:: Article

The Hand Jobs

By Sally Weigel.

We called ourselves The Hand Jobs, refusing to change our name for the high school talent show. Even after our principal threatened us with in-school suspension just for trying out under the name, our punk ethos led us out the door. We left try-outs to sit on the school steps and smoke the pack of Marlboro Reds my band mate had stolen from his father.

I was seventeen at the time. In honor of the show, I bleached my hair then refused to shower for a week. Even though my greasy, dark brown roots were growing out from my blonde hair, sixteen-year-old Jane McAdams still took her shirt off for me in my basement while we could faintly hear my parents watching Wheel of Fortune upstairs.

After band practice one day, The Hand Jobs rode our bikes to the Seven Eleven to split a pack of cigarettes. We paid for our cigarettes in quarters then sat down on the parking curb. Johnny Greenwood turned to me. His curly blonde hair defied gravity; those frizzy ringlets growing out from his head rather than down to his shoulders. Looking at me, he said, “Imagine what we could actually do with The Hand Jobs if we got serious. We could really get by just playing dive bars. Drinks for free. That’s all I need. We could get by on that.”

“That’s what I am saying,” I replied. “Let’s buy a van. Just start touring now. Create a following.”

“Here’s the thing,” our drummer Tyler said, “My parents are paying for college. For art school if you can believe it. What if we moved to the city together?”

“Chicago?” I ask. “We have been ten minutes from the city our entire lives. I see the Sears Tower from my window now. I want to see something new. Besides, my parent’s would never pay for me to study pottery,” I dismiss the idea. “We don’t need college. We should be making art, not sitting around a classroom reading about it.”

A month later, we found ourselves in royal blue graduation gowns, staining the robes with the scent of the pot we were smoking behind the gym. John looked at me with unapologetic eyes. “Next step, Chicago,” he said. “You’re sure you’re not coming?”

Stubbornly, I took the last two puffs of the joint, looked down at my embarrassingly short pant cuffs. “Fuck that,” I said. “I need to get far away.”

“We need you.”

“I know,” I said, tossing the joint and filing into the line snaking into the auditorium. One step forward, keep going, next step, then the next. When I got on stage, I looked out at the six hundred faces of my graduating class, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need them.’

Four years later, The Hand Jobs change their name to The Cliftons, after their Chicago apartment complex. My radio alarm wakes me up to Johnny Green wailing as I throw the clock against my bedroom wall.

*

I have one window in my room, and I cover it with a black curtain so no light can wake me up in the morning. A twelve-o-clock shift at Joe’s Hot Dog stand is my only obligation these days; still, I manage to wake up twenty minutes late for work. Rolling out of bed, I put on motorcycle boots and the uniform t-shirt. Then I smell each pair of jeans, choosing the one that smells the least like the six-pack of Tecate I finished last night. Walking out into the hot summer day, the sun ridicules me, and my feet start to sweat mere seconds into my walk across town.

My boss isn’t working; instead, just my eighteen-year-old manager. “You’re forty minutes late. I had to open by myself,” she says, her annoyance staring me down.

I wrap my arms around her petite body, and rest my chin on top of her head. I can smell her shampoo, and a cleanliness I am obsessed with. No perfume. No cigarette odor. Clean apple spritz. “Forgive me?” I ask.

She breaks the embrace, sternly replying, “Never. Go check on the bathrooms and make sure David cleaned them last night.”

Turns out, David forgot to fill the soap dispensers, replace the empty toilet paper roll and wipe down under the toilet seats. While finishing his work slowly, a Clash song plays over the radio. I yell from the bathroom, “Turn it up!” and sit down on the mopped floor. My eyes close to a Congo beat, Joe Strummer’s voice and a steadiness that I hum to without realizing. Once I finish with the bathrooms, I walk out into the empty store and sit on one the counters. “Did you get my call last night?” I ask Jenny.

“No, you called my house phone.”

“Yeah but didn’t I charm your mother?”

“There’s nothing charming about a 23-year-old calling at midnight to take out someone’s high school daughter.”

“Oh, I bet you’ve never dated someone your age. Don’t really seem like an eighteen year old really.”

She shrugs, almost complemented.

“Well have you?”

“What? Dated a guy my age? I don’t date. Relationships are cruel.”

“Can’t argue with that. Wait. Didn’t a guy come asking for your number last week?”

“Haven’t seen him since.”

“Good. That’s very good to hear.”

