Tuesday
Dec142010

What the Fuck is an Electrolyte?

Mike Young




 

Mastodon in a tar pit. Monster truck with a black eye. Nothing Monty could think of got close to how loud he wanted his band. He kept thinking of amps loud enough to rattle sediment. Nu metal that doubled as hydraulic strip mining. Which was funny, that idea, because he’d never even liked nu metal until his brother Tucker hydroplaned on I-80. Black ice and snow had ruined the road, and Tucker slid while barreling west from Reno, a sloppy winner, his car a mess of wine coolers and new fifties. After he lived, people spoke of his luck with their eyebrows aloft, and this pissed Monty off because people—who were people? 

Tucker’s money went to recovery, weeks of drawn shades and soup, as Monty sat Indian-style and played him folk songs. But Tucker banged the nightstand and moaned. Too loud, Monty was too loud. Everything was too loud: commercials, garbage trucks, even rain. One night, a storm clocked an electric pole, and Monty awoke to see a PG&E man in a cherry picker right outside his window. Monty was seventeen. His grades were shit. His father managed a gym and skimmed cash, and his mother guzzled cough syrup until her face drooped. The PG&E man had enormous orange headphones, and he was so close that Monty could make out a Christian fish tattoo on his bicep.

He got up and went into Tucker’s room, found Tucker humming rocketship noises. "Dude," Monty said. Tucker kept humming. Monty walked over and punched Tucker’s arm. Tucker looked up. He smiled and pointed to his ears. "Tuck," Monty shouted. But Tucker shrugged and fanned his ears, still smiling. With a pen off the nightstand he wrote on his hand: CANT HEAR SHIT!! BOOYAH

***

When Tucker went deaf, Monty dumped the acoustic. He bought a Gibson SG, black, and started clipping his toenails in the garage. Friends came over late, slouched through the house, polite to Monty’s mom on the sofa—thanks, no to rooting for white people on reality shows—and polite to Monty’s dad with his cast-iron pan—thanks, no to fried bologna, fried zucchini. They slunk into the garage, bumped fists with Monty, got high, and traded power chords. It wasn’t anything special until Monty got a blowjob from Brooklyn Antoinette Menendez in his dad’s Aerostar. Then Brooklyn’s sort-of boyfriend Roland broke into Monty’s house with a portable drill, stoned and blubbering, and began to stomp and unspool the VHS workout tapes all over the carpet. Monty’s dad found him in the dark and kicked his ass, using a coffeepot until the coffeepot broke. To apologize, Monty suggested to Roland that they start a band.

"My fingers are too fat," Roland said.

"Play bass," Monty said. They were drinking Kool-Aid and vodka. Monty kept the garage lit with a flood lamp he’d stolen from the school theatre. Cinnamon incense killed the pot smell. "Bass is cake. A fucking yeti could play bass."

"Is that it?" Roland said. He poured out his Kool-Aid. "Yeti," he whispered. Then he began to cry, cried for a while into his sleeve, hiccups and snot. From the kitchen, Monty could hear the can opener and his parents laughing, drunker than he was. Tucker, he knew, was upstairs playing text-based online role-playing games, growing the rattiest beard Monty had ever seen in living color. All night Tucker clacked away, pausing only to let the modem screech whenever their shitty dial-up booted him. Tucker didn’t work, but all he ate was candy. So whatever. When Roland stopped crying, Monty turned on his amp. "Grow a pair," he said.

Two chords and one solo later, they had a song. Monty let Roland do vocals. "Scream until you throw up," he told him. "Except don’t throw up."

***

They convinced Brooklyn to skip school the next day and listen to their song. Monty’s parents weren’t home. Roland screamed the song’s final line right into Brooklyn’s face, but he didn’t look at her. All of his body was hunkered into the microphone, clenched and hot, and Monty thought he looked like a jaguar with a head to chew, a muskrat maybe. Whatever jaguars ate to file their teeth. After the last of the feedback drained away, everybody’s ears tinning and their heads light, Ronald went to his knees for bombast, and Brooklyn took the microphone. "Calm down," she said. Then Roland bit her wrist and she let him. She craned and gasped a little. "You guys are crazy," she said.

