Los Angeles, CA
Gina shot me a scornful look, the same kind of stink-eye she gave me whenever she knew I was full of shit.
"Samuel, you're gonna do what you're gonna do," she said while trying to find her car keys. She always called me Samuel when she tried to speak with authority. With our two kids she would rattle off something my mother did and call them by their full names including their middle name. Hearing those three names in quick succession gave me the chills because my kids sounded like serial killers or assassins.
"I just said I'd meet Sheldon for lunch nothing more. I sunk all our money into this fucking home studio so I'm tapped out. You know that."
"Samuel, you never listen to me anyway. I want you to remember this moment... Wednesday morning May 2nd at 8:30-something in the morning... because when Sheldon does what Sheldon does best and weasels his way back into your life, don't come bitching to me."
Gina found her keys and blew me a kiss as she rushed out the door. She was right. Gina was never one of those wives who hated all of your friends or constantly questioned why certain people were in my life, even my ex-girlfriends. But she didn't like Sheldon. Come to think of it, no one really did.
I walked to Swingers instead of driving, or riding my bike which I normally would have done, just in case Sheldon wanted me to give him a ride to a fucking crack house in East L.A., or driving over to the Valley so he could pawn his amp. I arrived ten minutes late only because Sheldon was perpetually late. I don't think he ever owned a watch since I first met him at Fairfax my freshman year in high school. He was a year older and one of the biggest freaks in school with half his head shaved and super long, purple-dyed hair on the other side. He was living in the shadow of his sister, who had just been in one of those teen movies. She was the girl next door type, while Sheldon looked like a roadie for Marilyn Manson. I remember the first time he came up to me in the hallways and gave me a folded up invite to see his band play. He remarked that he saw a Ramones sticker on my locker and deduced that we had similar musical tastes.
"You'll dig my band. Tons of hotties come. Not just punkers."
Sheldon's band was called... ummm... for the fuck of me I can't remember. Crotch Raid? Crotch Shack? Something with a Crotch in it. It was one of your typical mid-90s post-post-punk bands that were a really bad and tepid imitation of Green Day meets the Clash, except without any of the talent. Sheldon played bass. He was over 6-feet-3-inches tall, but he leaned over in a weird crouch/slouch combo so he shrunk to like 5-foor-6 or something. I went to a couple of his shows and I was usually the only one from our high school in the crowd. Heck, I was usually 33% of the crowd that included me and the two girlfriends of the other guys in the band, one of which was Sheldon's cousins (his claim to fame was that he auditioned to be in Red Hot Chili Peppers and if he didn't get arrested for stealing CDs at Tower Records, he would have been the guy to replace their former guitar player who died of an OD. The Chili Peppers passed on Sheldon's cousin and added John Frusciante, and alas, the Peppers took off from there and blew the fuck up with Blood Sugar Sex Majik). Anyway, Sheldon's cousin replaced someone else in a different punk-ska band that was about to tour in Japan, so Sheldon had an opening spot in his band, which he renamed Yellow Bird, but with odd spellings so it came out Yollew Byrd.
I didn't know how to play guitar. I took piano lessons in sixth and seventh grade, but that was the end of my musical education. Sheldon ignored my pleas that I didn't know how to play. When he got set in his ways, he blocked out all logic and sanity, and followed through on his own fucked-up vision. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about him. Sheldon said he'd teach me but gave me a ten-minute lesson and that was it. I had to pester my dad to loan me money to take lessons on Saturday morning. My old man loved Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers and he told me if I wanted to be a great guitar player, then I needed to study Skunk Baxter, who was regarded as the best technically sound studio musician on the West Coast. My dad bought me four VHS tapes that Skunk put out. I studied them two hours every day... an hour after I woke up and an hour before I went to bed. Sheldon always took credit for teaching me how to play. He gave me a chance to play in his band, but that was it. The Skunk videos and endless hours of practice helped me become an accomplished player. But in high school, I was terrible and still learning simple chords.
I was in Sheldon's Yollew Byrd band and different incarnations of that band for the next three years I attended Fairfax High School. I told him I had to leave the band when I went to college in Seattle. He didn't talk to me for a week, but then he called up and insisted that he was going to live up there with me even though he had barely graduated high school a year early and had no intentions of going to college. At that point, his sister had parlayed a career in child acting into budding stardom. She offered to pay to send him to film school or art school, but instead she bankrolled his move to Seattle. I refused to live with him and that caused a huge fight. He was in tears. I couldn't believe it. Here's this tall dude in a punk band crying like a little girl. What Sheldon didn't understand was that I wanted the normal college experience so I lived in a dorm, then rushed a fraternity. Sheldon hung out at all of our parties and pretty much became my fraternity's pot and speed dealer, despite the fact no one liked him very much.
