Heartbreak City

His name was Marion Dinklage but he had always been called Dink. In grade school, it was peppered at him as an insult, a tease, but the initial wave of anger he’d swallowed wore off rather quickly, as he soon realized that Dink was actually kind of better than Marion. Yes, it had been his grandfather’s name, a World War II vet who’d always scared him away with his two missing fingers, but he’d read somewhere once that Marion was the first name to ever start off as feminine and make the switch to masculine. Most other gender-neutral name moved from male to female. To this day, some four decades later, he was still Dink.

After his wife Jess had left him for a co-worker named Brad—Brad—he’d tried to reinvent himself for the online dating profiles, writing his name down on paper and scratching it out and rewriting it and mixing and matching and trying to find something new without much luck. Jess wouldn’t call him Dink. She’d thought it was demeaning. But he cringed when he heard her say Marion. Not cringe, not literally, but it did fill his chest and head with a shot of spreading heat, made his scalp itch with shame, that feeling you get when you’re caught in a lie. He’d tried to convince her that Dink didn’t mean dink, the penis kind of dink, but was simply his name—like you’d call a McDonald Mac or Hatch for Hatcher or something. He felt more like himself as Dink than he did Marion, but letting him be himself wasn’t an option for Jess, he’d realized.

The woman’s name he was driving 227 miles for according to the GPS was Heidi K. He liked that name. Nice and normal and feminine. And she apparently didn’t mind his name, either, since she’d agreed to meet him. They’d crossed paths on the message boards, first on Pissaboyzrock.com and then later on some of the comment threads on YouTube.

HeidiK85: luv this video, 1st song i made out 2
DinkMan: Me too! Good memories!

And they were good memories. He’d begun dating Karen Bassofogus soon after going to a concert in 1989 with a group of friends. Bon Jovi had headlined, with Cinderella opening and Pissaboyz kicking things off with a short but kick-ass set. The Jove were on a summer shed tour and Pissaboyz were on the ticket just for some of the East Coast dates, from Portland, Maine, down to, say, Rhode Island. He hadn’t been a huge Jon Bon Jovi fan and certainly hadn’t been a Cinderella fan—he’d thought they were a little too gimmicky—but Pissaboyz were a cool local story. They played all the small venues in the area, from the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom all the way down to little shitholes like The Palace in Revere. Dink had never gotten to see them at any of these small shows, and regretted this missed opportunity once they’d ‘made it’ and released their first album and video. “C+ in Sex Skool” reached number 88 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of ’89, and the video made a cameo appearance at number nine on MTV’s Top Ten three nights in a row before slipping. Not the kind of numbers that impressed many, but as far as Dink was concerned, the local boys had done good. He was hooked.

The argument during the car ride to that concert, this time, revolved around which album—historically—opened with the best song. Side one, track one. The best ever. Every long ride dissolved into yelling when he was with his best friend Gary. Gary immediately began barking about Zeppelin IV, but that was all he would say: “Zeppelin IV,” as if the debate were over already. Gary’s girlfriend, in the back seat with Karen, made a case for Van Halen I and “Runnin’ with the Devil,” something about that long falling opening note. Dink, in the passenger seat, checked out of this argument and dropped his forehead to the cool glass. He lifted his right hand and—with his pinky, wrote “Punched in the Nuts” in the fogged glass. Then he erased it with one long wipe of his fist.

He’d always been proud that he was such a big fan of a band that wasn’t necessarily on other peoples’ radar. He wasn’t just a follower of the herd strutting around in Bon Jovi T-shirts like everyone else at this concert. This, he felt, gave him a little cred. He liked that when they’d arrived at Great Woods for that show in ’89 early enough to catch the opener-for-the-opener there were only a smattering of heads and a lot of blue seats. He knew something others didn’t, that was the way he saw it. Karen Bassofogus fell for Pissaboyz that night, and he’d fallen for her, a big connected circle.

He’d known Karen in a peripheral way prior to that show. She was a friend of Lucy Piller’s, Gary’s girlfriend. In fact, he’d had exactly two conversations with her: once was at a party out in the Pits, the sand and rock wasteland that had been behind Gary’s house and was now a development of condos. He’d been leaning on a slanted boulder that was warm on his back from the long summer day, even though it had now been dark for a couple hours. Lucy climbed up the embankment with Karen. He didn’t remember ever meeting her before, but from that distance of about ten feet she opened a beer and drank it with a sip so brief it had to be a fake sip, and said to him, “Hi Dink.”

He picked the back of his head off the rock. “Hi.”

About four months later he and Gary were standing in Gary’s driveway in the freezing cold smacking a tennis ball around with hockey sticks when an orange Toyota Corolla pulled up, its engine whining from being in a gear too low. When Gary walked up to the car the window cranked down, slipping somehow lower on the left side than the right. Dink saw there were a couple girls in the car. The driver was Lucy. Gary kissed her and they talked for a minute. Dink slapped the tennis ball against the garage door, so hard that the ball came back like a bullet and skipped off the side of the Corolla. Gary threw a What the fuck, man? look over his shoulder while Dink chased after the ball. Then he saw Karen’s head jut forward, leaning across Lucy. “Hi Dink.”

“Hi.”

At the show most of the crew he was with got restless after the first song or two from the Pissaboyz set and one by one drifted off to hit the bathroom and get soft pretzels and Bon Jovi New Jersey T-shirts. Karen had been four seats away but shuffled down to stand next to him, the only two left. “Hi Dink,” she said, her chin lifting toward him.

He peeled his eyes from Jack Slater’s demonic guitar solo and looked at her, blinking. “What?

She stuck her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and pushed herself onto her toes. “I said hi!

Dink glanced up at Jack Slater and then back to her. “Hi.”

Lead singer Kriss Diamond shuffled out from the side stage with a bottle of beer in his hand, picking up his mic from one of the amps. He took a slug from his beer and then held the bottle high in a salute. The crowd cheered, but it was thin and underwhelming with so many seats still unfilled. Dink bellowed back: “Wooooooo!” Kriss Diamond had lost his shirt somewhere backstage and so now was wearing just a pair of black Spandex, tight like a second skin and sitting low on his hipbones, white Reebok high-tops with Velcro tabs flapping free, a pink silk scarf twinkling around his neck. Dink had seen him in the videos and in some pics from Hit Parader and Circus and Metal Edge, but now, seeing him in person, he couldn’t believe how tanned and in shape and slippery he looked. Dink, a little on the doughy side with what he’d hoped was just leftover baby fat, didn’t even take his shirt off to swim. Gary liked to tease that he probably took showers in a T-shirt.

He’s so good!” Karen yelled up to him.

He wondered if Kriss Diamond was his real name; probably not. What about Jack Slater? Maybe, but no, probably not.

What?

She put her hand on his shoulder, pushed herself to her toes. “He’s so good!” she yelled in his ear.

Dink nodded. “I know, right?” He couldn’t help but smile at the wonder of it all, this weird everything-is-lined-up-perfectly-in-the-universe sensation he was having: Pissaboyz just thirty feet in front of him hemorrhaging an aggressive version of “Punched in the Nuts” (track four from the tape), while Karen Bass-for-short had ended up directly next to him and was forced to practically kiss his cheek in order to be heard. It was something he knew he would tuck away into a folder in his head and keep, wrapped in a protective plastic covering like one of Gary’s vintage Conan the Barbarian comic books.