A natural beauty, Jenny wears no makeup. Her pink lips and straight teeth mesmerize me when she talks. Tall and flat chested, her uniform fits tightly to her body. Her jeans have a hole in one knee. “Out of overuse, not fashion,” she specifically mentions when I point it out. She plays with her brunette hair constantly, talking to me through her long bangs. I spend my time at work wondering exactly how she kisses, where she traces her fingers, how softly she embraces, if she would blush when I pulled away. She’s quiet, always defensive.

She leaves me to work alone that night. In my car at the end of the shift, I light a cigarette, forget the tempting images of Jenny, and drive to my friend Dan’s for band practice. “You bring the beer?” Dan asks me while I come in and sit down between him and Brian, handing over the case. All three of us used to work at Joe’s, which is how we met, although they now attend the local community college. Rarely going to class, Dan and Brian spend most time on the couch playing video games, while their under-aged asses wait for me to buy them beer.

Tonight, we pick up the instruments shoved into the only available corner of the room. Dan starts strumming a guitar in need of tuning. Brian plays the drum beat on a set of pads. A blatant noise envelops the room just as I tune into my chord progression. Then Brian throws a pair of leopard print sunglasses at me: “Here put these on.” Throwing Dan a pair of fake ray-bans, he says, “Lets all wear these for our show next week.”

“What show?” I ask, putting the guitar down.

“Nate McDonald’s grad party.”

“A graduation party?” I say in annoyance. “With grandparents? And a bunch of teenagers sipping on Diet Cokes? Fuck that. Pass me another beer.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Brian asks. “It’s a paying gig.”

“Why do you hate playing in public so much?” Dan asks coldly. “I don’t care what it is, a graduation party or a basement or whatever. I just want to play.”

“Not me. Do whatever you want, but I’m out.”

Their boyish, unaccomplished faces don’t understand my potential.

*

“You live on Welty Road, right?” I ask Jenny on my cellphone while circling her block.

“Don’t come to the front door,” she warns. “My mom is still up.”

“I’m not coming in; just picking you up.”

“Alright. I’ll see you in ten minutes.”

I wait outside, and she eventually comes around from the back of the house and quickly climbs in the passenger seat. “C’mon, let’s go,” she says impatiently. Able to smell the alcohol on my breath, she draws out a flask from her inner coat pocket, insisting she needs to catch up.

We sleep together. Although four years younger than me, Jenny still knows how to nibble on my neck, suck my lower lip, weave her fingers through my own. I can’t say for sure, but she had been with older men before. The way she knew the motions like it’s routine. Putting on Air’s Moon Safari, sitting on the bed, motioning for me to kiss her first. She sighs while her arms tug on my pillow, me gently thrusting into her from behind. Eyes closed, she cannot see me looking out the window. The curtain open and the far-off skyscrapers illuminated, the skyline twinkling like manmade stars, a beautiful light that’s pure and mysterious, never lonely and exhausted.

The next morning, I see a youngness in Jenny that I always refused existed. Getting up, she heads to the bathroom to clean her makeup off then climb back into my bed. Switching positions routinely, I lay comfortable and still except when her movements wake me. Finally, she turns towards me and says, “I’m gonna go.” Sitting up, she dangles her feet off the edge of the bed while her big eyes look at my posters. She remarks, “So this is your room?”

“Yup.”

“Never thought you were a Beatles fan.”

“Old poster.”

Silence.

“Sorry I woke up so early.”

“It’s okay.”

The conversation stops at the door, and the overbearing sunlight informs us that we are on the verge of the afternoon. I kiss her on the cheek and watch her make it halfway to the sidewalk before she turns around and asks, “It’s over, isn’t it?”

I rub my eyes tirelessly. “Over?” I ask.

“Sex means it’s over. It is over, right?”

I walk over to her, resting my head on top of hers, noting that her fresh scent is absent. I smile almost mockingly. “I’ll see you on Sunday,” I say, kissing her forehead.

Regardless of what she thought, I didn’t quit Joe’s because of her. My dad offered me a position at his work. Twelve dollars an hour. That’s why I left. I promise. But sometimes I think of her hands, her nimble fingers almost tickling me with their light strokes. Her small breasts appearing fuller when she was on top, hunched over me. A body. That’s all I remember. Doesn’t make me happier nor lonelier. Doesn’t make me obsessed nor disappointed. It’s simple, if only for a second.

*

As Dan drives towards the lights of the city, I stare down at John Greenwood’s name in my phone’s address book. “You gonna call him?” he asks. “You think his number is even still the same?”

“I doubt it,” I reply. “It doesn’t matter. If we don’t hit any traffic, we can get there early enough to go straight backstage.”

