur shrugged and threw the bottle. It arced downward toward the dumpster below, missing the middle by several feet and shattering on the corroded metal edge. The sound of splintering glass echoed through the parking lot, causing the squirrels to scatter into the nearby tree line in a panicked fervor. The rats, however, seemed at best mildly startled. Patch took this as a challenge. He finished the remainder of his beverage and jabbed his friend in the ribs with a bony elbow.
“Not bad, there, Hotspur, but check this shit out.” Rather than throwing it underhand toward the dumpster the way his more cautious friend had, Patch threw his bottle straight down toward the mischief of rats, missing them by centimeters. As the bottle shattered on the pavement below, an old, grey Chevy Cavalier sputtered to a stop in a nearby parking space. The engine emitted a flatulent sound as it was disengaged. After much effort, a portly, balding man emerged. His eyes went from the freshly-shattered glass on the pavement before him up to Patch and Hotspur. His overgrown eyebrows furrowed, and a thick, stubby finger pointed up at them accusatorily.
“Hey!” he barked. “Don’t go anywhere, I’m coming up!”
Patch and Hotspur dashed back inside their apartment as fast as their drunken legs could go and slid the balcony door shut behind them. As Hotspur frantically hid the drug paraphernalia, Patch kept watch through the peephole.
“What the fuck is Dan doing here?” Patch hissed. “I thought he was still in jail for another couple weeks!”
“Well, they must have let him out early. He was only in there for unpaid parking tickets,” Hotspur mumbled. “He’s probably just gonna yell at us for throwing the bottles or something. What else could it be?”
Before Patch could reply, there was a pounding on the door so aggressive that it nearly burst from its hinges. Muffled screaming in a concrete-thick Akron accent came from the other side. Patch plastered on his best fake smile and opened the door.
“Oh, hey, Dan. Good to see you. How was Summit County?” Patch preened.
“Grand, boys, just grand,” Dan seethed. “Just like the check you’re going to give me.”
“What, has this bullshit music made you deaf? My wife says she got quite a few complaints about you two while I was locked up! You boys have been into some stupid shit. I crunched the numbers, and you owe nine hundred-fifty dollars in lease violations, plus an extra fifty dollars for the improper disposal of recyclable material I just witnessed. If I don’t get a check for one thousand dollars by Monday, you’re both every flavor of FUCKED, do you hear me?” Dan trampled off without waiting for a response, muttering an extensive thread of profanities and epithets as he went. Patch closed the door, then turned to face his roommate.
“One thousand dollars?” Hotspur wheezed. “What are we gonna do? How are we gonna come up with that much money by Monday? It’s impossible! Our paychecks won’t cover that!” Hotspur cupped his hands over his mouth and began pacing laps around the apartment, his breathing becoming more labored with each step. Patch ducked into the kitchen and emerged with two fresh forties.
“Settle down, Hotspur. We’ll think of something. Here, let’s get the creative juices flowing.” Hotspur let out a shallow sigh, accepted a bottle from his friend, and guzzled half of it down with minimal effort.
“There ya go, buddy. Feel better?” Patch smiled, slapping his friend on the back. Hotspur nodded.
“This is still really fucked up, though, Patch. Any ideas?”
Patch took a hefty swig of malt liquor. “As a matter of fact, I do. Your parents are professors at Tri-C, right?”
“Yeah,” Hotspur nodded. “So?”
“So, call ‘em up and see if they’ll float us the money,” Patch said. “You’re a writer, make up some bullshit if you have to. They wouldn’t want their son out on the street, would they?”
Hotspur sighed again. Patch had seen that look on his friend’s face before. Hotspur was pissed off. But there was still a cold shade of fear behind the anger. Hotspur dialed a number on his phone and retreated to his room. The album had ended, so Patch could hear Hotspur faintly through the door. This would probably be a long conversation, but Patch was sure they would help. They were nice people underneath all the pretense. A few minutes later Hotspur emerged, looking more panicked and downtrodden than he had before.
“Not happening, huh?” Patch cringed.
“They laughed and hung up,” Hotspur replied. Hotspur began to wring his hands, and his breathing became increasingly shallow. As his best friend paced around the living room, Patch dug into the drawer of the coffee table and retrieved his stash of cocaine, quickly sniffing a bump up each nostril.
“Really, Patch,” Hotspur moaned. “Do you really think that’s a good idea right now?”