"That was pretty dank," Monty said, watching them.

Roland howled. Brooklyn giggled and pushed him away, sat over on Monty’s amp. She dangled her checkerboard Vans. "I couldn’t really hear you, but you sounded hella good," she said. "I mean, I could hear you. Just not, like, the words."

Monty nodded. Roland was still on his knees. Monty kicked him in the back, gently. "Be louder, dumb fuck," he said. Roland got up and slung the microphone cord over his neck like a towel. He was bobbing his head. "Fuck yeah," he said. "Fuck yeah."

***

They couldn’t agree on a name, but they did get this dude Duncan to play drums. Though Duncan was rich and kind of a poser, he had what Monty considered the sickest kit in town. His cymbals were so tall he had to stand a little to crash them. Duncan led them to a name one night after they’d thrashed through a few songs and were feeling pretty pumped. "What about," he said, panting, "Castles of Righteous?"

Roland raised his top lip. "Are you fucking with us?"

"Alright," Duncan said. "Retribution—" he made a fist. "Something. Retribution something."

Tucker walked in. He held a carton of milk. His eyes were mottled and twitchy, and he was wearing unlaced snow boots. His beard dangled to his chest. He dumped the milk on the garage floor and a cockroach skittered away from the puddle.

Monty turned off his amp. He made the sign language for "mom" and "dad" by spreading his right hand and touching his thumb to his chin, then his forehead. Tucker snorted, which sounded like a rat sneeze.

Roland picked his cord off the floor where the milk was spreading. "That’s really gross," he said.

"Roach milk," Duncan said. "That’s it."

Roland considered. "Nice."

Tucker dropped the carton and walked back inside. Monty stepped over and squished the carton flat. "Roach milk," he said. He pictured the name in large white letters. With a font like eroded stone. Would it make them louder? Loud as fuck? The garage was full of barbells and stationary bikes. His father sometimes cornered him about exercise, about feeling one muscle blend into the next, but Monty didn’t give a shit about his muscles. He didn’t want to feel himself at all.

"Roach milk sounds gay," he said. "And it’s too much like Black Flag."

Duncan kicked his bass drum. "You guys don’t even want a name," he said.

"Dude," Roland shrugged. "I liked it."

"How about no fucking name," Monty said. "Nobody Needs a Name."

Duncan and Roland looked at each other. Duncan scratched his head with his drumstick. "That’s kind of long. Roach Milk is like—bam."

Monty turned on his amp and played a minor chord. It soaked into the garage. "Whatever," he said. "It’s gay, but whatever."

***

Roach Milk played two shows before they disbanded. At their last show—placing third of four at a YMCA battle of the bands, little kids running to hide in the showers after two songs, but who the fuck let little kids in, Monty wanted to know—Roland found Brooklyn Antoinette Menendez in the parking lot making out in her car with a girl. When he flipped out, they rolled up the window. He beat his knuckles against the glass until they bled, and when he started licking the blood and spitting at the car, Brooklyn peeled away.

Duncan’s parents made him sell his kit before college. He didn’t even bother offering them to Monty. "These or tuition," Duncan told him, sheepish, tossing the kit into his truck bed. Monty thought about chucking a barbell after the truck, but he liked the kit too much to risk it.

Monty didn’t go anywhere. After he graduated, he got two jobs: afternoons at the cannery and late-night security at the casino. The owner of his father’s gym found out about the embezzling and his father went to jail. At the sentencing, his father unbuttoned the cuffs of his silk dress shirt. Monty’s mother was crying and laughing at the same time. "Don’t worry," his father said, squeezing her all over. "They’re gonna let me wear this in there. It’s not even a real jail. Look, they’re gonna let me wear this." Monty took one of the tissues out of his mother’s purse and tried to shine his boots, but the tissue ripped.

