Harris Lahti
You're a Legend!

Last minute order comes in and you rip the ticket, hold it an inch before your face.  Squint one eye. You’re near-sighted. Myopic. Also, pre-diabetic, wet-brained, irritably bowelled. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      But let’s focus here—your vision, it’s like looking through frosty glass.

      When you tilt your head, however, the order snaps into focus. Crispy wings, extra crispy. And you remove the bag of frozen meat-chunks from the refrigerator, shuck a dozen or so into the fryer. The meat-chunks pop and scream. You glance at the clock. Tilt your head again at its hazy, new configuration. Squint one eye—snap.

      You groan a throat full of gravel.  

      True: you have ample time to finish the order, mop up, and make the farewell show. But the thing is you know The Catacomb’s doors have already opened, that they will never open again. And with every passing moment, your vision of this legendary night becomes less so.

      You did promise Chester—The Catacomb’s owner—you would try, though. So for another moment, that’s what you do: Mind the fryer like a good little boy. Because Chester landed you this job, vouched for you with the boss when no one else would.

      Then again, you’ve never been a good little boy, have you? In the delivery room, your mother said, you blinked sideways like a lizard. And that when she brought you home, you let out a wail that dropped the family dog dead and sent your daddy running for the hills.

      So, when the pop of hot oil that stings your arm, it’s enough to send you flying. I’m out of here, you think. Vamoosed. You ball up your greasy apron, cast it into the trash. Then hurtle out the emergency exit and into the night. Meat-chunks left to bob, blacken, dissolve.

      Breath punches from your mouth in a cold, white fist. As your grease-sodden boots slap crusty pavement. Oozing a slug’s tail down the dark alleyway in your wake. After a few short blocks, your breathing is already worn thin. Your heart: a runt bird, wings beating uselessly against your chest. Doing too much and too little.

But you don’t stop, do you? As a child, your mother claimed, “no” was the only word you spoke your first five years, that you refused everything until she eventually stopped offering.

      So, when the runt bird’s beak begins stabbing your chest with pain, you hurtle on, defiant. Same as ever. At least not for a few more blocks, anyway. Until your body doubles over by itself to deposit a green emerald of phlegm onto the sidewalk. At which you can’t help but marvel a moment before cinching the pace back up. No time to waste, you hurtle on. Tiny black specks galloping across your vision, like horses now. The runt bird flapping still.

      But you ignore these signs. Even when collapse seems inevitable. I could die, you think. Tomorrow a jogger could find my body, blue and stiff as frozen meat. The thought makes you laugh, makes sappy tears squirt from your eyes. Because a short jog isn’t going to kill you! Not after what you’ve survived: the seas of alcohol swallowed, the stockpiles of drugs consumed, the most violent abuses of your body. How many times have you awoken on Chester’s couch with his fingers at your neck, groping for a pulse? How many times has your resilience surpassed your own expectations? You might very well be immortal. Even your mother would be proud.

      You’re a legend, you think, and legends never die!

      At last, the Catacomb slides out of the night. You can slow down, catch your breath. Double over and deposit emerald after emerald. And that’s exactly what you do. Double over, hack and hack and hack.

      When you finish hacking, you look up watery-eyed, a jack-o-lantern grin stretching your face. Because between your myopia and blurred vision, the scene before you is nostalgia: the crowd near the door, launching braids of smoke. The vine-snared brick building. The show to come. It might as well of been years ago, before the faces you could stand were replaced by these new faces you couldn’t.

      Hard to believe it’s all coming to an end, you think. All these years, Chester the sole holdout, repeatedly telling the suits at Albany Medical College to fuck off. The new offer must’ve been enormous. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have tried to loan you that thousand dollars. “Take it, please,” he said. But then you pictured those soon-to-be doctors in their bright white coats, dancing over The Catacomb’s grave.

      Your mother’s rusted out Toyota. It’s parked near the dumpster. The only thing left of her. You lived here off and on, growing up. In the Toyota. Around the time The Catacomb first opened. Where she would nod off for days, a needle in her arm and only a thin blanket between you for warmth. The muffled music radiating through the brick wall, your only lullaby. Although these days you mostly crash on Chester’s couch, you still keep your few belongings here, nestled inside its mustiness.

