Here we are again. In a fantasy book I haven’t published yet, these two young warriors are escaping an enemy, and they approach a bridge, and the leader yells out, “I’m gonna do it again!” The other one says, “You won’t be happy til you get us killed.” And then they both jump over the side of the bridge. Well, I’m gonna do it again. Here comes another blog blast. That’s what I’ve decided to call them. I’m gonna throw things around a little bit, put a kink in the chain. We’re gonna do the last five chapters of The Round Table, which was our last blog blast, and then we’re gonna start a series about the powerful women I’ve met who have had an effect on my life. It starts at 9:00 Friday night, and will be finished at 8:30 Sunday evening. I’ll release a blog every two and a half hours. So travel with me from Spanish swords, old lady gangsters, and red painted nails. Travel with me as I carry a bag of dice, watch a falling star, and end with Love.
Rat tailed Jimmy is a second hand hood
He deals out in Hollywood
Got a ’65 Chevy primered flames
Traded for some powdered goods
I know Ryche and Sassy got married. I’m not sure when. I wasn’t there. We didn’t make it to Sassy and Ryche’s wedding. We lived in Missouri at this point. It had to have been beautiful. Sassy in a wedding dress must have stopped hearts. And Ryche in a tux, well, Ryche in a tux I would only describe as an American Bond. When he had chosen Sassy, he wanted his drink straight, not shaken or stirred. Neat, off the rocks. He wanted a woman anything but watered down.
Well, we were poor, and to say poor, I mean, we had a fireplace and we closed all the doors so that the fireplace would heat the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room. My bedroom was so cold at night I couldn’t have water by the bed, and I slept under six blankets. We didn’t make it to Sassy and Ryche’s wedding because the church had to take a collection so we could fill our tank with enough gas for my mom to cook. I never got to see their reception and I don’t know what they danced to as their first dance, because Mumble’s Chevette had no heater and his feet were ice by the time he got back from delivering pizzas all night.
They came to stop at our house. I’m pretty sure it was during the road trip of their honeymoon, and they stayed with us for three, maybe four days. This would be the last time I ever saw Ryche. I don’t know his last name. I don’t know if he became a professor or worked in the private sector. There’s literally no way for me to find Ryche. Ryche is gone. But I’m gonna tell you how he left me.
I remember we got in the car. He was driving some kind of convertible. We drove up the street, Z Highway, into the heart of St. Robert. There used to be a Bass Pro in one of the mini malls. I find it funny to talk about Bass Pro now that I live in Springfield, and there is a supercenter of sorts dedicated to the country here, complete with museum and aquarium. But St. Robert used to have a Bass Pro. We went in there. “They’ll know what I need to know. They’ll be able to answer my question,” Ryche said as we walked in.
Fishing lures. Hunter orange. Fishing poles. Refrigerator full of bait. I think they had five shotguns locked up behind the counter. Ryche walked right up to the counter and smiled at the man. Clerk looked him up and down, scowled. Ryche said, “I’m gonna ask you a stupid question. First of all, I want you to know that I know what you see. I’m obviously a city boy. I obviously have no idea what I’m doing or where I am. My car is wrong. My clothes are wrong. And I’m gonna ask you a question because you work here and you might be able to cut it to me straight. How do I get to the Ozarks?”
The man looked disgusted. He would have spit on the floor if he wasn’t the one who’d have to clean it.
Ryche smiled. “That’s the expression I keep getting. Listen, I’m an idiot. But I came to see the Ozarks. I won’t leave without seeing it. I know it’s a stupid question. I don’t care. I don’t mind being stupid. This isn’t my home. I’m not supposed to know the area. If I pretended to, it’d be an insult to you. I’m from Milwaukee. I just want to experience your culture so that I can see how beautiful the world you live in actually is. So please don’t send me out there without answering my question.”
The man behind the counter picked up a white Styrofoam gas station cup and spit into it. “Son, you’re in the Ozarks. You’re standing right in it, breathing its air. You’re drivin’ its streets. You’re in the Ozarks. You just got off Route 66. Son, where else did you think you were gonna be?”
Ryche extended his hand. Man put down his Styrofoam cup and shook it.
“Thank you. Now, if you were gonna show me the Ozarks, where would you send me?”