***

After this, Monty’s mother would spend hours spreading peanut butter. Sandwiches, she said. For your father. But she’d put them in the fridge. She made Monty dole her his paychecks, and she never even showed Tucker his disability money. People started coming over with clipboards and ways to take the exercise equipment from the garage. One day a woman came from the internet. Huge in purple sweatpants. She had the weakest voice Monty had ever heard.

"I said is this the Tucker residence," she said.

"The what?" Monty said.

Blushing, the woman asked a third time. "He knows I’m here," she added.

"Tucker doesn’t know anybody," Monty said. He filled the doorway so the woman couldn’t see his mother asleep on the couch.

"He knows because it’s three o’clock," the woman said. Her face was bleach-pale, and she kept running a thumb above her lip.

Monty heard something lumping downstairs and turned to see Tucker dragging their father’s biggest duffel bag. Tucker’s beard hung to his thighs, and Monty could see a Q-Tip in the scrag.

This is Audrey, Tucker signed. He smiled at Audrey, who blushed again. She made the sign for the verb instead of his name. Tucker made a laugh sound.

"Give me a break," Monty said. He could feel his chest ripple, and he tried to stop himself from breathing too much.

Don’t worry, Tucker signed.

"We met on Marradon," Audrey said. "It’s a game world."

You know I need this, Tucker signed to Monty. He repeated the sign for need.

Monty didn’t help them carry anything, but Tucker didn’t have a lot to carry. Audrey’s car was a Mini Cooper, yellow-roofed with racing stripes. Monty watched Tucker lug his computer to Audrey’s trunk, the tower then the monitor, cords snaking through the grass, catching on sprinkler heads. Monty’s mother slept with her lips parted, cushion between her legs. When Audrey started the car, Monty saw Tucker pull her t-shirt at the shoulder and kiss that skin.

***

Monty’s mother vacuumed Tucker’s room then bolted the door. "Best sell that Aerostar," she said. Monty printed flyers and stapled them on phone poles. People called and inspected, hemmed and hawed, kicked the fender and stuck their fists in the exhaust pipe. Finally, the tennis coach from Monty’s old high school wrote a check. "The district’s supposed to cover this shit," he said. He shrugged and bit a banana. He and Monty were at the kitchen table with paperwork. Monty put the pink slip in a manila folder and wrote the date, feeling like he was taking an exam. The coach wore plaid shorts and wraparound sunglasses.

"Asians," he said, scratching under his eye. "Team’s full of Asians. Ting starts playing and wham: cousin Tong’s gotta scoop the action. Pretty soon you’ve got enough Asians out there to make some sort of xylophone. Ping pong sching schong. But God bless ‘em. They can volley. Can’t serve, but sure as shit can they volley. Now it’s like, where am I gonna put them all? Well, bingo. My boy Mr. Aerostar to the rescue." He held up his hand for a high five.

Monty rose and opened the refrigerator, got a tea jar of Kool-Aid. "You want some?" he said.

The coach scoffed. "If you’re gonna down that sugar water, get it with electrolytes."

"Electrolytes," Monty said, pouring. He thought about how many times he’d heard people say that word. People after people. Making goals and guzzling electrolytes. What the fuck is an electrolyte, he thought. Sure they sound impressive, like they glow and you should look them up, fill your life with them. But why? How much could they really help?

Monty’s mother walked in. She wore a wrinkled pantsuit. Her cheeks had little smears of unabsorbed cold cream. Before Monty could stop her, she hugged him. "If I didn’t have the sun," she said. "If I didn’t have either one of my beautiful afternoon suns!" She winked at the coach. "S-o-n," she said. "You our van man?"

"Proudly," the coach said. He waved his banana at Monty’s mother. "For my tennis team."

"Tennis!" Monty’s mother shouted. "There’s something I miss. Barely enough time to sneak away from the desk and make lunch with my boy." She jiggled Monty’s shoulder. "I remember when they put Jimmy Connor on the Wheaties box—you know what I did? I called the hotline and asked for five more!"

The coach grinned: mouth lopsided, eyes tinted by glass.