And here he was, twenty-something years later and probably a hundred and ten pounds heavier—the baby fat never having gone away—taking the memory out of the plastic again, like he had done so many times over the years, flipping through its pages, running his thumb over its textures, pulling in its still-sweet smell. He drove under a green highway sign but through the slapping of the squeaky windshield wipers he could only see that it said ‘Portland’, and under it, ‘Biddeford’, but couldn’t see the mileage or the exit numbers. The windshield, fogged and streaked with rain, gave everything a moving, warbled fluidity, like he was looking deep into a dream.

HeidiK85: AMAzing! Seen them 6x & they never played this live
DinkMan: Me neither. Probably added it to the set list later.
HeidiK85: Always 1 of my faves
DinkMan: Definitely. Must be why they added it. A fan favorite.
HeidiK85: Pretty sure this was just a b-side orignaly.
DinkMan: Yes. This was the b-side of their 2nd single from the Punched in the Nuts album. 2nd single was Thaw These Frozen Tears. Never made the top 100.
HeidiK85: that song waz good, but bside so much better. Total instant classic!!
NunoB: these douchebags opened for us in 94 and were total assholes. And we stole there weed because of it.

The B-side was called “Heartbreak City” and the YouTube video was a shaky and blurry handheld camera view from some bar in Connecticut. The pixelated date in the corner of the frame said it was 10/10/98, so this would have been not Pissaboyz, but Kriss Diamond solo. He looked a little thicker than in ’89 and his hair was shorter and spikier, but he sounded great, even through the double filter of the camera mic and his laptop speakers. The silhouette of heads in front of the stage were looking left and right and some were looking away from the stage, voices carrying pointless conversation creating this buzz of audible landmines between the stage and the dude holding the shaky camera. No one was paying much attention. The YouTube video, Dink saw, had 81 hits. Compared to the 296,984 who’d watched a clip of Winger performing “Seventeen” in a similar 2007 clip taken in some random bar, this number seemed weirdly low. Then again, Dink for a long time had assumed he was one of the only guys in the world who even remembered who Pissaboyz was, never mind still followed them and knew their B-side tracks. In some ways, the fact that there were 80 others was kind of amazing. And the fact that there was a Heidi K. out there somewhere who was as big a fan as he was even more amazing.

 

It was Karen who had clued him in to “Heartbreak City.” Not many people were buying 45 singles anymore, but she was. A few days after the concert Dink found himself in her presence again, this time at Sun Del Sol, the tanning place where she worked. He was there with Gary and Lucy, of course, waiting to pick her up so they could go to Brigham’s for cheeseburgers and frappes. It was all just a deliberate set-up, since after the concert it had been obvious to Gary and Lucy, and probably Karen herself, that Dink was crazy about her. At Brigham’s they’d all sat at the counter—Gary said he liked it better than a booth because he felt like he was sitting at a bar. There weren’t four seats in a row so it was Gary, Lucy, Karen, an old guy sipping a black coffee and reading a folded-in-half racing form, then Dink.

Karen was kneeling on her swivel stool. She leaned forward and swiveled a little, stretching across the old man. “Guess what I bought today?” she asked Dink.

Dink took a hard pull on his straw but couldn’t get any of his coffee frappe. Too thick. He felt a headache blooming. “Ouch,” he sighed. “What?”

“The ‘Thaw These Frozen Tears’ single,” she said. “At Strawberries.”

“Oh yeah?” He liked the song, but not nearly as much as the harder, edgier stuff, like “C+ in Sex Skool” or “Pull It” or even their metal cover of “Great Space Coaster”.

“You should hear the B-side, Dink. You’ll shit yourself, it’s so good.”

He flushed with panic for a moment, certain that she had said that because she knew about his accident, how a couple years earlier, his sophomore year of high school, he’d gotten drunk for the first time on Knickerbocker beer and shots of peppermint schnapps and woke up early the next morning in Gary’s parents’ bathroom with his jeans and underwear halfway down his thighs and diarrhea on his ass cheeks, the tiles, and pink bathmats. But he looked at Karen, studied her smile for a few seconds, and realized pretty quickly that there was no malice in that smile. She was the real deal. Still, somewhere inside him was a pang of resentment—that this girl who four days earlier didn’t know this band was now telling him about some hidden gem B-side.

Later, he found himself in her room. Gary and Lucy had been there too but suddenly they were gone. Karen put the 45 on her record player. Dink sat on the edge of her bed and watched her. He looked down at her ass but felt creepy about it and looked at the walls. She had a poster of Jon Bon Jovi in a sleeveless jeans jacket and a Superman tattoo on his arm, smirking down at him with his frizzed hair. There was also a Mötley Crüe poster, which wasn’t as glossy as the others, a little smaller and duller. He was pretty sure she had probably won it at the carnival last spring in the parking lot of the mall, one of those dart games where you throw at the posters and can’t lose because the whole plywood wall is covered in cheap posters. He’d tried for a Pissaboyz poster at that same carnival but couldn’t hit it for the life of him. He went home with accidental Rick Springfield, Olivia Newton-John, Quiet Riot, Dr. Hook, and Andy Gibb posters but no Pissaboyz.

He loved that she had guys like Vince Neil and Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx sneering down at her while at the same time she slept tucked under a Holly Hobby bed spread. It told him that she was dynamic. He glanced at her ass again involuntarily.

 

Dink veered the car onto the ramp of the rest stop, somewhere over the New Hampshire border. The rain was coming hard now and it was tough to see. His ass was starting to hurt—like it often did after that first hour or so—and he wanted to buy a six-pack and maybe a Snickers bar. Money was tight these days, since the layoff, and so it would be smarter, he thought, to down a couple beers in the parking lot of the Rock Quarry before going inside. The cover charge, according to their website, was ten bucks tonight. He wasn’t about to shell out another ten bucks for every round of suds. He’d buy Heidi K. a beer or two if she wanted even if she had offered first—it was the right thing to do, but he was only going to buy himself one. He’d nurse it all night if he had to.

He pulled into a space and shut the car off, but left the key turned enough to keep the music going. The rain had surged and he decided to wait a couple minutes to see if it let up at all. Plus he was halfway through “Heartbreak City” from a CD he had burned just before he’d left his apartment—a collection of B-sides and live cuts that had taken him forever to track down. This copy he planned on giving to Heidi K. He sat and listened: to the rain on the roof, to the song, to the traffic on 95 in the distance. He never got out of his car when he had a Pissaboyz song on, always sitting and listening until it was over. It seemed, in his mind, rude not to.

 

Karen used her pinky to lower the needle onto the record. Dink liked that. After a couple crackles the song opened with a piano intro that reminded him just slightly of the Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home.” Karen looked over her shoulder at him and smiled, sort of an I told you this would be cool look. Dink put his hands onto his knees and smiled back, a beat too late as she’d already turned back around. A single electric guitar joined the piano, clean and crisp, and now it sounded a little bit like Journey—although he hated to think that. Karen air-guitared for a couple seconds, scrunching her face and looking back at him, then self-consciously stopped and giggled. Dink thought he just might have fallen in love.

Nights left staring at the silent phone
Your kiss is on my mind…again.