The man smiled at him, spit in his cup again. “You wanna eat at the Star Restaurant. It’s right up the road across from Sonic and Dairy Queen. It’s attached to a hotel/motel kinda place. The lady that owns it’s name is Taxi. She’s a good woman. Tell her I sent ya. Tell her you want the chicken fried steak. I don’t care where you live in Milwaukee, friend. You insult her, I’ll find you.”
Ryche held his hands up. “I’m not here to insult anybody. I just wanna see an important part of America, that’s all.”
“There’s a bar—when you get your drinks, that’s where you need to go—called the Top Hat. I’ll be there after nine. I’ll let you buy me and my buddies a round.”
Ryche nodded at him and smiled. “See you at nine thirty.”
Back in the car, out to the street, he takes a left. And there’s something wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it. We’re on a two-lane road. We’re headed in the direction of home. Something doesn’t seem right.
“Holy shit!” Ryche screamed. “One way street, Jesse! This is a one way street. You let me drive down a one way street!” There’s not one but two trucks coming our direction, side by side in the only two lanes. He guns it, jerks the wheel, pulls into a parking lot, slams on the brakes. He grabs the wheel, both hands, takes a deep breath. Then he turns to me, “Jesse, look at me. No Jesse, look me in the eye. You don’t have to be afraid of me.”
My eyes are watering up now.
“I don’t want you to be afraid of me,” Ryche said.
I shook my head and tried to apologize.
“Look, it’s okay. I know you’re afraid. You’re afraid you’re gonna say the wrong thing and I’m not gonna think you’re cool.”
Then I did start to cry. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“Listen, I already know that you’re cool. Sassy told me you’re cool. Cool’s not something you can fake. Cool’s just something you have to be. Now wipe your eyes and look at me. I want you to look at me real hard. And I want you to think about what I say right now. This may be the most important thing you ever hear. The world only has one Jesse Teller. The only way you’re ever gonna be cool is to give that to the world, because they can’t get it anywhere else. Now, I’m having fun hanging out with you. Are you having fun hanging out with me?”
“Okay. Now I’m gonna play some Violent Femmes. Right down under there,” and he pointed at his stereo, at an odd-looking contraption. “That’s my equalizer. It can make these songs sound pretty much however you want them to sound. We’ll drive around for awhile. You play with the equalizer and get the music just how you want it. I heard there’s a Dairy Queen around here somewhere. Let’s go find it.”
They’re building empire
Johnny used to work after school
At the cinema show
Gotta hustle if he wants an education
Yeah he’s got a long way to go
Now he’s out on the street all day
Selling crack to the people who pay
Got an AK-47 for his best friend
Business the American way
Rose and Mumble sent me to my room early that night. It was the second night that Ryche and Sassy had been in town, and… “the adults want to talk.”
The adults want to talk means stories are gonna be told. Real stories, not middle school stories. Stories worth listening to were about to be told in my dining room. And this was the part I lived for. Hearing stories being told was my entire life. It’s all that mattered. So I’m shoved into the bedroom I share with Grasp. I’m listening to music for awhile before I hear a knock on the door. It’s Ryche.
“Can I come in for a second?”
“Yeah, yeah of course. It’s messy.” I looked at the floor, completely covered in dirty clothes and toys.
“I can handle messy. I had roommates in college.”
We sat down on my bed. It was the only place to sit. For years I thought it was weird, when I would go over to somebody’s house and there would be a chair in their bedroom or a couch in their bedroom. Well, my bed was a disaster. The entire right side of my boxspring had collapsed into the shape of a human body curled up. It was terrible. Absolutely uncomfortable. And startlingly embarrassing. We sat down. There was a little pink stool about four feet away from where my head lay on the bed, and my boom box sat on it. I was listening to Motley Crue when Ryche sat down next to me.
“What’s your favorite song, Jesse?”
“Doctor Feelgood by Motley Crue. Do you wanna hear it?”
“I’d like very much to hear it. Do you wanna play it for me?”
I got excited because this part I knew was cool. I could play Motley Crue for Ryche. He would see how great my music choice was. And then…
And then I don’t know. I don’t know what I expected to happen. Maybe he would tell my parents to stop messing with me. Maybe he’d give me some kind of, no, what I expected was that he would put me in his car and take me away with him. Rescue me, I guess.
He’s the one they call Doctor Feelgood
He’s the one that makes you feel alright
He’s the one they call Doctor Feelgood
He’s gonna beat your Frankenstein
And I’m jammin’. I’ve got my forearms on my knees. I’m banging my head. I wanna stand up and bang my head just to show him how cool I am, but I curse the junk and toys and trash that’s on the floor. I couldn’t set my feet right.