Monty poured Kool-Aid and didn’t stop. The Kool-Aid overflowed the glass and pooled red across the counter. He kept pouring. Whole tea jar of the shit, he figured. His mother didn’t notice until a puddle reached her feet. She shrieked. "Where’s the sponge?" she yelled. "Don’t hide the sponge."

The coach swiped his manila folder and held it to his chest.

When he’d emptied the whole jar, Monty stuck his thumb in the spill and tasted the Kool-Aid. No electrolytes.

***

Now Monty had to walk. The cannery wasn’t too far from his house, but getting to the casino was a bitch. Buses didn’t run that late, so he was stuck with a good couple miles of legwork. In the summer, he tied his t-shirt around his waist. Even early, the heat felt like somebody composting molten chalk all over his body. He sweated and scowled, passing ranch houses and check-cashing places, abandoned laundromats and imported palm trees. There was Thai food in an old Long John Silvers, knickknacks in converted saloons. Shacks that sold pemmican, tackle, and dreamcatchers. Signs about cigarette prices, assholes making wide turns in their R/Vs. Once he saw an old Indian on a mountain bike, wearing a studded cowboy hat and hauling a rickshaw full of canned yams. Twice he saw cop cars outside the bowling alley, which opened to serve beer after bars closed. And that’s where he saw the burn welts on the right foot of Brooklyn Antoinette Menendez.

She was seated outside, yakking at a cop. Her hair was bleached in a way Monty didn’t remember. She was showing the cop her foot when she noticed Monty. After the cop walked away to talk into his shoulder, Brooklyn limped across the parking lot. "Fucking gravel," she said.

"The hell you do to yourself?"

Her welts were bright maroon and crusty. In the early light they seemed to glitter, but Monty knew that was just from walking where the cars parked.

"I tried to karate a guy," Brooklyn said. "But he grabbed and put his lighter all over my damn foot. Trick, he calls it. Jesus."

"You drunk?"

She blew on the hair above her eyes. "Let’s book before I get my ID back."

"Sick of your birthday?"

Brooklyn grabbed his arm and tugged him into walking. She grimaced and gingered her foot. "It’s a fake ID, dumbass."

Then the cop whistled at them, and Brooklyn ran. Ha, Monty thought. He took after. His waist shirt came loose. They cut through backyards. Monty saw a dog and swerved, but the dog was asleep. Monty kept glancing at Brooklyn, who had her teeth crunched. "It’s good," she kept saying. "It’s good. I can’t feel it." In a yard with a kiddie pool, Brooklyn stopped and dumped herself ass-first on the lawn. She coughed and spit while Monty squished his shoe into the pool. It was empty.

"Was he even chasing us?" he said.

"Exercise," Brooklyn panted. "Keep my figure with this shit."

Monty lay down and felt the grass tickle his ear. "I’m supposed to be sleeping right now," he said.

"Fuck that. Buy me a doughnut."

"I hate doughnuts."

"Buy me a creamsicle, then." She sighed. "Go for broke."

Monty put his face in the grass and chewed. Brooklyn came over and sat on his ankles. She weaved her nails down his back, put her fingers under his belt. "It’s rush hour," she said.

***

When Monty told his mother he was crashing from now on with Brooklyn Antoinette Menendez, she smirked, watched an episode of Judge Judy, then locked herself in the bathroom. "Can’t take the guitar," she said. "Your father paid for that guitar."

"Yeah?" Monty called. He brought his guitar case to the bathroom door, peeled stickers off and stuck them on the wood. "Can I get some weekend visits?"

"Smart-ass. Top of everything else, I’ve got a smart-ass."

Monty left the case and went into his room. He tore the sheets off his mattress, dragged the mattress off his bed, carried it to the bathroom and propped it against the door. Every window in the house was open; his mother wouldn’t run the swamp cooler. Fruit flies had command of one kitchen corner and were jonesing for others. Most of the garage shit had been gutted—liquidated, his mother said. Weekends the tennis coach visited, brought mojito mix and packaged food kits: taco kits, sushi kits. Weekdays his mother would munch taco shells. Mostly all she wore was a sweatsuit and an unknotted tie.

