CHAPTER 1: OVERTURE
“Don’t call me son.”
“Put your drawers back on,” a TSA official said, reaching for me with blue latex gloves. I knocked his hand away.
It was just a matter of time before they arrested me now. With my jeans around my ankles, I couldn’t run anywhere if I’d wanted to, and I was too aggressively hungover to want to.
“Take a picture, it’ll fucking last longer,” I snarled to a woman nearby who was wearing a scandalized expression and covering her toddler’s eyes. I was, after all, standing in the security line at the Denver airport wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses. Anybody who wasn’t busy covering their kids’ eyes was taking a picture on their ubiquitous camera phones. No way it wasn’t ending up on Facebook.
I wondered how I must look to the soft, normal eyes of the soft, normal people around me, six foot two and every inch looking like the aging punk wannabe I was: blue-haired, covered in tattoos, wiry and feral and three years past his expiration date.
I was getting too old for this shit. Thirty years old was too old for this shit, and I’d been thirty for a good four (… five?) days now. It was all pretty much the same day repeated over and over: I’d wake up, remember I was thirty, and spend the rest of the day trying to forget it. I should have gone into legend tragically young at twenty-seven, cutting short my own potential with drugs and alcohol and, if necessary, a shotgun. But it was too late for that now; now I was thirty. Suicide wasn’t going to turn me into a legend; it would just make me another loser who died trying.
My cell phone rang. I could hear it somewhere in the depths of the tub beneath my shoes and my jacket and my belt and everything else I’d obediently handed over. I reached for it and pressed it to my ear.
“Hey—is this Damen? Damen Warner?” a voice on the far end of the line asked.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
“This is Houston with C3 Presents.”
Did I know a Houston? I couldn’t remember.
“Cool. Talk fast, I’m about to get arrested,” I told him.
“You wanna play Lollapalooza?”
“Sorry dude, what? Say again. I thought you just asked if I wanted to play Lollapalooza.”
“You’re funny.” I wasn’t in the mood for this. “Fucking hiLAIRious, Houston. I’m being Punk’d, right?” I glanced around for Ashton Kutcher’s asshole face. “You know we just got kicked off our own tour, right?” It was why we were in the airport in the first place: flying home in disgrace, me and my four bad-mannered bandmates slinking back to Los Angeles to lick our wounds.
“I’m serious,” the voice managed to sound serious. “We have an opening.”
“Saturday. In the afternoon.”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, it fucking matters,” I snapped, dodging the groping hands of TSA agents and the uncompromising eyes of disapproving bystanders. “You banish us to Perry tent, and they’ll laugh us off the stage: we’re a metal band, not some sixteen-year-old playing dubstep from a MacBook.”
“It’s not Perry stage. Trust me; I’m aware of your sound. We have an artist that’s threatening to walk, and we need someone… local.” I could hear him mentally cross out the word desperate. We were desperate, alright, and Houston knew it: everybody knew it. Our label had dropped us, our manager had gone missing, and our agent wasn’t returning my calls. We were deader than rock and roll.
“Yeah, well, Houston we got a problem: we’re not local. We’re in Denver right now.”
“But you’re all from Chicago, right? Got people there? Family? Pay ‘em a visit for a few weeks.”
“Look, you wanna play Lollapalooza or not?” Houston sounded annoyed; like he hadn’t expected this to be a hard sell.
“Of course I fucking want it,” I said.
“Then get to Chicago. Have your people call me when you get there—”
The officers jerked the phone out of my hand, killing the call. They flanked me on both sides, grabbing a hold of my arms in a firm grip. They let me pull up my pants before putting the handcuffs on, then marched me out of the terminal into the brilliant Colorado sunshine. Depression settled over me like the haze of smoke hanging in the air from the distant wildfires: I was finally going to have to give up and go home like the prodigal fucking son.
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