(With all the heated and violent discussions about Eric, Van and Bob it’s maybe time for some light entertainment. DISCLAIMER: parts of this have appeared previously in CD Swap reviews)
Van sits on a salmon-coloured leather sofa. His feet don’t touch the ground. It’s early in the afternoon, and he’s bored. He picks up his phone. »Hey Georgie, it’s Van.« A long pause. He can hear a distant TV at the other end. »Listen, let me tell you a joke…« He knows he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic so he immediately hangs up. He stares at the framed photo of John Lee Hooker on the wall. Van hops off the leather sofa and goes to the CD player. He switches the player on and the Yo La Tengo disc from last night slides out. He puts the new Tedeschi Trucks Band in, presses a button on the controller and paces up and down as the music starts.
Someone’s ringing at the gate. Van peeks out the window. »Fucking hell!« It’s the intern from Sony in his silly electric car, probably with more records to sign. We’ll take care of that, Van, no worries… they had promised, and then it all backfired. His phone is going crazy, but he pretends he’s not in. When the car finally leaves the driver makes an obscene gesture with his hand. Van lights up a Camel and smiles.
Van fires up the internet on his laptop. 28 people have unfriended him on Facebook, including the person he was in a relationship with. Someone has posted the video from the Last Waltz concert (again!), but it’s now neatly synchronized to a Hitler speech. This is actually proper funny. Still smiling he deletes a few people, among them Mark Ellen, and one of those annoying hipsters from Sony’s office. That’ll teach ‘em. Next he cues up the Hymns To Silence fan forum; maybe he can stir something up. He enters his user name (Ivan The Engine) but can’t remember his log-in. Back to the music then.
Van’s mind begins to wander. There are still two crates with LPs by the window. He has promised to sign them by tomorrow, but he tries not to think about it. Van goes over to the kitchen and puts a lasagne in the oven to bake. He googles the brand on his phone and makes sure he picks the correct temperature. On his way back to the sofa he tries to kick the air just like in the Last Waltz video, and he shouts »Sieg Heil!!« He almost collapses with laughter.
Van checks his phone. Dylan has sent him a selfie with a welder’s full face protection. And a blow torch in his hand. Van scrolls down the pictures on his phone until he finds the one he took last week in the village – a green sticker on a family car proclaiming »Irish Grandad on board«. He forwards it to Bob. No other messages or calls. Van feels slightly sorry for himself.
Van thinks about Slim Harpo. Maybe he should look into the cupboard in his music room if he has a decent photo of him. Someone in the village could make a nice frame, and he could put it where John Lee is hanging right now. John Lee Hooker is too obvious. Even twenty-year-olds know ol’ John Lee.
The phone starts ringing. Unknown caller. Could this be the person he was in a relationship with? Van picks it up. »Yes?«
»Chris…« Van makes a face to himself. Sieg heil, he thinks.
»Van! I’ve just had a fantastic idea!«
»We should do a duet album.«
»Didn’t we already?«
»Not a full album…« Van notices a good moment to get out of this.
»Fucking hell Chris, something’s burning; I put a lasagne in the oven!«
Van hangs up the phone. He hurries over to the kitchen. There are a lot of red lights blinkin’ on the oven. He opens the door and a cloud of black smoke goes into Van’s face.
»Fucking hell!« Van says.
* * *
Saturday. Van drives to the supermarket halfway down the road to the village. »Milkshake« by Kelis is playing in the background while he puts four bottles of mineral water in his cart. He queues behind a drunk man who is buying a pastry thing. Van can overhear an elderly couple in the next queue. »He’s in the Dubliners, isn’t he?« – »Well I think I saw him on the telly with that short bloke from U2.« – »No dear, that was Ten Pound, the fat Italian singer…«
The music in the supermarket changes to »Why Must I Always Explain«, and Van feels awkward. The guy behind the counter gives him a strange look, and Van hurries back to his car.
It’s Sunday morning. Van sits at the table by the window and puts his signature on a stack of albums. There are three crates with LPs by the window, all waiting to be signed. Van is slightly worried and feels sorry for himself. He has put his felt-tip scrawl on nearly twenty copies when he realizes that he has forgotten to remove the shrink-wrap from every one of them. »Fucking hell!« He throws the pen across the room.
Van needs something to eat and goes to the kitchen to cook his celebrated puffy omelett. The music is blaring from the connected speakers, and every time the chorus comes around Van sings along and makes a heroic gesture with his spatula. The omelett is quite a success, and he remembers that he got the recipe from a harmonica player at the Crawfish & Zydeco Festival, in Crawley, Louisiana, »Rice Capital Of The World«.
