In Memoriam, D. D. F.
“Open wide, you little snot!”
Instead of hangin’ downtown looking for somethin’ to dü, John Bartels insisted on driving straight to the Cabooze to drink in the car. He’d barely had his 1972 Mercury Monterey in park when he spun around, snatched a bottle of Seagram’s Seven from the back seat, opened it on the way up front, and shoved it down his brother’s throat. “Knock it off,” Tim gurgled. “The last time I did a 750 shot, I bought a headache that stung like a rattlesnake bit me.” He had Gary pass up another bottle and playfully pushed it into John’s gut.
“Awww, you guys love each other so,” joked Otto. “Closer than you know,” winked John, leaning over to plant a kiss on Tim’s puss. He wasn’t raised in the city, but John knew the Minneapolis music scene like the back of his hand, and the Replacements were his favorite band. Tonight was gonna be the others’ first Mats show. “This better be good,” Gary announced. “I could be gettin’ stoned with Steve Weuhrle.”
“Mr. Whirly,” John grinned. “What’s that dope smokin’ moron up to?” “Same old shit,” said Gary. “Spent all winter out at Buck Hill, even after the baby. He needs a god damn job. If he don’t get his act together, Wanda’ll find herself out on the street for a living.” “Look, everybody!” Otto tittered. “Gary’s got a boner!” “You’re high!” Gary sneered. “He’s right,” teased Tim. “Lookit those lovelines growin’ on your jeans. You know you’re sweet on Wanda.”
“Fuck off, both of you! Especially you, Otto. You’re no better than Steve. Completely shiftless when idle. You coulda gone to college, but you sit in your parents’ basement jerkin’ off all day!” “Fuck school!” snarled Otto. “And fuck you, too!” “Simmer down, kids,” steadied John. “This conversation is imploding faster than the Replacements themselves on an off night. Forget all that shit and focus on why we’re here: for you neophytes to meet the Mats, the greatest rock group ever. This is their hayday, gentlemen, and if the new songs I’ve been hearing are any indication, this next album will prove it, once and for all.”
“Yeah, well, I hate music,” Gary asserted. “I’m just takin’ a ride to the wild side to stare at chicks in leather.” “Be that as it may, it’s Hootenanny time!” proclaimed John, tossing his empty bottle into the middle of the street. “What the hell? Why do you always have to be so damn careless?” his brother demanded. “Don’t ask why!” John smirked. “Let’s go, gents! Gimme noise!”
“Lead the way, Johnny,” enthused Otto, climbing out of the car. “Cool kids don’t follow!” Tim exclaimed as he started sprinting toward the corner. “Last one to the door’s a rotten egg!” Everybody took up his challenge, giggling like little boys the whole way but looking like contestants in one of those spin-around the bat races. Tim beat Otto by a nose, panting, “Yeah, you lose! You lose, sucker!”
By the time the band kicked off their set with “White and Lazy,” John in particular was shitfaced drunk and trying to cozy up to a woman stage right he claimed had some sort of thing with one of the guys. Gary, meanwhile, only needed to hear one song. “The Replacements stink!” he pronounced. “Fuckin’ phony rock and roll. I need more cigarettes,” and off he went to drink at the bar. “Don't break your neck when you fall down laughing!” Tim called after him.
As the band waited for the lights to be turned up on stage so they could see better, somebody kept screaming, “Shutup!” again and again. “What’s his problem?” Otto wondered aloud. Tim barely had time to reply before the second number got going. “He’s just shoutin’ out a request; John sez that’s part of the fun.” By the time the Mats had crashed through their third song, Otto was hollering for Motörhead while Westerberg faux-crooned, “I’ve had a hell of a night.”
Tim smiled. This was going to be a hell of a night. The band was in good spirits and firing on all cylinders. Otto had volunteered to make regular runs for beer that Gary would order for them whenever he saw Otto coming, and Tim was glad Otto decided to go on the first of these as the initial chords to a song Tim had never heard before inexplicably sent him into a full body shiver. “Look me in the eye, then tell me that I’m satisfied.” He was a fan of the Replacements for the raw energy and reckless abandon that came through even on their records, but this slower open-gut gusher hit him hard, so he was happy he could close his eyes and sink into himself. “I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied.”
