LIFE, DEATH, AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

LIFE, DEATH, AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

After finishing Bangkok Shadows, the last few weeks of which were filled not with creative writing but with proofing, formatting, downloading, uploading, side-loading and promoting, I craved sitting down and writing. So I forced myself to do so, and wrote this little story in one sitting. (Something I rarely do, even in my writing prompt group). It’s a mere thirteen hundred words; I can produce sentences longer than that!  I ran it by my erstwhile colleagues at Keybangers Bangkok (my writing group) and they liked it. If it could please this collection of critics, you might like it too. I hope so.

(Several readers have asked “Why Bruce Springsteen?” The answer: just because I’m a devoted fan of “The Boss”.

                            LIFE, DEATH, AND BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

By Stephen Shaiken © 2018

“I’m really doing it this Saturday night. Absolutely. Killing myself.  Jumping out the window.  They’ll be scraping me off the sidewalk by midnight. Don’t try to stop me or talk me out of it.”

“Stanley, you can’t have another suicide attempt this Saturday night.”  There had been fourteen over the last sixth months.

“Why not?” Stanley asked.  He  put down his finger and screwed up his face.

“Because I have tickets for the Springsteen concert this Saturday night,” I replied.

“So Springsteen is worth more than my life?”

“Calm down, Stanley. What’s the big rush? Can’t you do it Sunday and let me see the show? I paid a hundred bucks a ticket. And Lynda will kill me if we miss this one.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said kill,” I added.

Stanley slammed a palm on my kitchen counter, rattling the mugs that dangled from a cup tree.

“Money, money! That’s all the world cares about! Human life counts for nothing!

“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “They’ll have scraped me off the sidewalk before you get back. You won’t mess up your shoes stepping in what’s left of me.”

“I’ll leave my phone on vibrator. If you really get the urge to do it, give me a call and I’ll be right there.”  Actually I would call 9/11. They’d save him and I wouldn’t miss any songs.

                                                                  #

My girlfriend Lynda did not share my compassion for Stanley. Over the year we had been together she had exhibited nothing but contempt for him.

“He wants to jump, let him jump, why does he have to keep ruining our weekends?”

“Stanley’s an old friend. He’s strange. We’ve been neighbors for ten years and I’m the only person he talks to. I may be all that stands between him and a body bag.”

“Let him jump next time,” she repeated. “This is definitely putting a crimp in our relationship. One week we put off a trip to the Hamptons because he threatened to drink poison. Another time we missed the first act of a Broadway play because he was supposed to slit his wrists. I lost track of the movies we’ve not seen because Stanley was going to jump out a window.

“You can’t save the world. You can’t even save this nut. Que sera sera.”

There was nothing I could say. No woman likes being second fiddle to a suicide.

                                                                     #

Springsteen opened with Does This Bus Stop on Thirty Fourth Street? and without a break moved into Tunnel of Love. Both lead guitarists, Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt, were on stage, not to mention the occasional lead riff by the Boss himself.

In the middle of the monologue that precedes Growing Up, my phone began to vibrate. It was Stanley. I knew form all the past concerts that this would be a good five minutes and no matter how many times I heard it, it always moved me. That stuff about Bruce and his father, the doubts and difficulties he faced on his way to doing the only thing he ever desired,  play rock and roll. Him and me, but he was doing it. Probably didn’t have to worry about people killing themselves.

There was no way I could take a call over the sounds of the sax played by Clarance Clemmons’ nephew. Sounds just like the Big Man. Can’t tell the difference. That’s what I love about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. What you heard in 1975 is what you hear today.

I looked sat my phone snd saw it was Stanley. I hit the button that sent the prepared reply telling him I would call back in an hour. Intermission should be around then.

                                                                 #

Almost one hour to the minute, The Boss told us the band was taking a twenty minute break and then they’d come back and do the second half of the show. I couldn’t wait because they hadn’t yet played Born to Run, Thunder Road, Johnny 99, or The River.  Lynda went off to buy something for us to eat. I dialed Stanley.

“I’m sorry but we are unable to reach the party you are dialing,” the metallic voice of the phone robot declared. “Try your call again later.”

“Hope everything is okay with Stanley,” I told Lynda when she returned with our free range chicken sandwiches and organic sodas.

“It might not be such a bad idea if he decided to do what he’s been talking about all the years,” she replied. “Or maybe he just ran out of power.” Sounded to me like she didn’t like the second option as much as the first.

I nearly choked on a piece of chicken sandwich. I could taste the tarragon.

“How can you even think that way? We’re talking about a human being.”

“Arguably,” she said between slugs of soda.

“Well, he’s my friend and I care about him.” I wasn’t quite sure if that was true.

“Friend? What relationship do you have that doesn’t revolve around his committing suicide?”

I thought for a moment.

“He was once a great baseball fan. We went to two World Series games when the Mets won it all.”

“That was 1986. You were in junior high school. Over twenty years ago.”

I thought for another moment.

“He always loans me coffee beans when I run out. Gets his from Zabar’s,”  referring to the high end delicacy store I could barely afford. It was a mystery to me how Stanley, who had never been known to work a day in his life, could shop there. I had no idea how he paid his rent or anything else.

Then the band started playing again, and thoughts of Stanley, his suicide and his coffee beans faded as the booming  sound of Tenth Avenue Freezeout filled Madison Square Garden.

                                                                        #

I always experience the same natural high at the end of a Springsteen concert. Forty times and it never fails. Lynda and I left the Garden, hand in hand,  our digits interlaced the entire subway trip home.

When we turned the corner before my building, we saw the flashing red lights of police cars and ambulances. Blue clad paramedics picked up what had to be a body covered by a black plastic sheet.

“Oh my God,” I screamed. “Stanley!” I stared open mouthed at Lynda.

“This time for real?” she asked.

I stared at her as my body slumped against the wall of the building. I had never realized how cold a woman she was. My face must have told her how I felt. She put her arm around me.

“Anything wrong with closure? It’s always been you, me and Stanley’s suicide threats. Now it’s just you and me.”

I was wiping the tears from my eyes when Stanley strolled out the front door of the building, dressed in pajamas, slippers and a robe. He was angry.

“Can you believe it?  Upstaged by Herman from the seventh floor. Who would have thought? He seemed so happy and normal. Not like me.”

I didn’t know Herman, Never met him. Hadn’t heard his name before that moment. I could not feel any loss over the death of  someone who I never knew  was alive.

“And he knew I had the idea first,” Stanley said. “Yet he did it anyway. Couldn’t he think of something different? He had to steal my idea? “

I pulled myself from Lynda and grabbed Stanley’s shoulders.

“Does this mean it’s all over? No more threats to jump, drink poison, stick your head in the oven?”

Stanley looked at me with sad but burning eyes.

“What good would it do? Who wants to be known as the second guy to kill himself in this building? The time has passed for that, my friend.”

“I think I’ll just have to kill someone else,” he said. “Next Saturday nigh, for sure. Kill them with a gun. No, maybe a bomb is better. Let me start thinking who.”

I wanted to be held again by Lynda. I looked for her but she was gone.

THE END

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