He was hooked. On the song. On her. On this moment that he’d somehow stumbled into. Karen stood with her back to him, watching the record turn, one plush pink-socked foot resting atop the other. Dink looked at the back of her head; she was chewing her thumbnail. To her right was a dresser, the drawers partway open and askew, the top stacked with family photos, a senior portrait of her older sister, and a blurry picture of her and Lucy smiling cheek-to-cheek. There was a short stack of folded T-shirts, capped with two or three bras, one white and one sort of beige and another pink, thin straps criss-crossed and hanging over the edge. As the song built into a crescendo of a chorus, busy and layered and rich, she looked again over her shoulder at him. Dink pulled his eyes from her bra, accidentally looked at her ass, and then looked at her face. He swallowed and nodded that he liked the song.

It’s just another night alone in Heartbreak City
Another night drowning in Lake Self-Pity
Just another night
Lost in Heartbreak,
Heartbreak,
Heartbreak City

When she turned away he let his gaze wander back to the bras. Later, when Gary and Lucy came upstairs from the kitchen and accused them of being a couple of horndogs, Karen put the record back into its paper sleeve and was careful to slide it neatly in with her other records. He loved that she took it seriously, that her records and tapes weren’t scattered about like they were in Gary’s room. He was at once annoyed with Gary for interrupting but at the same time grateful. His heart was racing in his chest, his palms warm and damp. Karen, embarrassed at the horndog accusation, was quick to leave the room with them, laughing off any idea that this had been anything but innocent. Dink stood from her mattress and dried his hands on his thighs. He looked at the bras again, at the pictures, then back at the bras and the tiny metal clasp that hooked the straps together. He picked up a bottle of perfume: Poison, it said. He leaned into it and sniffed. It smelled like her and he was tempted to spray just a tiny bit onto his wrist the way he’d seen girls do, just so he could preserve the moment a little bit. But he felt creepy about it and worried that Karen or maybe Gary would pop their head back in while he was doing it and his life would be over. He put it back down, his hand trembling with a surge of adrenaline that had nowhere to go.

 

After all that, they’d only dated about six weeks. Mostly double dates with Gary and Lucy, out to dinner once in a while or just to hang out in the downstairs family room at Gary’s. They went to a couple movies, to see Ghostbusters II and a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie called Cyborg that was a total rip-off of The Terminator. There were a handful of occasions when it was just the two of them—Karen and Dink—out for pizza, bowling, or just sitting in Dink’s Oldsmobile Cutlass listening to Warrant and Tesla and White Lion but mostly Pissaboyz, because the Cutlass had the only tape deck Dink owned. They’d made out in that car a couple times, maybe three or four even, but it never went much farther than that. When it was over six weeks later Dink was crushed. He didn’t know what had happened, how it had gone wrong. As far as he was concerned Karen had been perfect: cute, funny, a little tomboyish, and a huge Pissaboyz fan. There wasn’t another one like her out there, despite Gary’s more-fish-in-the-sea bullshit. Dink would leave his house in the weeks following and just go for long drives listening to music, only to end up in the mall parking lot having a good cry. Once he punched the rear-view mirror off the windshield because he’d caught a glimpse of his red, wet eyes and thought he looked pathetic. Karen, meanwhile, started dating Rich Isk soon after and claimed that she and Dink had really been not much more than friends all along.

 

The weirdest thing happened in the rest area parking lot in front of the liquor store: Dink spotted Jess’s car. Silver Dodge Charger. She’d bought it two days after they’d first separated. To Dink, it had felt like some kind of a fuck you, rubbing in the hard truth that she was turning her back and moving on and take a good look at the wheels I just bought. He walked briskly past it, his shoulders hunched against the rain, eyeing it sidelong. The streetlamp lit it like it was glow-in-the-dark, ten thousand rain drops illuminated. The liquor store sign reflected off the side window, preventing him from seeing inside. But he knew the car.

He went in and snatched a six-pack of Miller High Life cans. He hadn’t had these in a long while, but it was what they used to steal from Gary’s dad and take into the woods, and once in a while, especially when he had Pissaboyz on the mind, he wanted the High Life. Distracted, he forgot the Snickers bar.

This time, he didn’t walk past the Charger, but cut by it one car over so as to not run into her. He turned at the back end of it and looked at the license plate. Massachusetts. Definitely Jess’s. Now he stopped in the middle of two cars, paper bag getting wet under his arm, his stomach felt tight but his head light, disconnected. He licked rain from his lips and backed up a step, hesitated, looked around, then turned and moved up alongside the car. Bad enough she’d left him, but why buy the car? Why turn up that following weekend to pick up more clothes and have to show off like this? Why had she had to be so mean about it?

He adjusted the beer under his arm and leaned toward it, shielding his eyes with his hand, trying to cut the glare. His nose was almost against the side window when it buzzed and slid down. Dink recoiled but tried to recover. He blinked away the rain, looking at a kid no more than twenty, skinny shoulders, ears plugged with those earring hole things. A piece of metal pierced his eyebrow. “What the fuck?” the kid said.

The beers slid and Dink had to grab the bag with his free hand, doubling over. “Sorry,” he said, pulling the bag into his midsection. “I just…”

The kid wrinkled his brow. The car smelled like marijuana, Dink thought.

“Nice car, that’s all.” Dink wiped his wet chin with his shoulder. He thought the bag was going to tear through soon.

“Fuck away from my car. Beat it.”

But Dink crouched there a moment longer, stuck, trying to think of something light to say, something to save face. His mouth opened but he had nothing.

“You serious?” the kid said, his neck stretching tense. “Fuck off you fuckin’ freakshow…”

Now he backed away, deciding that instant it was best to cut his losses. The bag gave out but he was able to catch most of the beers.

 

He was 36 when he married Jess. She was 38. Dink had started a new job driving a bus for the one of the state university campuses, and had decided to take advantage of the free-tuition-for-employees benefit and maybe get a master’s degree to complement his bachelor’s in theater arts that he’d never done anything with. Jess had been in the class too. She was the assistant director at a local theater pursuing a master’s in fine arts. Dink would never claim that they’d hit it off, exactly, but he was drawn to her maturity, her drive, her intelligence. She held qualities that he himself lacked, and when she seemed to take an interest in him, he felt proud. He felt saved.

His social life popped, from virtually nonexistent to busy most weekends, attending gallery openings and fundraisers and theater premieres on Jess’s heels. He started a Facebook account for the sole purpose of showing off (he’d avoided getting on that bandwagon for just the very opposite reason: he was embarrassed at how flimsy and thin his life was). Now he updated his status several times a week and was always sure to snap a few iPhone photos to instantly upload. He felt part of the pack; like this had been the best decision of his life.

But she had a child already—not really a child since she was eighteen and lived in Florida with her father—and wasn’t interested in another, though she never outright told Dink this. Still, her disinterest in sex was telling. He brought home a dog one day, a rescue, cute little mutt with brown and white patches on its side and one floppy ear, and Jess made him bring it back. She said he couldn’t just go ahead and do things like that, make big decisions, without consulting her. She’d used that exact word, consulting, and Dink for the first time felt like what they had together was, more than anything else, an arrangement.