In Seattle, we formed a new band called Throttle Nutsack. For some reason Sheldon was infatuated with the male genitalia and often named his bands based on some derivative or slang of the male sex organs. We gigged all over Seattle and played every shitty dive bar that would have us. We even played bars up in Bellingham and down in Olympia. We had become a decent bar band and I was improving every single day, but Sheldon was holding us back from reaching our full potential. He fired every manager we ever had and took over for those duties. He frequently got into arguments with club owners and even got into silly spats with our few fans. He constantly talked down to them. Despite our obvious problems, one of the guys from Sub Pop approached us. He liked our sound, but hated the lead singer (a.k.a. Sheldon). He said he preferred the few songs our drummer sung on and told us we could have a record deal if we kicked Sheldon out of the band. I felt bad but not ambitious enough to fuck him over. I politely declined, but got told by the record exec that I was foolish because I had tons of raw talent, but it would never come to fruition so long as Sheldon was holding us back... and specifically holding me back. The drummer and other guitar bailed and joined a punk-metal band that was quickly signed by Sub Pop. For the next year, Sheldon and I continued to play together, but our new band was nowhere as good as Throttle Sack (I hated saying "nutsack" and always omitted the "nut" which used to drive Sheldon bonkers).
My dad lost his job and took early retirement at the post office. I dropped out of UW and moved back home. I hoped that Sheldon would stay behind in Seattle. He had met a girl and they were doing their best Sid and Nancy impression the entire time they dated each other. I assumed he'd stay in Seattle with her, but once again he followed me. Going back to Cali.
Sheldon immediately wanted to form a new band together. I cited burnout and needed some time off. I went to work at a music store and gave guitar lessons to rich kids from the West Side who thought the guitar was their ticket to endless pussy. Sheldon constantly pestered me to start a new band, but the time away from Sheldon was amazing (he was a suffocating friend who could never be alone) and I realized how much more fun I had jamming around with work friends and students. I even joined a jazz ensemble for a short period, which really upset Sheldon, so much so he got super drunk and punched his hand through a window. He thought I was selling out by playing jazz. All I wanted to do was get better. I knew I had to play different kinds of music before I finally developed my own playing style. Sheldon wanted to stick with punk because he was lazy and never bothered to learn more than two or three chords.
Sheldon wanted all the fame of being a rock star without paying his dues and doing the grunt work by toiling for hours and hours in practice. Sheldon scoffed at practice and always showed up late because he felt he was the best player in the band and that we were the ones who needed practice. That narcissistic fucktard never figured out that we couldn't get better unless we practiced. Most of the time he never showed up at all. We only got good because we played a ton of gigs. That was our only real full practice time.
Sheldon wasn't the tormented genius who strived for perfection. Rather, he was the freak with delusions of grandeur. Having a super-famous sister really fucked him up in the head. He was resentful. He was always angry. He hated the attention she got from their family and friends. He was convinced that his sister's agent was purposefully sabotaging his career. Every time she had a new movie role, he would tell everyone that he was going to write the soundtrack. Alas, he never collaborated on any of his sister's projects probably because the one time we got a chance... we totally tanked and sucked ass. Sheldon got one shot out of pure nepotism. The director of one his his sister's new movies agreed to come to our show in Seattle (he was there coincidentally and stopped by as a personal favor to his sister, mainly because he wanted to bang her). Alas, it was ugly. We played like shit because we didn't practice and didn't have a setlist. Sheldon wanted to wing it and play whatever songs titles that popped into his head while he closed his eyes. Sheldon played horribly at that gig. To be honest, at that height of Throttle Sack, Sheldon was the weakest member of the band but he thought he was the second coming of Iggy Pop. His inability to be self-aware and listen to criticism did him in.
I saved up some money giving guitar lessons and without telling Sheldon, I took off for Europe with just my acoustic guitar and a backpack. I was determined to busk all over Europe that summer. After a couple of weeks of dicking around, I called home and my brother said Sheldon was on his way to Europe to find me. I guess my mother told him I was living in Amsterdam and his sister gave him money to fly out. I bailed Amsterdam the next day and flew to New York to visit a cute girl I had met in Italy while playing Beatles' covers in the streets of Rome. Gina lived in Brooklyn and invited me to stay with her for a few days. Well, a few days turned into a few weeks and then 16 months later, Gina and I got married.