Let him soothe your soul, just take his hand
Some people call him an evil man
Let him introduce himself real good
He’s the only one they call feelgood
I’m singing the song. I’m singing it loud. I’ve worked my voice to sound exactly like Vince Neil. The song comes to an end, and I look at him. “Whadya think?” I could barely breathe. I’m sweating a little.
He looks at me, and he nods. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he says. “Listen, Jesse, I can hear what that song was trying to do. But it failed. I’m gonna play a song for you, and you don’t have to like it, but I do want you to listen to it.” He ejected my tape. It was a newer boombox, so there was a glide instead of a snicker snack. He opened a tape case, but it had thick papers and a lot of lyrics, so it opened with just a snap. And the tape whispered out of the case. There was a slide as he put it into my boombox, and a snap of finality as he closed it. His eyes were on the floor, his finger on the play button, when he asked, “Are you ready?”
And suddenly I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready at all.
“Take a breath, Jesse. I wanna give you something. Your mom’s in there trying to save our soul. I don’t know how many more times I’m gonna be able to come visit you, so I wanna give you this.”
“Yes, give, only if you want it.” And he pushed play. And I was scared, I guess, is what you’d call it. I’d never heard anything like it, I guess is what you would say. I wanted to run, I guess maybe. What I can say is that Ryche was building an empire. He was teaching me how to build an empire.
Can’t you feel it coming?
Can’t you hear it coming?
Can’t someone here stop it?
It’s the song Empire by Queensryche. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. If you haven’t heard it, then you haven’t heard anything like it either. Geoff Tate is the singer and his parents were both opera singers. He’s a trained opera singer who went heavy metal. Their drummer has spider legs for arms. His rhythms are incomprehensible. They have two amazing lead guitarists that are also rhythm guitarists. There’s no ego in this band. But it’s the bass. The monolith of bass guitarists.
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley
Queensryche did a lot of great things. They were the greatest heavy metal band that ever lived. There were bands that were as technically sound that wrote great music, but nothing ever touched Queensryche. He played the song Empire for me. And when he was done, I was crying.
He stopped the tape. He closed the case and set it on my boombox.
“Are you okay?”
I’d never heard such terrifying music before. It wasn’t that the content of the song was scary, but the music itself. I was unaware, just so unaware, that excellence on that level existed.
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
I tried to answer but couldn’t. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Don’t be scared. There’s a lot to hear. There’s a lot going on. That song is as loud and as busy as the world. I think you’re afraid of the world. You don’t have to be. I want you to keep this tape. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Ozymandias. The poem is about a traveler who finds a fallen statue that had at one point been great in the middle of a desert. The fallen statue tells how great it was. But all that can be seen around it is sand and wasteland. I think at some point, almost everyone becomes an Ozymandias. Great great grandfather has died, we hear one story of something he did. One plaque in the desert sand. More people will die. More people have died, and so many lives are remembered barely or not at all. I’m building a great statue of myself with Reality of the Unreal Mind. But one day it’ll collapse into the sand. One day no one will despair. My job is to make that day as far into the future as possible. I try to make Jesse Teller last as long as I can.
I say this to tell you that Queensryche never caught on as much as they should have. They let out a song called Silent Lucidity that everybody loved except me. Ozymandias. Not much is remembered of Queensryche. They’re a plaque in the sand. Not much more is remembered of Ryche. Just this last part I’ll give you. And then I’ll tell you that I didn’t remember Ryche at all until over a year after this book had been written and we’re adding Ryche’s chapters now. Ryche is my Ozymandias. And my family should look on his works and despair, because he’s gonna do two more things, two more things.
Ryche bought fireworks. I guess it was close to July 4th. My mother didn’t trust fireworks. There’s a story there. I don’t know it. I won’t guess. I don’t like telling other people’s stories. She said she would allow him to buy the fireworks but we had to be very, very careful when we lit them. Rose added, “And the kids have to be in the house. They have to be in their bedrooms. Fireworks are dangerous. Kids can’t be out here.”