Shortly after he’d been laid off from work and, as a result, withdrew from the class he’d registered for—Models of Dramatic Structure—Jess came into the bedroom, where he’d been giving her some space to watch Grey’s Anatomy, and stood in the doorway. He was sitting at the desk skimming eBay with his headphones on, listening to first some Van Halen and then some Sammy Hagar solo and eventually, of course, his Pissaboyz collection. It was another thing she hated—not just Pissaboyz but all of it. Hence the headphones. In her defense (he’d tell anyone who asked), in her defense it all reminded her of a tough time in her life: waitressing and taking classes at night, getting pregnant at nineteen and a half, quitting school, quitting her friends, her life. She was depressed a lot back then, struggling, anxious, making the wrong decisions time and again, picking the wrong guys. Bands like Bon Jovi only reminded her of what she’d missed. Reminded her of what she’d had to give up. Pissaboyz, she said, just plain sucked.

He’d seen her shadow on the wall but ignored it for a moment, staring at the screen. He was looking at a Damn Yankees backstage pass from the tour in ’90 with Pissaboyz on the undercard. The asking price was fifteen bucks. When her shadow didn’t go away he craned his head around and lifted an earphone. Vintage Radio Shack headphones, circa 1982. He’d bought them a year ago online, the same pair he’d wanted a long time ago but never had a stereo to plug them into. “Hey,” he said.

“Can you turn that off a minute?”

“Turn it off?”

Jess folded her arms. “Yes, please. Turn it off.”

Instead he lifted them the rest of the way off his head, letting them hover above him. “I can hear you.”

“Can you just put them down please and turn them off…”

“What, I can hear you. What?”

She frowned and looked toward the window. Dink thought that she looked old and too skinny, too bony. “I’m not happy,” she told him.

Through the headphones he could hear the start of a live version of “Pull It,” Pissaboyz’ third single and track five from Punched in the Nuts.

Pull it, Pull it, Pull it,
Pull it, oh, Pull it, oh
Again and again and again and again…

“You’re not happy how? What’s that mean?”

“Can you shut that off for a minute?”

Pull it, Pull it…

“No, I’m listening to this. I like it. Just tell me what you mean.”

Jess rolled her eyes. Dink could see that her tongue was poking around the corners of her mouth, pushing against her cheek. She shook her head. “Nothing. What-the-fuck-ever.”

 

And that had been the extent of their divorce conversation. The next night she stayed at a girlfriend’s, and within two weeks had her own apartment and then the Dodge. With her gone, Dink yanked the headphone jack out of the stereo and cranked his music while sweeping up stray dust bunnies left behind where her dresser, sofa, and china cabinet had been.

 

According to Wikipedia, Pissaboyz’ first album Punched in the Nuts sold a total of 190,000 copies in 1989. Consider other top rock artists that same year: Skid Row’s debut self-titled album went five times Platinum—five million copies sold; Aerosmith’s 1989 release Pump sold nine million; Even Warrant’s debut Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich sold two million. Those who followed Pissaboyz thought they had the songs and the look to deserve a bigger slice of the (cherry) pie, but with a glam rock genre that was oversaturated in 1989 and only a couple years away from bursting for good, they never registered on the cultural landscape.

Dink read all this online. Unemployed, he became in essence an online detective-slash-investigative reporter. In the months after Jess left, he’d landed himself a temp-to-perm job doing some fundraising for a nonprofit theater group, but one lunch hour he’d been sitting at his desk like he always spent lunch, eating a peanut butter and jelly and, regrettably, got bored and quickly visited a couple porn sites after checking the usual Pissaboyz sites. He wasn’t even sure why he’d done it, and for that matter barely remembered making the decision. At any rate, the computer froze up on him, burning a blurred-but-recognizable image on his screen that he was helpless to do anything about. He clicked the mouse relentlessly, tried to log off, tried to shut the computer down, and eventually unplugged it and plugged it back in. As his coworkers began rolling back in from lunch, Dink panicked and poured his Coke on the keyboard. The keyboard turned sticky but didn’t affect the computer, of course. He was let go that afternoon when Pierce Grumbly from tech support fixed his computer and then told his boss Belinda what had happened.

He found out that Pissaboyz recorded a follow-up album in 1991 called Hit with the Uglystick but it had never been released on account that no one was touching “hair band shit” anymore. They printed their own copies and sold them at shows.

They broke up in ’93. The bottom of the Wikipedia entry said that Kriss Diamond, lead singer, went on to record one solo effort and then formed a new band, Hyper. Hyper put out a couple self-released records in the 90s, then dismantled. The page said that Kriss still wrote music and played “the old stuff” all over the northeast and worked as a middle school music teacher in New Hampshire. Dink couldn’t picture it—thought it had to be a joke. He knew Wikipedia wasn’t exactly reliable, but a quick search of Google Images confirmed that Kriss Diamond actually did kind of look like a middle school teacher these days. More middle school teacher than rock star, at any rate.

Dink spent hours trying to find out what his real name was, or the name he went by now, and where in New Hampshire he taught school, but he hadn’t had much luck. He did, however, manage to find both Hyper CDs on eBay (they were okay but sounded like he was trying too hard to be contemporary; i.e. alternative). Still, there were a couple tracks he liked, ballads that reminded him a little bit of the old stuff. He also bid on a signed guitar—the one Jack Slater played throughout the 1989 tour, the one with the giant PB emblem on it—for Pissaboyz: the P etched in flames and the B in icicles. He went up to two hundred fifteen dollars but then gave up. It sold for one thousand six hundred and five. He was disappointed but also somewhat elated: this idea that there was a community out there who not only knew who Pissaboyz were but remembered them and loved them, who took time out of their day to look them up online and even bid on items like the PB guitar. It was crazy.

He’d met Heidi K. online on February 10th. 177 days since Jess had left. 190 days since being fired from his bus job. 61 days after being fired from the fundraising job. He’d sent out fifteen resumes total since the bus job; gone on two interviews; had zero callbacks; read nine books; gone to 28 movies by himself; been through the McDonald’s drive-thru 70 times (but only on 60 different days); and cried, at least a little, on all but two days. All this he kept track in a notebook that he originally began carrying to log job openings, applications sent, and interviews offered, then was opened up to include possible women he’d email from the three online dating sites of which he was a member. According to the notebook, he’d emailed forty women and received four replies, all thank-you-but-no-thank-you-good-luck-in-your-search emails. He brought the notebook out with him every day, usually to the public library or sometimes to a Dunkin’ Donuts just to get out of the house and do some people-watching.

At first, he “watched” Heidi K. from afar. That is, he kept coming across her posts but never commented. Usually he’d see her posts on the message boards on Pissaboyzrock.com, which he’d dedicated two or three straight days reading but since then had waned from it because he’d read every single comment dating back to 2007 when the website was built. Then one night when he was on YouTube tracking down rare Pissaboyz videos he found her again in the comments, first on the official video to “C+ in Sex Skool” (“#9 on MTV…just two slots b/hind Bad Medicine! Gotta give PBoyz mad props“), then commenting on a clip from a live show in 1990 opening for Tesla (“I was at this show!“) But it was when he’d come across a clip of Kriss Diamond and guitarist Jack Slater sitting on metal chairs and playing an unplugged version of “Heartbreak City” on Arsenio Hall that he finally had to write something back to her. Nobody knew this throwaway song. Not even his closest friends, not even back in ’89 when it came out as a B-side, not even the couple thousand people at that concert the day he’d finally gotten close to Karen. No one knew this song. Except Karen, of course. And Heidi K. He had to say something.