While shacking up with Gina in Brooklyn, I got a job at a recording studio as an assistant to the assistant sound engineer. One late night, I got invited to sit in with UNKLE when their guitar player got into a pissing match with their manager. They liked how I sounded and asked me to finish out the remaining session with them. We cut the final two songs on the album and they loved the fact I did exactly what they asked. I guess all those years playing with Sheldon had turned me into a robot who followed orders without questioning them. UNKLE's manager asked me to play a couple of local shows with them in New York before they returned to the U.K. I was hoping they'd offer me a full-time position with the band, mainly because Gina wanted to live in London. Alas, I got some bad news because UNKLE had a different new guitar player lined up (one of the original members). But I also got a bit of good news. They returned to London but gave me a glowing recommendation to a producer named Schecky Stiles, who managed an up and coming band from Charleston named Those Superfluous Wankers. They needed a new guitar player after their former one went to rehab for pills and booze.
I cut one record with Those Superfluous Wankers and we toured for nine months before the band broke up. I split off with the drummer and formed a new band named Fennis Denbo (which I had picked based on a former college basketball star from Wyoming). Schecky managed us and we got a letter from a lawyer representing Fennis Denbo, who never made it in the NBA. I guess he didn't like the fact that his given name inspired the name of our indie-pop band. We changed our band name to Fenis Dumbo to avoid any legal troubles. After that initial speed bump, the band took off and never looked back.
Ten years later... Fenis Dumbo had five albums (plus one-live album), a documentary film, and we criss-crossed the world on several world tours. I even got to visit China and South Africa. A decade after forming the band, we desperately needed a break after a whirlwind career that went so fast, it seemed like a blurry dream. I was super burned out, barely saw my kid, and my marriage with Gina was at a tipping point.
That was three years ago. In the meantime, Gina and I added a second kid to our family and we had moved back to Los Angeles, so I could be around my mother who had gotten breast cancer. During our hiatus, Fenis Dumbo broke up. Last year, the promoters at Coachella offered us a lot of loot to come back for a reunion show. We turned them down, but we all could have used the money for one reason or another mostly because we were all in our mid-late 30s and started families. We didn't want to return to the big stage and play like shit and ruin the sanctity of our music. We reluctantly passed, but entertained the idea of a full-blown reunion on our own terms.
I had not seen Sheldon in years. He shuffled back and forth from Austin and Boulder. His sister had bankrolled numerous projects and get-rick-quick schemes. For a while, Sheldon managed a boy band, but they fired him when they found out he was stealing their money. He opened up a recording studio, but then he claimed the landlord had screwed him over. He started a hip-hop label, but then he claimed the groups he signed had screwed him over and stabbed him in the back when they signed with a more reputable company. Then he opened up a juice bar and a yoga studio. Both failed to even last a month. He opened a pet grooming shop, but forgot he was allergic to dogs so he had to close that down. Whatever half-baked business idea he had, his sister had given him the money. Every time. Most of the time (okay all of the time), Sheldon blew the start-up funds on drug-fueled benders with strippers. After he wasted every dollar, he'd come up with a new scheme and pressure his sister into giving him more money. She was an enabler, but passive-aggressively threw money at the problem. It was easier to write him a check then to have him constantly play mind games or potentially ruin her career by doing something stupid like getting caught with a trannie hooker in WeHo. So long as Sheldon didn't live in LA, his sister bankrolled whatever he wanted. You would have thought she'd say no after a while... but Sheldon had a way of manipulating people. He should have been a car salesman or worked on Wall Street. He missed his calling in life as a salesman. Instead of parlaying all that seed money into a legit business, he went off in a self-indulgent bacchanalian bender fueled by meth and hookers. He must have wasted at least a million or maybe more of his sister's hard-earned money.
"Back in LA?" I said to Sheldon as I extended my hand for a handshake. He tried to embrace me and an awkward hug ensued.
"Yes. I'm here on business. I'm opening up a dispensary in Boulder. Colorado has legal weed, you know. Now's the time to get in on the ground floor."
The way Sheldon talked, it sounded like he was acting in an infomercial. "But wait... there's more! Act now and you get two Slap Chops for the price of one!!!"
We hadn't even sat down and I knew he was going to hit me up for cash to invest in his weed store. Some people never change. For the next thirty minutes all he did was talk about himself and rant about all of the people who had fucked him over. The music industry isn't all milk and cookies, but the way he bitched and moaned about it, it sounded like it was his first time ever getting dicked over.
Gina is a sweetheart and purposely called me 45 minutes into lunch with a fake family emergency so I could abruptly end lunch, especially if Sheldon only wanted to pump me for money. She was right. She's always right. I never listened to her. Luckily she didn't let me get sucked into Sheldon's world. She was my only way out of an annoying, high-stress situation.
I politely explained to Sheldon I hada family thing to attend to.
"Gina had to pick Marley up from school, so now I have to go pick up Jerry and take him to baseball practice."
"Who is Marley? And Jerry?"
"You have kids?"