      The Toyota’s door opens with a groan of springs and the blood balloons against your scalp as you lean inside, rummage in the backseat for your outfit. Unearth a pair of black jeans, stiff as baked roadkill. Excavate your signature worn leather vest. Just turning the thin fabric in your hand cures you. Still, after all these years.

      You admire the vest’s embroidery and insignias. Its multitude of clothes pins, iron-on band patches. Dystopia, Maggot Brain. Toxic Holocaust. You strip off your greasy work clothes, wondering what happened to these bands. As you slide your legs into the filth-hardened jeans. Your arms into the vest’s velvety cool. Then you’re ready. Metamorphosed.

      You drum your naked stomach, feeling complete for the first time all today. Suddenly proud of your beer orb gut, toothpick legs. Your bad hygiene and gums that bleed at the slightest pressure. Your coating of tattoos.

      A hush follows you through the crowd. People study their boots, draw on cigarettes. Fiddle with metal piercings. No one looking at you. You have a reputation here. As a windbag, you know. On anyone you have at least fifteen, twenty years. Age has made you self-righteous.

      Just look at them, with their black lipstick and long hair, vintage band t-shirts bought online, you think. These angsty college co-eds and trust fund babies and single parents. All of them: Posers. Your favorite means of revenge to corner them, make them smell your halitosis. “When metal was metal,” you say. You’re like a romantic historian the way you lecture. Because nothing is as good as it used to be. Nothing.  

      However, tonight you don’t say a word. Instead hurtle by in silence. Ignore them like your mother used to do to you. Even awake, she would make herself asleep to you. And you know how much worse this feels. You can tell the crowd doesn’t know what to make of it, either. You feel the cold weight of their eyes riding your back as you reach for the door, push your way inside. Feel them regarding you like the rare and wild emerald you are. That you’ve become.

      And what strikes you first on this night of nights? That homey smell of mold and wet cinderblock. Sour spilt beer. The way the ceiling arches away into darkness. An old textile factory uncapped, floorless and four stories rising. The steel beams standing like branch-stripped pines, holding aloft the nothing, the starless sky. The sight of Boltpin onstage already tuning up. A guitar yowling through the speakers.

      “Bliss!” the runt bird shrieks. “Bliss, bliss!”

      Boltpin. You were what? Thirteen years old when you first saw them. One night, conjured from sleep inside the Toyota and forever changed. You remember climbing over your mother toward the machine gun of the double-kick bass drum. Soggy as your brain now, you’ll never forget. The crowd that first night—tightly knit and elbows braced, roiling. How, small as you were, you slipped between their bodies, working your way to the front where the lead-singer appeared, a withered warlock even then. Heroin-thin and dread-locked.

      And as you stand there now, your mind projects this memory onto the scene before you, superimposes it over its edges and curves: The Catacomb way back when. The entire place buzzing like a symphony of chain saws with the thought.

      However, these memories soon begin to snag on discrepancies, even with your shit vision. First, you fail to locate the wall of skulls. Those small, grey faced pomegranate seeds. The jukebox and rickety barstools, buzzing beer sign. You can’t find anything.

      Because it’s not there, you realize, the demolition has already begun.

      You find Chester—bloated, middle-aged as ever, greasy male-pattern baldness shining in the dim light—hocking beer from a Styrofoam cooler where the bar used to be. A few customers ahead of you, you cut them all, ignoring their groans of protest. And when you reach the front, he hands you a cold, sweating cylinder, says, “No choice but how many you want.”

      But you don’t reply, do you? At least not at first. You ignore Chester, give him that same treatment your mother had. Just crack the beer, take a long, self-medicating gulp. You both do.

      Then Chester grins, showing off a set of pearly white dentures. A recent expenditure, among many others. The sell-out. “You still mad at me, Billy Boy,” he says. “Still expect me to go down with the ship?”