“Fuck off. It helps me focus,” Patch replied. He attempted to snap his fingers but was unable to generate the necessary friction. “I know how we can make a thousand bucks! Two words: Moral. Fucking. Deficit.”
Hotspur’s eyebrows raised in disbelief. “You mean your old band that split up ten years ago because all the other guys hated you?”
“Yeah, but fuck those posers. I don’t need ‘em. Back in ‘09, we were the best punk band in Ohio! Remember how many people used to come to our shows? I could just do a solo acoustic set in some punk house playing old Moral Def songs and people would turn the fuck out for it, dude! That way we won’t have to worry about a promoter stiffing us. If we charge ten bucks to get in, we only need 100 people to show up. I’ll go call some houses right now. Do a couple bong rips or something, Hotspur. Everything is gonna be fine, dude.”
Thirty minutes went by before Patch emerged from his room, and when he did his eyes were crazed from cocaine and desperation. He had the glass jar filled with tips they’d been saving from work gripped in his right hand. He tried to unscrew the lid but couldn’t get it to budge. With a frustrated growl, Patch smashed the jar on the floor and hastily gathered the sizeable amount of small bills. He swiped at his nose and hissed through clenched teeth.
During the mile-and-a-half walk from Lake Street to Euro Gyro, their favorite dive bar, Patch didn’t say a word. The expression on his face and the dilation of his eyes were all the clues Hotspur needed to figure out that the phone calls didn’t go well. Patch didn’t speak again until they arrived at the bar, when through the same clenched teeth he spat at the bartender:
“Six PBR’s. Each.”
After an hour, the tall, empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were lined up so far that they were nearly falling off the table. Patch had forgotten that Moral Deficit had gotten a bad reputation toward the end of their run, and it was mostly his fault. Still, the interest for the next best thing to a Moral Deficit reunion was there, but the interest to work with Patch without any cut of the proceeds to repair any inevitable damages was not.
“For fuck sake, Patch, is there anybody in this town that doesn’t hate you?” Hotspur asked. “If people want to see you play Moral Deficit songs, there has to be somebody that would be willing to host it.”
“There is. Trust me there is,” Patch said. “But anybody that hosts it is gonna demand a cut of the money.”
An idea somehow found its way to Hotspur’s brain through all the alcohol. “Not if it’s going to a good cause.”
Patch laughed. “You mean us? Did you forget that everybody hates me?”
“We’ll just tell everybody the money’s going toward a charity for something that everybody likes. That way nobody will complain about the price or ask for a refund.” Hotspur added.
“Dude! Good thinking. What’s something that everybody would donate money toward?” Patch asked.
They scanned their surroundings for something that would spark an idea, but they saw nothing but bottles and neon beer signs. As he tilted his head back to consume more liquid refreshment, Hotspur saw a woman walk by with a German Shepherd on a leash. He gasped and pointed out the window.
“Dogs! People love dogs!”
“Perfect!” Patch replied. “I can see the flier now. An Evening with Patch Baranski: Moral Defecit songs. 10 dollars at the door. All proceeds to help sick dogs!”
The two friends drunkenly hugged as sweet relief slowly began to wash over them. Now they just needed a basement and a gullible homeowner.
“Patch? Hotspur? Is that you?” a voice squawked from the other side of the bar.
Patch’s eyes lit up. He’d recognize that voice and stupid face anywhere. Jet Boy. Perfect. That little doofus spent his high school years going to every Moral Deficit show. Surely he’d at least have a lead.
“Jet Boy! How ya doing, buddy? Take a seat,” Patch said, aggressively patting the empty stool next to him. “Say, Jet, hypothetical scenario for ya: what if I told you I wanted to do a set playing Moral Deficit songs?”
Jet Boy’s eyeliner-smeared visage brightened with excitement. “Holy shit, really? That’s awesome!”
“Yeah, Jet Boy, I wanna do a show so I can donate money to an animal shelter. But nobody wants to book me, Jet Boy. Can you believe that shit? So we gotta do a house show. It’s the only way it can happen. Do you know anybody who’d let us use their basement?”
Jet Boy stroked his smooth chin thoughtfully. “Well, I’m housesitting for my aunt and uncle while they’re out of town. They’ve got a place on Mogadore Road. I’d do anything to hear Moral Deficit songs again.”
“That’s perfect, Jet Boy. Thanks a dickload, bud. How’s tomorrow night sound?” Patch blurted, waving his hand in the air. “Barkeep! Three doubles of Wild Turkey, STAT!”
