“What song will they open with?” Betty asks, shuffling through her Highly Suspect playlist.
“Something for their real fans,” Tom says, playing along because he loves his wife more than he hates games.
“Wolf,” James suggests.
“How ‘bout this one,” Betty says and the Meyer brothers encircle them.
“Black ocean, cold and dark,” Johnny sings. “I am the hungry shark, fast and merciless.”
Words got me the wound, Tom thinks, breaking through the Yerba Buena Tunnel’s yellow light while remembering—“This one time,” he says turning the music down. “Heading home from the city, a long time ago, on the lower-deck, just below us—someone cut my father off. I didn’t see the other car, but I felt my body press backward into my seat. Sam had flex’d his tail-feathers…” Tom eases into the gas-pedal, accelerating his point before beginning again. “We shot off,” he says. “Like an angry hawk we dove and swerved through the branches of San Francisco’s traffic. Fast and mercilessly we pursued the offending vehicle, creating our very own apocalyptic turbulence.”
“How many cars did he cut off?” James asks.
“Exactly,” Tom replies, nodding at the irony.
PERA’s menu is dark and difficult to read. Tom fights the urge to light it up with his Fenix E12 while calculating the probability that his next pair of lenses will be of the progressive variety.
“Lamburger,” he says, after James mentions it as an option.
“You can get a lamburger anywhere,” PERA’s waiter says with a Persian drawl.
“What would you suggest?” Tom asks.
“Mousakka, or Kebab.”
“Greek Lasagna, right?”
The waiter nods.
“I’ll have that.”
“How many sticks in your Kebab?” James asks.
“Give me that.”
“Can I have the Lamburger?” Betty orders last. “I’ll share it with you.” She looks at Tom.
“Thanks.” He smiles.
“You know,” James cuts in. “Our American accent is closer to the Queen’s English than to what the British now speak.”
“Explain?” Tom picks up his metallic water glass.
“To us,” Betty says—and with a medieval clink, they drink on it.
“A decade or so before our Revolutionary War,” James explains, “the Industrial Revolution afforded Britain’s lower class citizens new money. They wanted to appear more aristocratic, so they adopted a posh accent like what we now think of as sounding British.”
“Sneetches,” Tom says, Dr. Seuss’ng the connection.
Christopher’s Books illuminates the crossroads of 18th and Missouri with a corner facade similar to those found along Charing Cross Road. A wizardly looking being is perched on a chair, hunched over the counter—reading.
Two blocks down the north slope of Potrero Hill they turn right onto 17th. The Leaky Cauldron, Tom thinks, staring into the neon glow coming from the Bottom of the Hill. The doorman handles will-call and IDs. He scribes, with a black Sharpie, palm sized Xs on the back of both of James’ hands as if to say, “UNDER AGE! DO NOT SERVE!”
Tom navigates through bunches of people bouncing and nodding to DJ REDBEES mix and strolls through the small walled courtyard opposite the merchandise booths—Diagon Alley, he thinks.
Heavy on the drums, Bones takes-the-stage fingering her Rosie-the-Riveter-like jumpsuit. Spreading open her collar, she exposes her steaming, hot, flesh before pulling a drag off her flask which she raises toward her crowd as if to say, “Cheers!” Tom notices a beret in place of the Riveter’s bonnet and smiles. “Janice Joplin—2017,” he says.
James smiles back up at him.
“Are you ready to get Bone’d,” Rosie sings and her partner Carmen Vandenberg steps out from behind a pillar—guitar in hand. Blonde with a new-wave hairdo, she smiles like the girl next door while self-consciously fingering her own collar. She is punkrock teen—Stevie Ray Hendrix meets James Dean.
Bottom of the Hill is at capacity. People are perched alongside the bar and against the walls while others press politely toward the stage. “I was on mushrooms last night,” Mowgli says. “Tonight’s gonna be great too, though. There’s still plenty of drugs involved.” Then, pulling the cork from a fifth of crystal-clear Patrón, he takes a deep hit before passing the bottle along.
Tomorrow, Tom looks around him, Highly Suspect will perform in front of 20,000 at Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival. Tonight, we are, maybe, 300 strong.
Johnny stops to preach between tracks, in the middle of them—whenever he wants… And Tom is cool with that. Attending a live performance is meant to be a full bodied, unfiltered, experience. If he’d wanted a studio recorded version he could’ve stayed home. What Tom is less cool with are dumbass motherfuckers who raise their phones above their heads to record the show, blocking his wife’s view.
Muggles, he thinks, keeping his cool. They are incapable of experiencing reality without a screen-god to guide them. Constantly they must check-in, continuously reaffirming their relevance. “Look how important I am,” they try to say—uploading their rude behavior to a digital world that neither exists nor cares, all the while missing out on the eXtra! eXtra! read-all-about-it that their god is incapable of interpreting.
“Trump you’re a dick,” Johnny says, interrupting Tom’s thoughts by speaking of him Who Must Not Be Named.
Great Mitosis, Tom thinks. Decision time!
“You’re a racist,” Johnny shouts. “Guns don’t kill people. White people kill black people,” he sings and the crowd screams- “with guns,” they say, knocking Tom backward into his own thoughts.
Skin tone, ancestry, religion, political affiliation, gender, origin—these are the stars tattooed upon the belly of the beast. White people kill black people who kill white people who kill the reds, yellows and greens…
“Sneetches kill Sneetches,” Tom says, nibbling on his wife’s ear. “Sometimes we do it for money, pride or duty. Other times we kill for Fear of what may never become.”
Hate is hate, Tom decides—no matter who wields it, or why.