      And just this small acknowledgement brings back the blood. The wild horses, runt bird. The rage. Because to your mind, he has no right to poke fun of this final night. Now you want to lash out, blame him for everything. Let the dam break, scream, yell, teach lessons. Because if anyone should know, it’s him.  

      Nevertheless, you keep your voice even. Like you promised yourself you would try. And instead you say, “No. I don’t expect anything. But I do worry what damage a tropical sun might do to that bald spot of yours. Where did you say you planned to retire? Acapulco? Belize?”

      To which, Chester croaks his croak of a laugh, casually lifting his beer. You both know he’s moving down to a trailer park in inland Florida to be closer to his elderly parents. “No hard feelings then?” he says.

      And you lift your beer, also. Follow suit. Reflex after all these years. “To retirement,” you say in a way that sounds too affectionate for your liking. The warmth of which causing you to upend the rest of your beer onto the floor to put out your discomfort.

      Much to your shock, however, instead of chide you, Chester follows suit. Tips his beer also. Furthers the golden halo of fizz spreading around your feet, a wicked smile plastered across his face. You can’t help but feel a measure of respect at that. That gesture of mutual destruction. “To The Catacomb,” he says with his dry, croaking laugh. In the spirit of things now.

       “To The Catacomb.”

      Then you both toast The Catacomb again, pour more beer. Crack new ones. And for a minute, it feels like old times. A time warp. All the edges rounded down. A glimmer of what you sought to preserve tonight. Everything finally moving in the right direction for a change: backwards.

      Then, out of nowhere: the discordant smash of guitar strings, that machine gun double-kick of the bass drum. And the lead-singer coming in, chanting—a Buddhist monk gone to the dark side. You recognize the song immediately—“Babies with Rabies”—and charge the space before the stage with the co-eds and trust-funders and single parents without discretion.

      It doesn’t matter who’s there with you at this point. From what era. You swing your fists and wind-mill your hair without discrimination, colliding with others.  

      Although violent, their touch is very dear to you. Posers or not. You’re cured. The baseline of the music knocks on your brainstem. The drums erases the clumsy two-stroke of your heart. The guitar helps you breathe, cleans your blood. Every molecule of your body, in fact, now vibrating with the noise and violence. “Bliss! Bliss!”

      In this fashion, one song leads into another leads into the next. Weaving together like a black and twisted braid. Just as you imagined. This perfect send-off. This night of nights. A memory you could feed off until your dying day.

      Swinging your fists blindly, you stomp your feet, karate chop. You go to that place. The place where worms squirt from the ground. Where whales fall to ocean bottoms like dead leaves. Where the moon freezes over, cracking in two. And for a moment, it feels like you could exist forever in the place between each tortured note, preserved inside the music’s daemonic hum like a gnarled, twisted mosquito in amber.

      But, as you know well, time in a funny thing—always slow when you want fast, fast when you don’t. And as you hurtle around the mosh pit, the bodies begin dissolving around you.

      Less and less, you seem to collide.

      Less and less, they crash into you.  

      Then they’re not there at all.

      You open your eyes to realize the mosh pit has thinned, abandoned you. Broken into a loose ring of people. With some people not watching Boltpin play altogether. Instead buying beer, looking at their cell phones with illuminated faces. Mouths slack like wet hammocks. An audience of clean, glowing teeth. Their lack of gratitude shouldn’t surprise you. But even you didn’t expect this. Not on this night of nights anyway.

      You swing wider to lash out at them, hoping to incite some sort of riot. But they only recoil further. Like a piece of bread dissolving, unable to be put back together. And with no other bodies to thrash against, your moshing becomes difficult. Nearly impossible. You keep defeating yourself by finding a rhythm. Your dance of destruction, now a waltz. Too elegant. Finally, you stop altogether, stand there panting. Embarrassed. Like this moment is somehow your fault.

      Isn’t it, though? The crowd seems to think so. The way they offer you nothing. Blurry as they are, you don’t need to see to know. Even Chester. Probably too busy raking the beer money in. You flip them all the double bird. Spit at them. Bare your yellow fangs. What else can you do? You owe it to The Catacomb’s memory at least to try. To send it out with some authenticity.