Jet Boy was a bit wary at first, but Patch and Hotspur managed to persuade him by funneling whisky down his throat and fanning the flames of nostalgia. By last call, word was out on social media and countless text messages were sent out. By the time Hotspur and Patch got home and passed out in their living room, more than 250 spikey-haired locals had confirmed their attendance on Facebook, many expressing positive sentiments that the most reviled person in the Kent punk scene had grown a heart. Patch and Hotspur peeled themselves off the floor the following afternoon and headed straight to the address on Mogadore Road that Jet Boy had given them.
When they arrived, they were surprised to see that a PA was set up, and a microphone was plugged in. Hotspur stationed himself at the front door with a manila envelope with the address to the local ASPCA scrawled on it to keep up appearances. Patch smiled, rubbing his hands together with excitement. It was an ordeal, but it was finally coming together. The excitement of being able to do what he loved most was almost beginning to overtake the anxiety brought about by their one-thousand-dollar debt to Dan. It was just a basement show, which Patch would normally think to be beneath him, but he was in no position to be picky. He turned to face Jet Boy, who was hanging a sign that read “NO UNDERAGE DRINKING, NO DRUGS, NO MOSHING” on the cinderblock wall with duct tape. Patch snickered at this. Did he not remember how Moral Deficit shows could get?
“Thanks again for letting us use your basement, Jet Boy,” Patch said. “That’s a cool move. The scene’s been stagnant lately. People will remember shit like this.”
“No problem. My aunt and uncle don’t get back for a few days, so we’ll have plenty of time to clean up.”
“Oh, absolutely. You’re sure the neighbors won’t give a shit? We can’t have this getting shut down by some butthurt yuppies,” Patch said.
“I think we’ll be OK. My cousins used to throw parties here all the time back in high school,” Jet Boy replied.
“Fuckin’ A. I’m gonna check levels then.”
With a buzz and a hiss, Patch plugged his guitar into his amp and beat out a punchy chord progression, screaming gibberish into the microphone as he played. It was a little fuzzy, and the microphone had clearly seen better days, but fuck it. Punk wasn’t supposed to sound good.
“Uh…guys?” Hotspur called from upstairs, “They’re here!”
Patch bolted up the stairs to where Hotspur was posted. Sure enough, throngs of people with spiked hair and studded vests were stumbling toward them.
“Holy shit! Okay, Hotspur, remember what we planned? The second you get to 1000 bucks- -”
“Take the money and go home,” Hotspur said.
“As fast as you fucking can,” Patch confirmed.
The punks came in droves, ready for a night of boozy mischief and music. Hotspur was overwhelmed by how many of them there were. He tried desperately to keep track of how much money he had been given, but with a head full of beer it was hard to know for sure. He checked his phone and noticed a text from Patch that said “GO HOME NOW HOTSPUR.” He heard the sound of microphone feedback coming from the basement, so without a second thought Hotspur jumped up, tucked the envelope under his jacket, and legged it back to Lake Street.
With trembling hands, Hotspur dumped the contents of the manila envelope onto the coffee table, where it flowed outward into the hellscape of empty bottles and ashtrays. He was incredibly drunk, and it was almost all one-dollar bills, but he counted it diligently.
“No. No fucking way,” Hotspur gasped.
He counted the money again, aloud to himself this time. Again, it left him in disbelief. The front door to the apartment was thrown open. Patch fell to the floor, gasping for air. His once spiked hair was now flat and matted, and his shirt was torn.
“Did you count it?” Patch asked.
“Yeah,” Hotspur replied.
“So, uh, are we good?” Patch inquired.
“We did it,” Hotspur said. “How was the show?”
“Fine at first,” Patch said, “but then people wanted to know how much money we’d raised for the dogs. Once they noticed you were gone they kind of pieced it together from there. They managed to sucker punch me and smash my guitar. Somebody punched a few holes in the drywall, too, so Jet Boy’s not gonna be happy. I never thought I’d say this, but thank fuck the cops came. I hope you didn’t have your heart set on going to a show ever again, Hotspur, because the whole scene hates both of us now.”
Silence washed over the apartment as the gravity of the situation began to sink in.
“Shit, that blows. What are we gonna do now?” Hotspur asked.
“Fucked if I know, but hey, mission accomplished, right? We’re not gonna get evicted from the apartment now. The scene, though? Credit’s fucking shot there now.” Patch shrugged. “You got room for another beer?”