"My Life as a Rock Star" By Jaan Landheer
I’m tired of being watched like a criminal at home. I’m going crazy in this house. I can’t breathe. I put on my raincoat and grab my journal, wallet, and water. I stuff pillows under my covers to form a bodily shape and climb out the window with headphones on and sixty bucks. Tonight is the night. I’ve had it. I stroll past the familiar neighborhood houses, comforted by the pouring rain that covers my tracks in the night. I dance to the music in my headphones, spinning violently in the middle of the street.
I walk up the street past the local Creekside Bar, and I can hear a folk-country band blaring through the walls. I decide to venture in, maybe get a drink. As I’m about to walk in the bar, a goliath bouncer looks down at me and stands in front of the door.
“ID?” He looks at my wallet, bulging out of the left pocket of my jeans.
“Oh, I forgot it… but I’m 22.” I always say just one or two years over 21 to sound legit. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m feeling lucky.
“No ID, no entrance, Kid.”
Every time a car hums by, I stick out my thumb, followed by my middle finger. I keep walking til I reach an open gas station. I enter like a vandal, nodding to my music with a black hood covering my face. I circle the beer aisle, looking out of the corner of my eye for a response from the clerk. He observes with experience, unflinching.
I buy a Rock Star Energy drink and toffee peanuts.
“Bet you see it all here,” I say to the cashier.
“I guess so,” he says ambivalently.
“You mind if I try to hitch a ride outside? Do you think I could get to LA from here?”
“I dunno, but you can’t ask customers here,” he says.
I walk up the overpass to a grocery store to get booze. On the way, I practice some soccer moves. My feet skim puddles as I feign shots at an imaginary goal. Two older men are watching and laughing by the Albertsons grocery store. I decide to talk to them, and figure they could buy alcohol for me if I’m lucky, but he says the store is closed anyways.
It’s near 12 a.m., and nothing’s open but gas stations. I see a mini-mart in the distance, and I could sure use a forty of Mickey’s malt liquor. My sweatshirt might be baggy enough to hide the bottle underneath.
I put my sweatshirt hood on and head to the liquor fridge in the back of the store. There are cameras everywhere. I look at the counter and there’s a short balding man with a blue apron on. He looks like a Dimitri or Antonio, something Italian. I go to the counter and buy some energy drinks, pay in full, and leave with the receipt.
I don’t want to be tracked by my parents or anyone else, so I decide to lose my cellphone. I see a 10- foot palm-tree in front of the store and stash the phone in the highest frond I can reach.
I stand by the gas pumps outside for a possible ride to LA. I don’t have to wait long before a black limo pulls up. It’s got to be a sign. I approach the driver, who is a tall man with a gold nametag: Carter. I boldly put out my hand.
“Carter,” he says, looking at me suspiciously, like this is an elaborate scam he hasn’t figured out yet. His hand crushes my fingers as we shake. I need to ask flat out.
“Excuse me sir, I’m looking for a ride to LA and I’m wondering if you can help me.”
He finishes fueling and looks at me as if he’s reading my eyes.
“I’m going that direction,” he says. He quickly looks me over and responds, “I’ll give you a ride, just ’cuz I know how it is.” I can’t help but smile at my luck as I sprawl out on the luxurious black leather seats and matching black interior. I can hardly sit still. I notice an array of bottled sodas, a bottle of champagne on ice, as well as two crystal bottles of dark orange and brown alcohol.
“So what are you running from?” asks the man.
“I’m just trying to make it on my own,” I say, caught off-guard. The man keeps glancing back at me in his rear-view mirror. He’s clean-shaven with a sharp black hat.
“So you want to be independent and call your own shots,” the driver says.
“Smart. You’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of you though, Son. It’ll build your character. I had to leave home too. It’s not easy, but sometimes it has to be done. What are your plans?”
“I’m going to Hollywood to start a rock band. I sing my own lyrics and play guitar. My parents don’t support my dream. They don’t get it. They put me in a hospital because they can’t handle me.”
“I know how it goes. My mom wanted me to marry her friend so she could get citizenship, and that’s when I left. All moms are a little crazy. It’s good to be on your own.”
A long silence ensues. “Do you mind if I have a drink?” I ask.
“Last people that were in here made a mess. No more drinking. Drinking only leads to trouble. You’ve got to stay away from that if you really want to make it.”
I slouch in my seat and close my eyes. The vehicle hums quietly. Hazy yellow lights climb along the ceiling of the car like vines. I drift in and out of sleep as Carter drives smoothly through the night.
“Well, I gotta drop you off around here,” says Carter. “I wish you the best of luck.” We shake hands and I take a look around. There’s trash all over the street. The lighting is dim, except for a gas station lit up every few blocks. This isn’t the LA I envisioned. I pictured all-night pool parties with stars, rock music blasting from balconies.
“Hey, do you mind posting while I take a piss?” I ask Carter. I don’t want to be shot for peeing on someone’s wall.