      Here, an idea strikes you. As if gripped by the talons of a bird of prey, lifts you onto the stage. Where you windmill your arms, whip your hair a while. Begin making a spectacle of yourself. Should you flash your wang? you wonder. Kick over the drum kit? Vomit onto your toes? Suddenly you’re not sure. This final night, it seems, calls for something more than your regular. Something far more depraved.

      You raise your hand to protect your weak eyes from the house lights, waiting for inspiration to strike. Drawing blank after blank, you look to Boltpin for guidance. Into their zombie-like faces. But they don’t seem to notice you, either. With their fingers writhing across instruments. Like dead flesh animated by a scarring history of habit and rote repetition.

      And what’s worse? Even if you can’t see the crowd clearly, you know they’re watching you now, suddenly expectant. That, for once, the floor is yours. You can feel the weight of their gaze. The stiff lineup of polite faces. A constipated row of growing generosity. As if each is doing you a favor. Just by being there, watching.

      Breaking for the edge of the stage, you scream: “Cannonball.”  The choice not so much a decision as your body running out of options, reverting to habit. This stage dive. Something you’ve done many times before. Once upon a time a crowd there to catch you. The runt bird flapping inside your chest now. Your vest flapping, too. Like wings lifting away from your body. Your jack-o-lantern smile spreads wide in anticipation. At what you’re finally doing. What they’re about to see. Your arms peeled back now. Your body flying headfirst in a crashing arc. Toward the concrete, and beyond. Prepared to nestle death’s cold, boney cheek, forever and ever.

*

But the impact only whizzes by. The concrete that meets your head falls away like a trapdoor into darkness nearly liquid with saturation. A black ocean into which you sink before bobbing to its surface. How strange it is to finally die, you think. Or maybe strange isn’t the right word. Curious is more like it. Because, in this fatal moment, you actually feel quite calm. Slightly amused, in fact. Even through what happens next. When the fingernail of sun crests on the horizon, slicing the world in two and spilling light that turns the black ocean amber. Or when the sandy dome of beach bobs up from its depths, somehow, it’s no big deal. To find Chester sitting there, relaxing under a palm tree. “The eternal will deny you nothing,” he says in Mandarin Chinese. And even this sounds normal. Then how quickly this ease begins to sour. A breeze blowing in suddenly—hurricane-thick. Causing the wild horses to gallop. The runt bird to flap to escape. It doesn’t take long for you to realize from what. The omnipotence in the air isn’t subtle. Suddenly every molecule and ringing like church bells, announcing the divine hand about to be thrust in your direction. “Nothing,” Chester repeats as if now God’s mouthpiece offering your forgiveness. But I’ve dedicated my life to disgust, you think. Reveled in it. And in your final moments God expects you to take this olive branch? To nestle your check into his warmth? To dishonor yourself in this fashion? No doubt a man of your stature would opt for a different path that would no doubt disturb any God. So that’s what you decide to do. In defiance. To honor The Catacomb’s memory. In what you now recognize as your final moments. You bang, and bang, your head until the black ocean starts to swell. To turn like pages. High enough to lick the sun. To swallow it down like a stone. Then—snap—darkness. Near darkness, anyway. As the last embers sizzle out, you sit back, wait for it. For the silence to wash over you, better than any song. A mother’s lullaby. However, from where this silence should be rises another sound. Two-beat, syncopated. Like hands clapping. Chester’s hands, you realize. You’d recognize that croaking laugh anywhere. Then, more hands joining in behind him. Thousands. You can sense your entire tribe there in the dark, gathered. Scarred and bloated in your honor. And in this final moment, you raise your fist in victory. For all to see. In your death throes. Chester’s fingers groping for a pulse. As Boltpin finishes their final number. The crowd staring at you in horror. Transfixed. Just like you’ve always wanted. To make them never forget. And they won’t. Not this. Not ever. Even after The Catacomb is reduced to rubble. Forever, you’ll live inside them all their lives, a rotten seed. The violence of it. The genius. The poetic beauty. Your magnum opus—

            Then it all blinks out in a cymbal crash, mid-song, as you slip peacefully into the void.