Well at the Top Hat Lounge, where Ryche drank the night before, they told him where to go for fireworks. They also told him with a snicker over a beer, that he should go to Osage Beach. Bagnell Dam, they said, the true heart of the Ozarks is in the Bagnell Dam. He sold my parents to the idea that night, the night of Queensryche. But see, the boys at the Top Hat were playing with Ryche, because Bagnell Dam is a tourist trap. We didn’t know it, but it is. We couldn’t warn him, but it was. He came back selling the idea to everybody. But when he gave me the Queensryche tape, there was a knock on the door, and it was Rose. She was asking to see if Ryche had gotten lost, and he went back out for the “adults talking.”
The next day was supposed to be Bagnell Dam day, but Rose cooked up a reason why I couldn’t go. Ryche argued with her. He turned to Sassy, Sassy tried to talk sense to her. But my mom wanted Ryche away from me, so I was staying home from Bagnell Dam and everybody else was leaving. Ryche pulled me out onto the porch before they all left. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye.
“I’m gonna be furious with you when I come back. I’m gonna be so mad. I’m gonna yell at you.”
I was near the point of tears, but he was smiling. He was laughing, small laughing, chuckling. Conspiratorial laughing.
“When I get back, I’m gonna be so mad at you. They’re in your sister’s room, where me and Sassy have been sleeping.”
Then everybody piled in the car, and I stood on the porch, watching them pull away. They were gone for about five seconds before I was in my sister’s room. I was searching and looking and finally I lifted a pillow and found all the fireworks, a scrap of paper folded in half, and on top of it all, a zippo lighter. I opened the letter.
Don’t blow your fingers off.
Well, I grabbed the fireworks and took them outside, opened the wrapping and I looked at them all. I lit a wick of Black Cats, and when they machine gun fired off I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest, escape my chest like a beast escaping a cage, and flee down the road dragging my veins and arteries behind it. I realized the Black Cats were all wound together but if you unwound them you could fire them off one at a time.
So I fired them off one at a time. I was overly careful, for Ryche’s sake. I did a lot of lighting and running. I stuck one slightly into the dirt and lit it, and watched a spray of soil fly in every direction. I got my mom’s biggest steel pot, put it on the concrete, lit a pack of eight, maybe twelve, sixteen Black Cats, and put the pot over it. I’ll never forget that sound. But I did, didn’t I? I did forget that sound when I forgot Ryche. I remember it now, though. The pounding, the ringing, the explosions and the jumping of the pot. This was a heavy, heavy pot, and when it slammed the concrete of the patio between blasts, the patio itself rang like a bell, as if I had turned the entire patio into one loud tolling fired off over a dozen times.
Ryche didn’t stop at Black Cats. He had bottle rockets, too. I didn’t know what they did, but the packaging had a letter on it that said only, “Point away from yourself.” That’s when I learned what a bottle rocket was. This was my Fourth of July. I would be grounded for two weeks when they came back and all the fireworks were gone. Ryche kept his promise. He did yell at me. How much money he’d spent on those fireworks and how inconsiderate I was. And I was gonna get a broom, buster. And I was gonna pick all the exploded pieces of paper out of the yard and sweep the patio. And he was disappointed in me. And he thought I respected him more than that.
I cried. He walked away to the back of the room, and Mumble and Rose loomed over me, yelling at me. How good Ryche had been to me and I had betrayed him so. I looked between them, to the back of the room, where Ryche stood with his arms around Sassy, smiling at me and winking.
There’s one note I didn’t tell you about. It was wrapped around a firework. It said simply, When you light this, throw it across that massive driveway outside.
That was the first time I heard the pop of an M80.
And one more thing, just in passing. Not that we need to spend too much time on it or anything. But shortly after Ryche came walking back into my house from Bagnell Dam, he showed me a thing he had bought there. Over the sound of my mom saying it was too dangerous for me to touch, and I didn’t have any use for that anyway, Ryche got down on a knee, presented his palms in front of me with a sword laying on them. He looked me in the eye and smiled. “This is mine. You can’t have it.”
Far away in the background, Mumble was mumbling. “It’s pretty far-fetched, but he might wave that around and break something.”
“You can’t have it…” Ryche looked at me, his eyes swept the room and back at me, “…for obvious reasons. Just let me see it in your hands.”
I took it out of his hands. It took both of mine, but in a blink, I was holding a Spanish broadsword.
I held it out in front of me. I felt real for the first time. That’s wrong and cliché. Right? Maybe I felt right? That’s bad, too. That’s really bad. I guess I’d say it like this. As I held that Spanish broadsword out in front of me, and stared ahead through the screen door at the bright world beyond, I felt for a moment like I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I just didn’t know how.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.