In high school, Monty knew a pediatrician's son. Rich douche. After junior prom, Monty somehow ended up on this son’s trampoline with a bunch of other kids. When they wanted to go inside and drink, the son got pissed and made everybody split. Later, Monty found out that the pediatrician liked to unwind by mopping naked. Monty wanted to call the son, but he knew he’d get an answering machine. He wanted to uncork a tide of guitar feedback that would melt that answering machine before it could even fucking beep.

His mother began to cuss. She flushed the toilet and cussed louder. "There’s shit in my blood," she yelled. "You cock-ass faggot shitheads. There’s blood in my fucking shit. Is that happy? Are you pleased?"

Monty got a steak knife. He cut holes in the mattress. Then he shoved the mattress over and beat the door until his mother opened up. She looked at the knife. Her pants were down and her face seemed precarious, poorly stacked. She turned her back to Monty, craned out the window and beckoned air. "See what you goddamn faggots all do for me."

Monty tossed the knife into the sink. He looked at the toilet bowl. There was a good amount of blood, but no shit. Strands of blood, floating all by themselves.

***

Roach Milk reunited a little when Monty had to throw Duncan out of the casino. Out of the Bow & Arrow Lounge, specifically. Duncan was trying to sell marijuana to two soldiers during a funk concert. The soldiers—drunk and buzz-haired, with dog tags and girls they kept mixing up—tried to kick Duncan’s ass. Monty didn’t want to fight the soldiers, so he joined them. All the commotion fizzled the music, except for the bass player, who wore enormous purple sunglasses shaped like elephants: he slapped and swayed, oblivious. Finally, the girls pulled the soldiers off Duncan. One of the girls spilled one of the soldier’s beers; the soldier lifted his shirt and made her lick his abs.

After the funk resumed, Monty dragged Duncan to the men’s room. The music was muffled, but a loose faucet buzzed from the bass. Someone had dragged a ream of paper towels across the sinks. One of the urinals hung at a tilt. GET FUKD GIT FUCKED was Sharpied on the mirror. Duncan had cuts on his face and kept squeezing his dreadlocks. "My brain’s leaking," he slurred. Droopy-eyed, he stared at himself and Monty in the mirror. "Yo, you were in my band."

Monty sat in the skewed urinal. "Hurry up," he said. "I have to throw you out."

But Duncan was beaming and snapping his fingers. He smacked the mirror. "You were in Roach Milk!" he said. "Monty something. Man, those were the sweet days, right? Those were the Little Debbie days, motherfucker." He reached out his hand to Monty, who hesitated, then slapped Duncan’s palm. Their fingers slid and locked, boomeranged apart. Monty flexed his fist, which hurt from punching Duncan, and Duncan kept flopping his hand like he was drying it. Monty sat in the urinal and watched as Duncan began to do some ridiculous hippie dance, shoulders bobbing, spaced-out grin. "It wasn’t your band," Monty said. "Where the fuck did you go, anyway?"

"Humboldt State," Duncan said. "I been resting with the fern gullies. Doing that yah mahn. I been log-dogging that outlook of progress, you feel me? Shit’s all in the woods." Still dancing, he took a baggie out of his pocket and shook buds and stems all over his hair.

"You went to Humboldt State," Monty said. "Then you came back here."

"Went is the modus of operation," Duncan said. "I dropped that shit like a seaside sunset. Three years in the State, man. Three years in the skeptical of the Boss Brother. It’s all simulacrum and faso-sadism." He ripped a scrap of paper towel and daubed his face. "This shit’s made from organisms, yo."

"Where did you sell your kit?" Monty said.

"Kit-Kat?"

"Your drums."

Duncan laughed. "Truth bomb! That’s the kinda truth a State tries to gum up, you know? Fuck the State, man. Fuck that fascist university shit. Fast and be universal, you know?"