 

The marquee by the road in front of the Rock Quarry said:

Mon: James Fork Band
Tue: Maneater – Tribute to Hall&Oates
Wed: Sleezeball Sallys w/Kriss Diamond
Thu: Cou try Karaoke
Fri: Dreamweaver – 70s Tribu e
Sat: DJ Dave

Dink sat in the half-empty parking lot and sipped a Miller High Life. With the wipers off the front windshield developed a wavy film of water, blurring the front of the building. The sign fluttered in the wind and he expected it to blow over and away, but it never did. Every so often a car would pull in and people would speed-walk across the lot, shoulders hunched and hands stuffed in their pants pockets or sometimes their purses held over their heads against the rain. He wondered if one of these girls scurrying was Heidi K. He didn’t think so because everyone he saw was with someone or part of a group. He imagined she would be alone. Then again, there was no promise of that. No one had ever said that this was a date, not in any official sense. She could be with friends. He put away the rest of the beer and then burped down toward his chest. The side window was starting the fog over and he swiped his sleeve across it. Two girls walked right by his car, talking, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying with the windows up and his radio on. They both wore some kind of windbreaker jackets but he imagined them being knockouts underneath. Maybe one of them was Heidi K. He looked in the rear-view mirror and checked his nostrils, then his front teeth.

Heck, for all he knew Karen Bassofagus was going to be here. Biddeford, Maine wasn’t that outrageously far from Massachusetts. She could have made the ride just as easily as he had. And no one else he knew was such a big fan of PB. Why wouldn’t she be here for this? He reached to the back seat floor and snapped another can of beer from the rings. He’d found a radio station up here that was playing some 80s stuff: REO Speedwagon and then Rick Springfield “Bop Till You Drop” followed by Ratt “Way Cool Junior.” Gotta love Maine. He didn’t hear this stuff on stations back home, not on a regular basis. He popped his second beer and turned up the guitar intro to “Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison. The truth was, part of him—his cynical side, the big side—doubted that Karen really listened to the band anymore. Part of him believed that Karen was probably like a lot of people in that she recognized these songs when they came on the radio but sometimes forgot who sang them, even as she turned them up in excitement. “I used to love this song!” she might say. He never understood that. I used to love this song! Do you hate it now? Why? What changed? And if you hate it, why are you smiling? Why are you turning it up?

He’d run into Karen eleven years ago. It had been in a Walgreens, totally random because he knew they didn’t live in the same town anymore, and this Walgreens was neither in his town or hers. But there she was, first time he’d seen her in, what, a decade? Pushing a stroller up an aisle, plastic wheels grinding over the linoleum, a dark-haired toddler reaching for the shelves. He hadn’t even known if it was a boy or a girl. Didn’t really even glance down, actually. Karen looked weird—her face thinner and her hair shorter, much shorter, wearing dark jeans and black boots almost up to her knees. Silver bracelets rattled on her left wrist. She stopped to look at the greeting cards and the toddler pulled one off the rack and was bending it in its fists and Karen never even noticed. Dink stood at the end of the aisle with a bottle of motor oil in his hand and a Snickers Almond. He watched her pick up a card, read it, put it back. Push a lock of hair behind her ear. Pick up another card. She looked weird somehow. Older and poised were maybe the words he was looking for. Reserved, maybe. While she read another card she reached with her free hand and wrestled away the card the baby had ruined. Dink glanced at her ass when she bent but didn’t really recognize it anymore. Not that it wasn’t nice—it was still nice—but it wasn’t what he remembered was all.

Then she glanced up in his direction and heat flared through his body and he stepped away. It had just been a quick look, nothing that signaled any kind of recognition, not from that distance. He pretended to look at a shelf of Beanie Baby Halloween toys, trying to swallow and trying to regulate his heart. First girl he’d ever kissed, made out with, right over there, fifteen feet away. Touched her breast, too, over the shirt. The heat panic started to retreat and was replaced by something more pleasant—pride. She looked good, and he found himself wishing that the other customers in the store knew what he knew.

When he took a cautious step back to the end of the card aisle he saw that she was moving the other way, toward the register. He had to say hello. It would have been weird not to. They’d already looked at each other. So he walked after her, taking his time, stopping to pretend to look at a sympathy card but looking past it at her boots clacking on the floor and then her ass (again!) and then the baby’s fingers reaching for more stuff. It was Karen but it was like it wasn’t Karen, some kind of alternate universe version of her.

He ended up, not accidentally, standing behind her in line. Right behind her. The small white tag of her sweater was poking up from the swoop of her neckline, just above the top smooth knot of her spine. He could feel his pulse thrumming in his neck and his armpits felt suddenly damp and itchy. Karen placed her pocketbook on the top of the stroller and rifled through it, metal bracelets jangling. He looked down at himself and wished he wasn’t holding these things in his hand so he could untuck his shirt a little to hide his stomach. Thinking back to the last time she’d seen him, probably what, ten and a half years ago, he’d been about a hundred and sixty pounds. When he’d last weighed himself—which he really didn’t do anymore—he’d been 255. And to be honest he was probably a bit more than that now.

She put the card on the counter along with the envelope, pink, and a package of wet wipes and a Blistex. Dink wedged the motor oil between his arm and side so he could free a hand and pick up a package of cinnamon gum, Big Red. He peeled the wrapper and, lowering his head to meet his hand so as to not lose the oil, fed himself the gum. If it had been warmer out he’d have been wearing short sleeves, and if he’d been wearing short sleeves he’d be able to show her the Pissaboyz tattoo that he had on his upper arm, bright and still shiny after only about four weeks. It’d be a conversation starter, at least. Maybe they’d head next door to the sub shop and have a late lunch, catch up on these last ten years and reminisce about concerts and Pissaboyz records and Gary’s downstairs family room where they’d first kissed.

He ran through about a dozen different versions of his reintroduction, everything from asking her for the time and pretending to not know who she was to something more dramatic like singing behind her and making her turn around to see who this person was who knew the opening lines to “Heartbreak City.” But in the end he decided that a simple “Hi Karen,” or maybe a “Hey you” was the best way to go, and by the time he had settled on that decision, she’d taken her change and her plastic bag and pushed the stroller through the automatic doors.

 

From pissaboyzrock.com on February 17:

HeidiK85: cant wait to see Kriss Dimond at my fav bar right here in Biddeford!
DinkMan: Biddeford Maine?
HeidiK85: yup. the 1 & only
DinkMan: is he playing solo do you know?
HeidiK85: yes, solo. He hasn’t talked to the others in years I don’t think
DinkMan: where and when? I have to know.
HeidiK85: Wednesday April 10. place called the rock quarry. Cool place actually.
DinkMan: haven’t seen him since 89.
HeidiK85: saw them in 89 too. And at some smaller shows in 90 twice, then in 06, 08, and 09. kriss diamond solo all of those but the 1st ones.
DinkMan: sounds good. Thanks.