“Sure. He’ll remember you, right?”

“He fuckin’ better remember me.”

We head directly to the back of the theatre as soon as we get there, but the guard just allows us a peak behind the door that his body blocks. The only glimpse I get is an empty hallway, with posters hung up on the narrow walls like a collage. A fairly empty venue at this point, most of the crowd sips on their beers, conversing rather than tuning into the instrumental opening band. I stand near the backstage door, unsure of what I want to walk out the door. For the entire car ride, I struggled between the reaction I wanted when Johnny Greenwood saw me: an ecstatic welcome, a disappointing scene of tired faces, an acknowledgment that just as easily, our situations could be switched. That they got lucky.

With my thoughts racing, I hardly notice Johnny stepping out with a beer in hand and his t-shirt inside out. Dan finally nudges me, and I notice his glaring stare. I call out, “So when’s the new album coming out, Johnny?”

He turns around and looks at me. It takes a few seconds for him to recognize me, but then suddenly he’s tackling me with a bear hug. “Where the fuck have you been?” he asks. “I can’t remember the last time we saw each other.”

“Two years ago. I saw you guys at the Metro.”

“Fuck, two years? Here, come on, I want to show you something.” His arm still around my shoulders, he ushers me past the guard. I leave Dan without any acknowledgment.

Walking through the narrow hallway, I can feel myself start to sweat as the air grows denser with smoke. A small crowd lounges around on beat-up couches. Tyler sits across the room with a skinny, doe-eyed girl under his arm sipping on a bottle of beer, taking a hit off a blunt and then passing it on. I see in them a laziness just like my own. His unfocused eyes finally meet mine. After a moment, he gets up and gives me a big hug as well. “Fuck, look who it is,” he says.

“Tyler’s getting married this summer,” John says, coming up and handing me a beer. “Can you believe it? Their honeymoon’s going to be in India. Fuckin’ hippies.”

“Go figure,” I laugh in agreement.

Tyler turns toward the small crowd and shouts, “Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to the one – the only…”

My phone starts to buzz. I look at the screen and see that it’s Jenny, who I haven’t talked to in months. She must be drunk. A humorous voice message awaits. I let it ring.

“What do you say, man?” John is still just going on and on. “Should The Blow Jobs open the show tonight?”

“I can’t play. Really guys, I’m no good.”

“Neither are we! We’re all stoned as fuck.”

Jenny calls again. “Excuse me,” I say, holding up my phone. Walking into the hallway leading out of the back room, I’m thankful to step away. I lean against the walls filled with signed memorabilia and answer. “Jenny?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I was wondering if you had a second. I need to talk to you.”

“I am actually at a concert right now. Want me to stop by…”

She stops me mid-sentence, blurting out, “I think I am two months pregnant.”

Even with the overwhelming bass lines of the opening band, complete silence encases me. I can literally hear my stomach cramp up and drop to my shaking ankles. “You think?” I say.

“I am sure.”

“From me?”

“Yeah from you.”

“Are you really sure?”

“What the fuck does that mean? Of course I’m sure. You’re the only person I’ve ever been with.” Her voice is trembling.

The stuffy room and the narrow hallways didn’t help my blood circulation when realizing what she just confessed. I slide down the wall, close my eyes and tilt my head back when suddenly my last droning five years resurface quickly. Opening my eyes again, I glance at Johnny holding up a guitar as an invitation. For the first time, I see the Cliftons, not The Hand Jobs. For the first time, I see the guitar as a getaway, a symbol of how much I hate myself. Always escaping, never getting anywhere.

Time for me to grow up, but still, I stand with the cowardly desire to just punch Johnny Greenwood. All of these years, searching for perfect words when I might as well express my anger in a punch. Angry at him, desperately angry, but only to realize I ultimately hate myself. My search for perfect words, over, at least consciously. Just honesty now.

I put the phone back up to my ear, ignoring Johnny. “I’m not a likeable guy, am I?” I ask Jenny.

She waits until her voice is steady to respond. “No, you’re not.”

“But I could have been.”

“Could you have been?” she asks. No pity resonates in her voice. She asks the question sincerely.

“Yeah, I could’ve been.” I look back in Johnny’s direction, but he’s walked back into the dressing room by now. “I could’ve been.”

sallywiegel

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sally Weigel is currently pursuing a degree in English at DePaul University. She is the fiction editor of DePaul’s literary magazine, Threshold and contributes to STOCKYARD. magazine. Sally published her first novella Too Young to Fall Asleep in the Fall of 2009.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 24th, 2010.