Monty felt the urinal below his ass, a dampness, but he knew that nobody would see a stain in the dark. Nobody would be staring at his ass. Not with the strobe lights, the Chesterfields and wads of dip. Not with the droops of belly fat, the shark tooth necklaces, the chinstrap beards and tacky mascara, all of the people in the dark with their paper wristbands, cover paid and eyes red, scanning for the hottest, shiniest, and most susceptible, hoping and dreading to see the whole goddamn town. Monty knew that nobody would notice him. Not until somebody flipped out and he had to collar them. Fuck this shit, they’d bellow. And Monty knew of the shit they meant, he understood why they were always trying to fuck that shit, but all they ever did was fuck themselves. Shit, meanwhile, kept thumping away, pervasive as the bass that people—who called and complained—could hear for miles. But nobody—not the cocksuckers in the casino, not the squares dinking around in the foothills—would care about his wet ass. Why should they? Who did anything worth caring about? People hawked their drums. They wore orange headphones. Purple sweatpants. They played text-based RPGs. They mopped naked. Without permission or proof, they accused others of luck. They sought electrolytes as welts glittered and roaches crawled from milk. Roach milk. Monty still hated the name, but at least Duncan had remembered. Most people, Monty thought, they didn’t even fill their fucking kiddie pools.

Duncan danced slower and slower, crouched and passed out. Monty got up and dug in Duncan’s pockets, found a wallet and baggies of shake. He took the shake and tossed Duncan’s wallet on a bed of paper towels. Monty knew he’d probably see him that weekend in Taco Bell, churro dust on his fingers. He wondered if he was living with his parents. If they’d make him lose the dreadlocks. Monty grabbed Duncan’s limp hand and tore off his wristband.

***

After the concert, the bass player from the funk band strolled over to Monty. He was still sporting his elephant sunglasses. But Monty looked and saw they were hollow. His shirt was silk and open-throated, pockets scalloped. He punched Monty in the chest. "Damn son," he said. "You kept a handle out there. We’re grateful as hell. You want the tour?"

The band’s bus had black carpet and cup holders that glowed. One dude was eating a TV dinner and popping antacids. Another had a straw in a bottle of wine. A woman in a kimono sat on the floor, whispering into a cell phone and hiding her mouth with her hand. Several table fans swiveled and whined, and the bus smelled of ammonia and coffee. When Monty and the bass player walked in, all the guys grunted cheers, but the woman kept whispering.

Monty sat while the bass player ducked into the back. The woman snapped her cell phone shut and glared at him. "Podunk fucks," she said.

"Podunk funk!" somebody said, and the band laughed.

"This a living for you?" she asked Monty. "What are you, one-eighth?"

Somebody leaned over to Monty. The drummer, maybe. "Nobody pays," he said. "Jews, Indians, crackers, don’t matter. Nobody pays. You know who I am?" Monty stared at him. "Neither do I," the guy said.

"I’m not tribal," Monty said.

The woman looked at her phone. "That wasn’t even a business call." She lay back on the floor and set a pillow on her face.

The bass player returned in a robe, still with the sunglasses. He carried a gold vinyl record. "John Hancocks," he shouted. "Finger, set, go."

"Aw, c’mon," somebody said. "Give him a real CD."

The drummer got up and opened a mini fridge. He tossed something to Monty: a package of thin-sliced deli ham. "Don’t get a stomachache," the drummer said.

"What do you go by?" asked the bass player. He had the record smooshed against the wall, a marker in his mouth, elephants sliding down his nose. Just then, the bus sputtered and revved. The bass player stumbled, but he kept a hold on the record, clamped his teeth on the marker.

Monty thought awhile. "Tucker. Make it out to Tucker."

"With a T?"

Monty nodded.

"Seriously," somebody said.

"Fuck off," said the bass player. "Tucker, listen, you want a real CD?"

Monty shook his head. He stared at the ham. "Whatever you got," he said.

"See?" said the bass player. "Here’s a kid who knows up from up." He signed the gold vinyl meticulously, swoops in slow motion. Monty watched out the window as the bus reversed in the casino parking lot, honking and blinking. From the floor, her voice half-smothered by the pillow, the woman began to hum one of the band’s songs.