Sheldon ignored everything I said and instead he launched into a spiel about how he was giving me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get in on the ground floor as an investor. He wanted to offer me up 10% of his weed store but for half the price that normal investors were giving him.
"It's a brotherly discount."
"We're not brothers."
"You know what I mean. Brothers for life."
"Look Sheldon, I'm not interested and I gotta go. I'm sorry I can't help you out. I'm tapped out. Kids are fucking expensive. Schools in LA are shit. You don't want to know how much I have to shell out to pay for private school? Why don't you ask your sister for help on this one?"
"Whatever. Fucking yuppie scum. Spoil your kids instead of helping out a friend. You've always been selfish Sammy. Always thinking about yourself. I fucking made you. Remember that? I gave you a life. Before you met me, you were some nerdy kid who was getting beat up every day for being called a faggot."
I didn't say anything except, "You have a bad memory Sheldon." Actually, I was somewhat popular and played baseball and basketball. It wasn't until I joined Sheldon's band when I started to get picked on. If I had a tough time in high school, it's because I was friends with Sheldon. That shithead has selective memory. I got into fights because kids were calling Sheldon a faggot. I defended his scrawny ass and this is the thanks I get?
"And don't forget, you followed me around like a puppy and rode my coattails up to Seattle!" screamed Sheldon. "I helped land us that huge record deal with Sub Pop. We were gonna be big. Bigger than Soundgarden. Bigger than Nirvana."
"More bad memory Sheldon," I said once again as our argument spilled outside in front of Swingers. Sheldon forgot that he followed me to Seattle when I went to UW. Plus, it was the drummer's girlfriend who got us in contact with Sub Pop.
"And then you broke up the band when you decided to pussy out and move back to LA."
Sheldon was starting to really piss me off. Did he really think these things? Crazy people tweak the truth to make themselves feel better, or to pass the blame onto someone else instead of accepting responsibility for their own actions. Sheldon was always mentally ill, but he really fell off the deep end.
"Sheldon, are you fucking dense? My dad got laid off and couldn't afford to send me to out-of-state college. Did you forget that my dad was a civil servant and my mom worked at UCLA as a secretary? I was middle class all the way. I wasn't a rich kid like you sponging off my famous sister."
"You were always jealous of me."
I laughed but not in a funny way when someone gets kicked in the nuts on America's Funniest Home Videos. I laughed out of anger so I didn't beat the crap out of Sheldon on Lincoln Blvd.
"Sheldon, seriously. Did you forget what went down? My dad got laid off. I went back to LA to get a job. I was working. For a living. A job. A fucking job. And I didn't break up our band. It was already broken up. I stuck with you out of loyalty. I could have gotten a record deal with TC and the other guys in Throttle Sack, but that was only if we kicked you out of the band. Sub Pop wanted us, not you. But I stood up for my friend. I said it's all of us, or I walk. Guess what? They told me goodbye. I stuck with you out of loyalty and then you accuse me of breaking up the band? Are you seriously fucking deranged?"
"Whatever. I fucking made you. Without me you were nothing. How did you repay me? You started that gay fucking band that was a flaming-homo, watered-down version of Wilco, and did you even bother to ask me to play bass? How about sit in on a recording session? All those times you played in Colorado, you never invited me onstage to jam with your band? Disrespectful. Only thinking about yourself"
"If we were a gay version of Wilco... er, sorry, a flaming-gay water-down version of Wilco... then why would you want to play with us faggots?"
"I should fucking sue your ass. They way I see it, I'm entitled to at least half the money you made."
"What? Are you fucking serious? Sheldon, do me a favor and never call me again. Jesus. I felt sorry for you, that's why I agreed to meet you. And what do you do? You hit me up for money to invest in a bogus scheme that we all know you're going to take the money and blow it on whatever designer drugs you're shoving up your ass these days. Then you erroneously and falsely accuse me of breaking up our band in Seattle. And then you insult me and my band by calling us a bunch of wanna-be Wilco fags. Maybe instead of getting fucked up all the time and blaming other people for your problems, you could channel all that energy into becoming a better musician and learn better listening skills so you can be a better bandmate. But, you won't. So long as your rich fucking sister keeps doing those stupid fucking talking cat movies, you'll never have to work another day in your life. Why don't you bother her. She's loaded. I'm broke. I gotta give guitar lessons to Hancock Park spoiled shitheads just so I can afford to buy my kid new cleats and a glove for little league."
"Typical Sammy. Always thinking of yourself. I'm glad I kicked you out of our band. You're a shitty guitar player anyway. I fucking made you. And this is how you repay me?"
I dug into my pocket, grabbed a $1 bill, dropped my pants, wiped my ass with the bill and then handed it to Sheldon.
"Go fuck yourself, you punk-ass bitch."