Nobody dies in this story. At least not in any conventional sense. And there’s no one named Sally (though there is a bit of riding going on). This is just a story about the strange, sad gift of being stuck in remorse and nostalgia.
“Sassy Sally Rides Again”
a short story
January 27th, 2005.
Chewie picks the check up off the ground. He grimaces and puts a hand to his lower back. The check has his footprint on it and is ripped almost in half.
“Fuck,” he mutters. “Fuck me.”
Three days work, digging up his dad’s lawn. Breaking his back. He’s sure he’s going to be in sciatica hell for at least a month now. And his compensation? $140.
When he asked his dad about it, Mr. Choo replied, “That’s more than I’d pay a Mexican.”
Chewie blew up and tore the check (almost) in half, threw it on the ground and stomped his size 9 Doc Martins into it.
He went into a furious rant:
“You always thought I was a loser!”
“I could never live up to Alex (Chewie’s little brother)!”
“And by the way, dad, you’re a goddamn racist too!”
Chewie is now 40 years old. He can’t pay his rent and he bounces around from odd jobs to random business “opportunities.” He tells people he’s a musician. But he hasn’t been in an actual band for over a decade. And he hasn’t written any music in much longer than that.
But he was talented once.
Getting into his car, Chewie puts on an old tape from his old band, Ska-Ratch-It!. They were a mostly uninspired pop-ska-punk band from The Ranchilito, where Chewie grew up. Basic stuff. Syncopated guitars, loud distorted verses, horns in the chorus. They were fun. Easy to sing along to. And they were crazy tight. That thought makes Chewie smile.
“God, we were tight,” he thinks. “Like the freaking LA Philharmonic.”
The first song comes on. It’s SRI!’s cover of “Sound System.” Chewie starts dancing in his seat.
He lights a cigarette and wails, “Sound system gonna bring me back up, yeah! One thing that I can depend on!”
He puts his foot on the gas, pumping it in synch to the beat.
About to turn on to Topanga Canyon Road, he changes his mind, and decides to cruise around his hometown, blast his old band’s music and maybe relive some memories. He heads south on Farralone, towards Acorn Street. That’s where Megan used to live.
Chewie slows as he gets close. He’s thinking about how much she used to adore him, how much she was into SRI! and how she believed in him. He wonders why there isn’t anyone like that in his life anymore, angry at his last girlfriend for constantly wanting him to find a job, angry at his dad for never coming to his shows. Feeling sure that he is way too talented for the life he ended up with. But unable to get his shit together. All those years, never getting what he thought he needed to make it.
He pulls up to Megan’s old house and parks across the street. He lights another cigarette just as “Solid Gold Geek” comes on. Chewie times it this way; “Solid Gold Geek” is a love song he wrote for Megan when they were still going out. He turns it down a little, wanting to be alone and invisible.
But of course, just then, the front door opens and Megan is there. She tilts her head forward and squints.
“Chewie! Is that you!” She shouts.
“Oh damn,” he says. “I am a freaking idiot.”
Chewie sticks his head out of the car.
“Yeah, It’s me. Hi, Meg.”
She waves and he starts to get out of the car when she yells out, “Wait up, I’ll come to you.”
She jogs over, and even as a substantially heavier person now, he notices she still has the same bounce in her step. She reaches for the passenger door handle
“Well,” she says. “Come on, let’s go somewhere!”
Chewie starts up the car and drives. He’s not sure where to go, so keeps going south, towards the old Pine Tree Club.
They get there, both knowing that the iconic venue has long since been replaced by a Korean Evangelical Church. The new occupants probably wonder why they are periodically visited by aging rock and rollers.
The church is open, but nothing is going on. Chewie and Megan go inside. It doesn’t look much like the old club, but the stage is still where it always was. Except instead of a drum kit and monitors there’s a podium, some flags, a baptismal and a huge wooden cross. It’s also better lit these days.
“Remember when we saw the Replacements here?” asks Chewie. “That was like the worst show ever.”
“Yeah, they seriously sucked.”
“Would’ve given anything to be them though,” he says. “I mean, except for all the drug addiction and poverty.”
“Since when you been adverse to drug addiction and poverty?” she asks.
Chewie snorts and nods his head. He looks at her from the corner of his eye, surmising her intentions.
“You know,” he says, begining a new conversation. “I never should have let you go.”
Megan shakes her head.
“Come on, Chewie. Don’t get started.”
“Seriously, though. You and me, we should’ve stayed together. Just, back then, I kept thinking I needed to wait until we got our deal, and then it was the tour, and then it was getting on tv. It just kept coming. I should have just stopped everything and just married you.”
“It wasn’t all that stuff, Chewie,” she says. “It was just, you thought you were too good for me.”
He nods, acknowledging her while he walks up on stage. He’s looking at the floors, trying to figure out where he stood last time he played here. He notices some tape marks on the wood. A small scrap of paper is preserved under a piece of scotch tape. Chewie pulls it up and finds that it’s a tiny corner from his old setlist. He can make out the word “CHEWIE” written in block letters. He stares at it and then at Megan.
“Meg! Take a look at this! It’s from when we played here!”
He shows her the scrap of paper.
She says, “huh?”
“This is from my setlist last time we played here! Look, I always wrote my name in the top right corner. It was a habit, like from school. I must have torn it off and then the part that was under the tape just stuck, and it just stayed here, for like 20 years.”
“I don’t think so, Chewbacca. It doesn’t say anything on that paper.”
Chewie ignores her. He keeps scavengering around the stage. He finds another artifact. A neon pink guitar pick.
“Meg! This is Scott’s!”
Then, behind the baptismal, his old Fender Twin, switched on with a ratty old cord plugged in it. He follows the cord behind a curtain and sees his old Jagstang.
“What the freak?” he says, as he picks it up.
Chewie carries the guitar out.
“Meg,” he says. “You won’t believe this…”
As he talks, the room darkens and gets smokey. Several people walk out to the dance floor. Megan is there too, or someone who looks just like how Megan looked when she was 20. She’s super skinny and dressed in a bomber jacket and wearing a Betty haircut. She’s talking to a guy that looks a lot like Scott, the singer from Ska-Ratch-It!.
Scotty looks up on stage and shouts.
“Chewbacca! Where have you been, man! We were supposed to start like an hour ago!”
“What?” says Chewie, as Scott gets on stage and the rest of the band comes out from behind the curtain.
Chewie is staring at Megan, watching her laugh and how her hair is like magic: black and purple and green.
He remembers this night, it was the night that he broke up with her. He remembers being distracted the whole set, thinking about how much he deserved to hook up with other girls, and how famous he was going to be, and maybe someday, after he got bored with all the rock and roll lifestyle, he’d get back together with her. He remembers that night, and he remembers what happens after. How Megan was devastated but pulled herself together and met a really wonderful guy named Todd, how the album tanked, how Chewie ended up becoming the most broke-ass dude in their circle, and how he eventually, without even realizing it, gave up on life.
“No freaking way,” he thinks. “A second chance?”
“No time for soundcheck, man. We just gotta rock,” Scott says. “You ready?”
“Yeah,” says Chewie. “Born ready.”
Patty’s on the drums. She counts off, “one, two, three, and a one and a two!!!”