“Sure, no problem.”
I go behind the gas station to relieve myself. I walk back over to Carter and he hands me a red cup.
“Something for the road. Good luck my friend. Be careful of the wrong people.”
“Thanks for the ride.” I take a sip and it tastes like rum. I swig the rest in one fiery gulp and it warms me up. I want to get some more alcohol, but it’s already 3 a.m. Even the gas stations are closed. A block up the street, I see a vendor at a Shell station behind glass. They don’t sell alcohol, so I decide to get some cigarettes. I’ve never smoked before, but I need something to keep me awake.
I approach the counter and ask a man with an unshapely Dodgers cap for some smokes.
“Excuse me,” I say and he looks at me with a near toothless grin. “Do you think you could buy me some cigarettes? You can keep the change.” I hand him ten dollars.
“What kind d’ya want?” he asks. I hadn’t thought about it.
“Aren’t they all the same?” I ask for a lighter and a blue pack of smokes. I thank him and he mumbles something and walks off down the street. I open the pack of menthols and tear off the silver packaging. I inhale and it burns. I cough up smoke till I get the hang of it. I hold the cigarette between my fingers, watching orange sparks scatter when my fingers twitch. I feel like a star. I take out two orange containers of medication and throw them in the trash.
I still see no sign of Hollywood. I don’t even know what city I’m in. I walk past walls of sloppy graffiti and a woman who doesn’t make eye contact with me. Bars protect apartment windows. It’s late and I’m hungry, so I walk towards a 7-11 sign a few blocks away. I buy a banana and a Rolling Stone Magazine.
Some kids are smoking outside and I walk up to them. I ask for a lighter and hang five cigarettes off my lip, making sure each one is properly lit. My head is spinning in an adrenaline rush. I wait like a gangster outside the store to finish the cigarettes. The smoke is so thick I could make signals.
“Do you know where the bus-stop is?” I ask a kid nonchalantly. He has a bald head, except for a tuft that sticks out in the front.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m nobody,” I respond. He gets in my face, and I back up and run down the street to find a bus station. Fuck this place. I turn up my headphones, listen to Hieroglyphics, and regain my composure.
I start walking along the freeway in search of the LA I imagined. I pick up treasures along the way, carelessly thrown out the window. I find a credit card with the name Marshall Bower, as well as an unwound spool of tape. I put all my findings in a plastic bag as cars whizz past me at 70 miles per hour. I stick out my middle finger and let it hang If they get too close.
The morning approaches and I’m hungry again. My head spins from the pack of cigarettes I’ve smoked. My mouth is dry and I need something to drink. I’m running out of cash, so I decide to try Bower’s old credit card. I walk off the freeway at the next exit and try to buy some food at the nearest gas station.
The cashier looks about 16. He’s got a short haircut and a scrappy moustache. I put my Sun Chips and Elixir Sobe on the counter along with some Altoids, and he swipes my card.
“Can you enter the PIN number?”
“Sure.” I wait for some divine inspiration to give me the number. I type in a 0000. No good.
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Can I try again?” He looks at me with apathy. I wait for a clue from somewhere above, but nothing comes. I try four separate times, before I finally give up and pay in cash. I’ve got $34.50 left. I keep walking. I’m sopping wet from walking most the night in the rain, but I’m surprisingly alert. I walk along the sidewalk, looking for a sign to lead me in the right direction.
I see a truck stopped in the middle of the road in front of me. This has got to be the next sign I was looking for. The driver gets out with a package before I can talk to him. I put my bag in the passenger seat through the window and wait to meet my driver.
The man is on the phone and gets in without noticing me. I introduce myself.
“Hi, I’m Jaan. Can I get a ride?”
“No, I gotta go.” He takes off in a hurry with my stuff. I know he’ll be back. My fate lies on this ride, though I don’t know where we’re going. Sure enough, he comes back a few minutes later.
“Take your shit!” He throws my bag out the window. When he drives off, he hits the car in front of him, and points blamefully in my direction. I leap over a chain-link fence and race through a backyard till I find a safe side street to walk on.
It occurs to me I need new clothes to hide my identity. I throw my headphones, CD player, and bag of collectibles in the dumpster to avoid recognition. I realize I’ve just trespassed into a cookie-cutter community. The houses have the same manicured lawns, mailboxes, and architecture, but in different shades of drab colors. I knock on the door of a non-conforming bright yellow house, and a couple comes out.
“Hi, I was wondering if you have any clothes you don’t want. You can probably see that I’m wet. It would really help,” I say.
“You need to leave or we’re calling the cops,” the man says firmly, holding his wife tight. I quickly retreat and don’t bother to ask anyone else.
It’s already dawn. I need a quick fix, and I’m all out of cigarettes. I walk into the High Times Liquor store like I own it.
“Can I have some Jack?” I ask in my most convincing deep voice.
“You got ID?”
“I left it in the car.”
“Then you can’t buy anything.”