From YouTube.com, video clip: “Pissaboyz’ frontman covers Van Halen” on April 8th:

HeidiK85: anyone know how to burn youtube songs onto an mp3 file? I’m trying to make a cd for my car of live tracks.
Mrcheese: ive done it bfore, theres a program you can use pretty sure
DinkMan: there is? Id like to have something like that myself. What’s the program?
HeidiK85: hey hey dinkman. That show is in 2 days! You coming?
DinkMan: I was thinking about it.
HeidiK85: you def should. Ill be there too. 🙂
DinkMan: sounds good. I probably will.
HeidiK85: excellent! I’m gonna wear my Pissaboyz tshirt. Blue 89 punched in the nuts tour. Come find me. Ill by you a beer!

 

With three beers in his belly he paid his ten-dollar cover and made his way straight for the bathroom, his hair wet and matted and his T-shirt blotchy and sticking to his skin. He’d looked online for authentic Pissaboyz jerseys but the only one he found on eBay was a medium. He bought it anyway for eleven bucks just to have it. Earlier in the day, after pulling out concert T-shirts from Winger, Def Leppard, Billy Squire, U2, and Vixen, he had a last-minute epiphany and drove himself to the office supply store to buy iron-on printing paper. Back home he found a high-res Pissaboyz logo online and cut and pasted it into a Word document and printed it backwards on the iron-on paper. For a homemade T-shirt it looked pretty good if not just a little crooked, but he thought in such a small venue Kriss Diamond was bound to see it and maybe be a little bit impressed that someone out there had gone through the trouble. Maybe he’d get a handshake out of it or something.

The place was dim and his eyes fought to adjust. The walls were covered in dark paneling and tacked with posters and signs and flyers. The bar itself was in the middle of the room, a large rectangle with a lot of empty seats. Beyond a line of cement posts covered in graffiti was a separate area with a small dance floor and a slightly elevated stage, though it wasn’t really a stage at all but a platform, enough room for maybe just a couple people. A drum set was actually set up on the floor itself just off to the side. A couple guys were running amp cables along the back of the platform. Dink tried to do a quick scan of the clientele but had a tough time through the gloom. Still, it did seem like there were at least a handful of potentially attractive women here. He strained to locate that Pissaboyz T-shirt but he couldn’t tell from this distance and he had to pee.

The smell in the bathroom burned his eyes a little, a sharp stench of concentrated piss, strong like vinegar, that seemed relegated to bar men’s rooms. He took a short breath and tried to hold it while he unzipped. He’d heard that when we smelled things we were actually breathing in tiny particles of the actual thing that you were smelling, inhaling hundreds or thousands of piss molecules into your sinuses and lungs. Both urinals had wet splotchy semicircles around them where dozens of guys before him had not quite hit their target. Dink stood on his toes, feet wide, trying to pee while avoiding the halo of urine. After the long ride and three beers he still had a hard time starting. Maybe it was because he was holding his breath and needed to exhale. Maybe it was the idea that Heidi K. was out there, and so was Kriss Diamond for that matter. He had to tell himself to calm the heck down, to relax and let his bladder empty and then get out there and get on with it. This was a good thing, he reminded himself. This could be a new beginning. The next chapter, the start of his being able to go out and have fun and live the life he wanted to live and maybe even meet someone in the meantime. Someone who loved the same things he loved. He pictured this night, this moment, being the catalyst that got him to enjoy life again, to like himself again for that matter, to be able to go back home tonight and listen to some good music during the ride back and tomorrow morning wake up and smile and face the new day—the first day of the rest of his life. His life. And with this new attitude a new job surely wouldn’t be far behind. Save a little cash, get himself back in school, blah blah blah the rest is history.

He washed his hands and checked himself in the mirror that wasn’t really a mirror but a slab of dull, greasy metal. He tried to fix his hair with wet fingers, mess it a little like the younger guys did. In the corner of the mirror was a small Sleezball Sallys poster and a picture of three guys leaning forward with their tongues out. Dink had put a printout of the YouTube transcript under a magnet in the corner of his fridge back home, the one in which Heidi K. invited him up here and said she’d buy him a beer. He’d scribbled the time and the place on them, but saved it really because, hell, when was the last time someone had asked him out?

It had been a while since he’d been in a bar, and he couldn’t ever remember a time when he’d been in one by himself. Not the most comfortable situation, that was for sure. He pushed his hands deep into his pockets and walked diagonally toward the bar, trying to look casual while darting his eyes in a search of Heidi K. that would turn desperate pretty quickly if he didn’t see her soon. There seemed to be a distinct gathering of Sleezeball Sallys fans, or friends, or maybe they were members of the band, he couldn’t tell. About ten of them, herded in one corner drinking and laughing, most of the men with long hair, braided or ponytailed, graying, unkempt goatees and beer bellies pushing against Sleezeball Sallys T-shirts.

“Getcha somethin’?” He blinked and focused on the bartender, nodding his chin in Dink’s direction. He had the hairiest arms he’d ever seen.

“Uh, no, no. Not just yet.” Dink took a step backward, away from the bar top, holding his hands up for some reason like he was trying to avoid a fight. He’d had a few beers already and had three more in the car. He figured if Heidi K. was a no-show—which he had to face given his track record was not unlikely—he could always duck outside and pound a beer in his car and then come back.

Three girls sat on stools around a narrow high-top table, maybe ten feet to his left. He put his fingers back in his front pockets and pretended to be interested in what was on the TV above them. A baseball game, but not the Red Sox. Looked like it might have been minor league. Wherever it was, it was raining there too. He could see one of the girls, probably thirty but that might have been wishful thinking. He tended to do that a lot: guess a woman’s age much too high, really as a way to compensate for his own getting older. Denial. If that girl right there was 30, then it also meant that he wasn’t all that old. The fact was she was probably more like 23 and a solid two decades younger than he was. Still, she was attractive and laughed a lot, which he liked. The other two had their backs to him, but he knew that, unless Heidi K. had forgotten to wear her Pissaboyz concert tee, she wasn’t in this bunch.

He shifted from foot to foot, growing tense in his stationary stance. The longer he didn’t move, the more he thought that everyone would begin to notice him, the awkward guy standing by himself. His armpits were getting warm and itchy again. Did he put deodorant on earlier? He thought he must have, but he couldn’t actually picture doing it. He’d taken a late shower, though, and shaved too, even took the small scissors that he didn’t even remember he’d had and, with his underwear pushed to his thighs, snipped his pubic hair a little shorter. All the guys in those online porn clips seemed to have little to no hair down there, and hey, you never know. He didn’t go to bars very often but you never know.

He pivoted right and started walking toward the pool tables, just for something to do and to keep moving and avoid being noticed. From out of nowhere there was a woman directly in front of him and he nearly walked into her. She stopped short and smiled, eyes widening. Dink blinked, startled. She was really pretty, Dink thought, too young but pretty nevertheless. He dropped his eyes and immediately regretted it because it probably looked like he was checking out her boobs when in reality he’d noticed that she was wearing a short-sleeved tee with printing on it and he instinctively looked down to see what it said. But it wasn’t Pissaboyz; wasn’t even blue. It was black and said ‘Rock Quarry’ on it. He looked back up at her face. “Can I get you something, sweetie?”