Van checks his phone – no messages, not from the person he was in a relationship with, nor from the Sony offices. Didn’t they plan to collect the signed items this evening? He checks Twitter, and he’s suddenly up for some mischief. He informs his followers that he knows from »a reliable source« that governments worldwide will delete the internet on July 17. Van immediately gets 31 retweets. He feels better now.
Van is lying on his salmon-coloured leather sofa and thinks about Lucinda Williams. He could listen to her voice all day, maybe with a drink and a fag, sat in an easy chair that would ideally be smoothly elevated up and down, like floating on air. Then Van has an idea, sits up straight, and reaches for his phone. Van googles »stair-lift«. He also opens Twitter by mistake and all hell breaks loose. »Fucking hell!« Van says as he checks the retweets.
Van hears a noise. He turns down the music – his phone is ringing. He picks up the call which is not from the person he was in a relationship with.
It’s the famous guitar player from up the road.
»Van. Everything OK? It’s cards night tomorrow.«
»How could I forget.«
»You’re not too busy with… (a long pause) …signing things?«
Van is pretty sure that the famous guitar player is biting his lip to stop himself from laughing into the phone.
»Nope«, says Van. »See you tomorrow“, and hangs up.
He reaches for the remote control and turn up the music to full volume.
Van suddenly »gets« the pun about the Italian tenor from the supermarket last night. He smiles and is very pleased with himself. Van looks at his phone and scrolls through the numbers until he finds the name of his manager. He phones his manager. When he picks up, Van immediately says »You’re fired«, and ends the call. I’ll call back later on, Van thinks, and tell him I was joking. He sits at his table, smokes a Camel and looks at the unsigned albums. He begins to worry again.
* * *
Van feels a bit better about things – and it’s Cards Night. He’s put on a black pin-striped suit and has a bit of money in the inside pocket of his jacket. The live album by the Tedeschi Trucks Band is playing in the car as he drives up to the home of the famous guitar player. He parks and walks up to the gate. He presses the buzzer.
»Who’s there?« Van smiles. He knows that the famous guitar player has put on his specs and is watching from the study on the first floor.
Van leans forward towards the intercom, hands on his back. »International. Pop. Star.«
Van chuckles. Boom-tish. There’s a short silence.
»Hi Van. Come on in.«
The gate swings open, Van tilts his hat to the side, and walks up to the house.
It’s way past midnight as Van returns to his car. That wasn’t half bad, he thinks. He touches the money in the breast pocket of his shirt. As he drives home he passes the supermarket. He wonders if they’re playing »Why Must I Always Explain« regularly. Do these corporations have a centralised playlist? Do they pay royalties?
For a moment he thinks about phoning his manager, but switches on the car radio instead. House Of Pain is blaring out. He turns it up, punches the dashboard in time to the rhythm and sings along: »Comin’ to get ya, spittin’ out lyrics homie, I’ll wet ya!«
Van sits at the kitchen table and absent-mindedly scrolls through Facebook on his phone. Crikey, the Hitler/Last Waltz mash-up has reached 400 likes. He has a distant hope that the person he was in a relationship with might see that he’s online. He remembers when they both went to a record release party, long before this virus thing. Maybe it was the release party for Georgie’s album. He drank a bit too much and ended up going round saying »It’s too late to stop now…« to anyone who’d listen, until his manager found him and steered him outside for some air.
Van begins to notice a lot of ads for stair-lifts on the Facebook sidebar. What’s that all about? Are they all going mad?
He’s been in the shower for a long time, making up words that lead to the chorus »I’m comin’ to get ya, comin’ to wet ya!« Van is grinning as he gets out of the shower. He goes into his bedroom to look for the VHS of »The Last Waltz«. His laptop is on. He sits down on the edge of his bed and checks his e-mails. There’s one from Elvis – »The internet’s still on. Talk about false prophets. xxxEC« Tosser.
Van closes the laptop and looks around. Maybe he has »The Last Waltz« on DVD somewhere…
Van pushes two crates of signed albums across the floor. He picks up the first one and puts it in the driveway outside of his front door. He goes inside to get the other one. »Fucking hell!« Van says. There’s a deep, nasty scratch across the salmon-coloured floor tiles.
His back is aching as he carries the other crate outside. That idiot from Sony will collect them at noon. Van has no intention of speaking to him.
As he catches his breath he faintly remembers a Raymond Carver story about a man who put all his furniture in his front yard and a young couple passing by. In the story the girl dances with the man. Van stands in his dorway, lights a Camel, and waits for a young couple to come along.