Fuck, every time.
I walk outside, trying to find someone I can get to buy for me. I look at my watch, 7 a.m., starting early. I see some men in front of a U-Haul truck rental, waiting for someone to pick them up. I decide to ask them.
Que es eso?” I overhear one man say. They only speak in Spanish.
“No se.” says the other.
"Hola, can you compra cervezas?” I ask.
He laughs. The sun is finally coming up, but I’m surprisingly alert for being up all night.
“Me llamo Jaan, como se llama?” I’m in a friendly mood.
“Pancho Villa, como estas?”
“Bien, y tu?”
Estoy cansado,” says the man who goes by Pancho Villa. “ Por que estas aqui?”
I try to think of how to explain why I’m here, let alone in Spanish.
Yo quiero cantar y tocar canciones de Rock.” I want to be discovered for a rock band.
Ah rock ‘n roll, me gusta. Ven aqui.” Pancho Villa leads me to introduce someone.
“Es mi tio, Raul.”
“Como estas?” I say.
“Mucho gusto. Como se llama?”
“Raul canta canciones tambien,” shares Pancho Villa.
“Ah, cual tipo de musica?” I ask.
“Mariachi,” he says with a laugh. I don’t know why that’s funny. The conversation then turns to my goal to get to Hollywood, but how I’m already broke and I should probably go home. An old man in a wheelchair wearing a green sweater comes over to me.
“Quieres fumar Marijuana?”
“Si, me gusta.” He hands me a small pipe and I light a cigarette to divert any cops that might be watching. I take a hit and the world is suddenly more alive. I listen as the man talks about his family, half-understanding his rambling Spanish.
I have the urge to show my new friends how I surf. They gather around a truck as I jump as high as I can, planting my feet on the side of it. By this point, the workers have crowded around me. I’m probably the most entertainment they’ve had at seven in the morning. I go until I can’t physically jump anymore, the workers still encouraging me with hoots and laughs.
I don’t feel like being the show anymore, so I go into the back of a U-Haul truck. There’s a container of gas, and I think it might be fun to inhale. I take seven long sniffs, and then sit down with my head spinning. I can’t help but laugh about where I’ve ended up. I hear a knock and it’s Pancho Villa.
“Policia!” he says. I start laughing again, but I don’t even remember what’s so funny. I stumble out of the U-Haul and someone throws me down on the concrete. My arms are flung behind me and I’m cuffed. A man in uniform asks for my name as he looks through my wallet. The other escorts me into the police car.
“Fuck, is my face cut up?” I ask. I don’t think to ask what I did. I simply know that it’s over. This is the last time I can leave everything behind.
“You’re fine kid. What are you doing around here?” asks the officer, shuffling through my wallet. “So you’re a minor. Is this your dad’s business card?”
I see a vending machine ten yards in front of us.
“Can I please get a water? I’m really thirsty.”
“No, you’re coming to the station with us for trespassing.”
They put me in the back of the police car, and I drive off with Officer Richards.
“So we called your dad, Jaan, and we’re not taking you to jail.”
“Am I going to a hospital?”
“We’ll get you where you need to be.”
Sitting in the waiting room, one of the cops points to a photo of an overweight man’s mug shot.
“See that guy right there? Killed his wife, missing. That could be you if you’re not careful.”
The gas is blurring my thought-process, and I almost believe this man is me in the future. I’m escorted by the two cops into what must be the psych ward. I can tell by the disinfectant smell that I won’t be leaving for a while.
“Alright, I’m cool, I just don’t want any needles,” I say. Right then, six nurses hold me down and one stabs me in the ass with a needle.
I wake up to white hospital walls with leather straps on my wrists and legs attached to my bed. There’s a guy with a long beard and turban mumbling and walking back and forth in front of me. The guy in the bed next to me says the staff is all crazy and not to trust any of them. TVs are always on, but never any sound.
Days later, my arms are freed from the leather straps. I keep going towards the door, looking for an escape, but the man keeps warning me. I think he’s Snoop Dogg. Snoop says if I cross the line, there will be trouble. I don’t want to find out what kind, so I go back on my bed. There’s nothing to do but sleep anyways. I remember it’s my birthday. I’m now 18.
Every day, a different doctor comes in to assess the patients for release, and I keep telling them I’m ready to go, but they never listen. After three more days, I’m finally brought to a conference room with my parents and a doctor.
“Get me out of here,” I tell my dad pleadingly.
“I can’t Son, there’s a hold. You have to do it yourself . Now that you’re 18, we can’t do anything,” he says empathetically.
“So your parents tell me you’re a musician,” says the doctor.
“Yeah, I can’t wait to get back to my guitar.”
“Do you understand your parents want to take you now?” she asks.
“Yes, and I’d like to go with them.” I’m so tired of these bullshit formalities.
“You know, there are a lot of successful bipolar musicians in Hollywood who keep it under control. If you agree to cooperate with your parents and stay on your medication, you are free to go.”