He looked past her at the pool tables and then to the bar. Then back at her for a split second and then for some reason over his shoulder at the television, but it wasn’t the game anymore it was a commercial for Viagra or something like that. It had been six seconds since she’d asked the question and that was too long and there was almost no way to save this without coming off like a total fuck. He looked back at her, then down at her shirt again (don’t do that she thinks you’re looking at her tits stop doing that look at her face look her in the eye), and then finally at her face. “Uh…I don’t…” He shrugged his shoulders and swallowed. “…I’m okay for now. Thank you. Thanks.”

She smiled again, nodded, and lifted a round tray to her chest and moved on. He was starting to sweat, he could feel it, and in a few minutes this homemade, thin T-shirt would start sticking to him in patches before it even had the chance to dry from the rain. He pulled the bottom of it from his body and flapped it a couple times, hoping to air-dry it or at least stop his stomach from perspiring.

The fact was there were forty to fifty people in this bar, and sixteen of them were wearing black Sleezeball Sallys shirts and exactly one was wearing a Pissaboyz T-shirt, besides him. No females in concert shirts. Not one. He was sure of it. A Coors Light clock on the paneled wall read 7:07. He was pretty sure he’d been stood up.

He looked over at the three girls again, knowing that she wasn’t in that group but double-checking anyway, or maybe just checking them out. His lips were badly chapped and he started gently pulling at the dead skin, tugging and twisting, rolling the skin between his fingers, then brushing it free before picking again. The girl that he’d hoped was 30 pushed a palmful of popcorn into her mouth, laughing, and he couldn’t help but develop a tiny long-distance crush on her. He peeled another flake of skin from his lower lip, then licked his lips and flattened the rest of the dead skin with his front teeth.

Someone next to him leaned forward, trying to look at him, or trying to be noticed. Dink pulled his gaze from the girls and looked at him. “Hey there,” the guy said, a full head shorter than him, balding badly but still with long wisps of hair splaying from the sides of his head in full static charge. He wore yellowed eyeglasses so big, so out-of-date and thick that the guy’s eyes looked impossibly small behind them. Dink nodded a hello at him, still scraping his teeth along his lower lip. The guy had a wiry, unkempt mustache caging his mouth that made Dink glad that he’d abandoned his attempt at a mustache a couple months earlier when he’d realized he looked like a police sketch he saw on the news one night. The guy tilted his head back and swigged from a Heineken bottle, looking up at Dink the whole time. “You Dinkman?”

Dink blinked, processing, not sure if he had heard him right. Did he ask him if he was drinking? “What?” Dink asked.

He wiped his hand across his mustache and shook his head. “No, sorry, man, I wasn’t trying to be insulting or anything. I thought you were somebody.” His mustache lifted in an apologetic smile and he sipped his beer again and turned his head away. Dink looked the top of his bald head and scanned the crowd for no real reason, then looked down at him again. Then down further, to his blue T-shirt. Thin with age. Moth-damaged. Punched in the Nuts U.S. Tour. 1989. In its center, a giant P and a giant B, and below that, Pissaboyz. It was the same shirt and same dude he had seen a few minutes earlier at the bar. Dink re-read it, read it a third time, envious of the shirt and self-conscious of his own cheap one but more than that confused. This was the shirt he’d been looking for. “Did you…did you ask me if I was Dinkman?”

The guy turned back to him and pointed the lip of his bottle at his iron-on shirt. “I saw the Pissaboyz shirt. You’re him, right? The one and only? The man, the myth, the legend?”

Dink strained to look down at his own T-shirt to see what the guy was pointing at. “Yeah, I’m Dink. Do I know you?”

He stuck out a stubby arm, pink and blotchy. “Lawrence,” he said.

Dink looked down at his hand, confused. Almost absently, he shook it. Lawrence was smiling for some reason behind his mustache, nodding his head and then taking a swig of his Heineken. He let go of Lawrence’s hand and wiped his own on the thigh of his jeans. The handshake had felt a bit damp, soft and half-hearted, too—the dead fish, he’d heard it called.

“All right, man,” Lawrence said, still nodding. “Pissaboyz, huh? Shit.”

“How d’you know me?”

“What, Dinkman? I didn’t know that was your name…what’re you drinking, my man? I owe you one.”

Dink kept looking at the T-shirt. Somewhere in his brain he knew exactly what was going on but something was blocking him from putting it all together. Denial, maybe. Lawrence had turned and was stepping toward the bar, encouraging Dink to follow with a tip of his head.

“I’m glad you came up, Dink. This is cool as hell.”

Dink took a step after him, but not so he could get a beer. “You’re Heidi K.” It wasn’t quite a question but a matter-of-fact statement, like he was telling himself out loud to help it sink in.

“Well, I’m Lawrence,” Lawrence said over his shoulder. “What do you want to drink, Dink? Drink, Dink, drink, Dink.” He laughed. “Pick your flavor.”

“Who’s Heidi K.?” His scalp was growing hot, getting more itchy. He felt duped.

“Heidi K.? What, you mean HeidiK85? The screen name?” The bartender gave him a nod. “Hi. Heineken, please, and…” He turned halfway around. “Dink, what’s your drink? What’s your drink, Dink?”

“I’m all set. Who’s Heidi K.?”

“I guess he’s all set. Just a Heiny,” Lawrence said. “Heidi K.’s Heidi Klum, that’s all. Heidi Klum.”

Dink blinked. “Heidi Klum?”

“Mmm.”

“Who’s Heidi Klum?”

Lawrence thumbed through a Velcro camouflage army wallet and pinched out a five dollar bill that was impossibly straight and crisp.
Heidi Klum,” he said, shrugging. “Klum-comma-Heidi.”

“What, the TV chick?”

“The model, actually. You like her?”

Behind Lawrence someone stepped up to the stage, and although Dink didn’t quite recognize him he thought it might be Kriss Diamond.

“You like her, man?”

“Do I like her? I dunno. I guess.” Lawrence paid for his beer and took a slug, even though there was still a little bit left in his first bottle. He wiped his hand across his mustache and then gasped, apparently at how delicious the beer was, Dink guessed.

“She’s a smokeshow,” Lawrence said. “Total smokeshow, don’t you think? A real piece of capital A.”

“Your screen name is named after Heidi Klum?”

“Yeah, the model. She’s on that show. The fashion show on cable.”

Dink glanced at the stage again. That was definitely Kriss Diamond. “How the fuck come?” Kriss Diamond, from what Dink could tell at this distance, was wearing some kind of black one-piece, a onesie, he’d heard them called, cotton or more likely polyester with white skeleton bones on it, outlining his whole body, a life-sized skeleton. It looked like something from a Halloween store, maybe.

“How the fuck come?” Lawrence repeated. “She’s gorgeous, Dink. Right? And she has a sexy-ass accent, and she’s divorced now and she likes ugly guys, apparently. Kriss! Kriss!” Now he was calling across the entire room, yelling in Dink’s ear and making him recoil, raise a shoulder to his ear to protect it. “Kriss! Kriss! Hey Kriss! Kriss!” He wouldn’t stop.

Dink looked back at Kriss Diamond lifting a guitar over his head, adjusting it, stepping on a couple pedals, plucking a few strings.