Tim wasn’t sure when, but at some point the woman up front had decided to dance with John. Eventually, though, either the novelty had worn off or she was too tired to keep up with him, and Tim noticed she was trying to head back to the stage, but John had grabbed her by the arm and wouldn’t let go. Extremely agitated, she started yelling at him, and before Tim could get over there, a bouncer separated them and was in John’s face. Uncharacteristically, his brother continued being an asshole, firing back at the big man like he was the one who outweighed the other by well over 100 pounds. The guy was dragging John away by the shirt when Tim finally made it through the crowd.
Stuck in the middle between them, he begged, “Please, please! He’s my brother. We’ll leave. I’m sorry. Really. Please!” The guy released John with a shove, threatening, “Go! While you can!” Tim motioned for Otto to get Gary while he pushed John (who was twisting his head back to bark, “I’m a customer!” and, then, “I’m gonna kick your door down!”) towards the entrance. As he was escorting John out, the band appropriately enough finished “Take Me Down to the Hospital.” John managed to turn himself around and, staring straight at the bouncer, let out a resounding “Fuck you!” that echoed across the whole place.
Outside, John was ranting about the incident. “We don’t want to know,” Tim snapped. He was pissed they were missing whatever was left of the show, and even more pissed he was gonna have to drive home drunk, for John clearly couldn’t even get them to the freeway. Stumbling back to the car, John changed his tune, saying he was sorry and asking if they were mad at him. “What the hell do you think?” Tim growled. “Love you till Friday, man.” “It’s Saturday,” Gary observed. “Exactly!” Tim replied.
Behind the wheel, Tim summoned all his powers of concentration, but it was obviously pretty touch and go, since it seemed like only a few seconds before Otto blurted out, “Red light!” “Run it!” pleaded John. “I think I’m gonna hurl.” Tim tried not to turn his head to look. “Willpower, dammit! Do not throw up all over this car!” He vomited on cue as they crossed the river, and Tim had to pull over on the edge of the interstate. “Shit!” Tim complained as John continued puking beside his door. “I’m in trouble. What if a fuckin’ cop comes along?” “If one does, your brother is treatment bound,” Gary muttered. Outside, the retching kept going on and on, until Otto gasped, “Johnny’s gonna die!”
It was a couple more minutes before they heard John moan, “Can you stand me on my feet?” As Tim put the car back in gear, he thought to himself, “One more chance to get it all wrong.” Thankfully, in only a few miles 94 became straight as an arrow all the way to the Capitol, and then, around the bend, it was sweet 35E, an even straighter shot all the way home, with only the two gradual curves where it briefly joined and then broke off from 694. It was just a matter of staying awake now.
Back at the house, Tim could finally wash his hands of his brother. He slipped into his room, right across from where John was throwing up again, knowing their mom would wake up in a minute or two and go to him. She was a stay-at-home nurse (friends called her Mary Bottles because of all the meds she miraculously managed for her family), so she’d help him through. Lying down at last, Tim didn’t know whether he felt deflated or elated. It was summer, which no Minnesotan takes for granted, but he was bored all day long. “Drive yourself right up the wall,” he’d warned Otto when he inquired about getting a job where Tim worked. “Everything drags and drags.”
He missed seeing Stacy. How’d that catchy new Mats song go? “Meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime.” He sat up. “I Will Dare.” He picked up the phone. Too late to call her house, but he could try Taco John’s. She was probably there, closing the store. He tried to imagine how she’d sound, what she’d say. Eventually, he settled on, “Really, Tim? A drunk dial? Color me impressed!”
He told himself nobody would hear it ringing over the music, anyway. “Not like I could leave a message or anything. I mean, how do you say, ‘I’m lonely,’ to an answering machine?” He winced when the dial tone suddenly cut out and a voice said, “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” He placed the phone back to rest in the receiver, and murmured to himself in the darkness, “Die within your reach.”
Just then, he could see from under the door that a light had flashed on in the hall, and his mother started speaking: “If you need help….” John began sobbing “Sorry, Ma,” over and over, and Tim was pretty sure he heard her whisper to him, “Let it be, son. Let it be.”