Kriss! Kriss!” Lawrence lifted his arm and started snapping his fingers. Finally Kriss Diamond picked his head up and looked—how could he not?—and then grinned and nodded a brief hello from about forty feet away. Lawrence deflated back into a relaxed state and sipped his beer, his mustache smiling. “Nice,” he said.

Then Diamond, with a final step on the pedals and snap of his guitar pick, kicked it off with the signature opening chords of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, loud and razor-sharp. Lawrence struggled to put his beer down while wrestling his iPhone out of his front pocket. He fumbled with the buttons and held the phone up, his tongue sticking from the corner of his mouth in concentration. Dink could see on the screen that he was recording.

It was a one-man show. Kriss Diamond played the guitar while an amplifier of some kind kept the drumbeat, bass, and any background supporting vocals. It sounded pretty good, Dink thought, but there was something disheartening too—this musician-slash-ex-rock star-slash-middle school music teacher, playing alone in a skeleton costume in a bar in Biddeford, Maine with no one really paying him much attention, besides Lawrence. And he wasn’t even playing “C+ in Sex Skool” or “Pull It” or “Heartbreak City” for that matter. This guy was the heart and soul of one of the most underrated bands in history as far as Dink was concerned. Probably as far as Lawrence was concerned too. “Wooooooooooooooooo!” Lawrence shrieked. “Fuckin’ Woooooooo!

The song was followed with a smattering of applause, but mostly the sounds of people talking. Then he thanked everyone for being there and said his name was Kriss Diamond, then pushed a button on that amplifier thing and started playing the Bryan Adams song “Cuts Like a Knife.”

Lawrence kept his iPhone raised high. He reached over and picked up his Heineken and then winked at Dink through his enormous eyeglasses. “I gotta take a leak,” Dink leaned forward and said, then backed away and almost bumped into that attractive waitress again. He apologized but she didn’t hear him—she’d already moved on—and so he turned and walked by the bathroom and passed the bouncer and out the door.

Outside the air was moist and cool and he felt his head growing clear, could actually feel the fresh oxygen working. A fine mist settled on his skin, breath fogging in front of his face. The music behind him sounded muffled and muddy now, further away than it probably actually was. He heard Kriss Diamond tell the crowd that they might know this one and then he recognized the first notes of “Thaw These Frozen Tears.” It was the song that had been the A-side to “Heartbreak City,” and he thought of Karen’s bedroom and the record player and the bras on the dresser, thought of waiting for her in his car in front of Sun del Sol, and he thought of the random lighters raised in the air at Great Woods and how it would have looked so much cooler if it had been dark and more people had been in their seats, but it was still cool because Karen had moved over next to him, and was talking to him and resting her hand on his shoulder when she spoke, and her breath smelled like the cherry Blow Pop she had been sucking on in the back seat of the car.

A simple little look that could melt the ice
A sliver of a moment there ain’t no time to think twice
Look back through a prism of a thousand frozen years
You were the only one who could thaw these frozen tears.

“Hey!” He heard the call but wasn’t sure if it had come from Kriss Diamond’s mic, or had seeped through the walls of long-distance memory, or from somewhere else entirely. He was almost at his car and didn’t want to look back, but he heard it again and this time he did look back. And there was Lawrence plodding after him, bumbling and awkward, his eyeglasses slipping down his nose and speckled with rain. “Hey Dink! Dinkman!”

He continued to his car and fished the keys out of his pocket and tried to fit the key into the lock, but it was dark and his eyes weren’t adjusting very quickly and he couldn’t find it.

Lawrence was out of breath and struggling, his eyes darting with confusion and excitement. “What gives, man?”

“I gotta go, sorry,” Dink said, not looking at him.

“Come on…come on man he’s playing some Pissaboyz stuff right now…come on.” He stood a few feet from Dink, stopped in his tracks, looking from Dink to the front door of the Rock Quarry and back at Dink, like he was caught in the middle of a tug o’ war. “Come on back,” he said again.

The key found the lock and it popped. “Gotta go,” Dink said.

“Well, wait, what…what’d I do? C’mon back…” Dink saw the iPhone in his hand and he could see that it was killing him to be out here, to not be recording the show.

“Go back in, Lawrence. I gotta go.”

“I do something? Did I do—”

“No, I don’t know, I just gotta go…”

Lawrence stood there, looking at Dink but glancing back to the front doors, head swiveling, rain tracking down his eyeglasses and dripping from his mustache. His Pissaboyz T-shirt grew heavy on his shoulders with moisture. He was still breathing heavy.

“Why’d you make me think your name was Heidi K.?”

“Wait, what? No, I didn’t—”

“That’s not cool…”

“No, that’s not what happened. I just—”

“…you trying to trick me or something?”

“—thought you’d want to…it wasn’t a trick. I’m not gay or anything, Dink. I’m not gay if that’s what you’re thinking.”

The car door came open now and Dink was halfway inside, one foot still planted flat on the parking lot. “Go back in, Lawrence. You’re gonna miss it.”

He ducked his head into the car and lifted his leg in. Lawrence stood in the rain, looking lost and unsure. When he pulled the door shut water exploded off the window. Lawrence appeared distorted through the raindrops, fractured even. Dink put the car into reverse and started backing out of the space, unable to see much behind him. And then Lawrence was right at his window, walking beside the car and patting his hand on the glass.

He thought about ignoring him but he worried about driving over his toes or something, so he braked and rolled the window down a crack. Lawrence turned his head sideways so that he could talk through the small opening. He held up his iPhone and pointed at it. “Dink, I’m gonna record the show and I’m building a new website, I didn’t get a chance to tell you but I’m building a new website and it’s called pissaboyzlive-dot-com. Pissaboyz live, but it’s sort of a double-entendre because you could pronounce it Pissaboyz-live as in live-in-concert or you could pronounce it Pissaboyz-live like they’re still living, they live a long time, you know? You get it? So either way it means something and either way it means something, okay? Check it out because I’ll have this on there tomorrow…”

Dink nodded and put the car in drive. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.” Then he drove away and Lawrence hunched his shoulders in the rain and watched after him before turning back toward the bar. Dink rolled the window up and pulled into the street, feeling a loose tag of dry skin on his lip that he couldn’t help but tug at.

Usually when he drove, especially long drives like this, he played his CDs. Punched in the Nuts or Hit with the Uglystick, or one of his homemade CDs with the live stuff or B-sides and rare tracks. This time, for some reason, he blanked out and forgot to. This time the car remained silent. He stared at the wet road and listened only to the rhythmic thump of the windshield wipers, the high-pitched squeal as they scraped across the glass, leaving a wake of streaks. He’d never changed a pair of windshield wipers in his life, but these ones needed it badly. He thought that tomorrow—maybe, for starters—he might try to replace them.

Sean Conway’s fiction has appeared in Eunoia Review, Solstice, Digital Americana, and other print and online journals, as well as the anthology Mental Ward: Stories from the Asylum. His work has also been longlisted by RopeWalk Press and earned a Jack Kerouac Award, funded by the Kerouac Estate. He has also been awarded a Norman Mailer Writers Colony Scholarship.

He holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and teaches in the Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This summer, he will teach in San Sebastián, Spain.

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1 Response to Heartbreak City

  1. A wonderfully-crafted story! I hadn’t intended to read the whole story, but I got sucked in. I love the mixture of humor and vulnerability, and then Dink’s self-realization at the end.

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