The Rock God in Middle Age

Most days I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. I’ve never been much of a looker, I guess, but the girls always liked it just fine. My regular, face-shaped face. My charmingly crooked grin. I can’t pinpoint what’s wrong exactly, what’s different. It’s just not me. I walk through the world looking like this guy, but feeling like myself. The old me, I guess. I don’t know how it is that you get used to your looks at one fixed point in time, and then hardly notice when you don’t look that way anymore. It comes as a surprise every time.

Guys these days – if I say ‘these days’ does that automatically make me old? Hell I don’t even feel like an adult. How can I possibly be old? – they wear their pants hanging down off their asses, the legs so long the cuffs bunch up under their feet. They look ridiculous, sloppy. When I was their age – that must mean I’m old although I can’t see it until I look – we wore pants that fit. If we wanted to look good we wore them tight, the fabric clinging where it counted. The girls knew what they had waiting for them if they went with us. If we chose them.

There was a time when I was able to choose. When the girls spent an entire set thinking up something to say to me, working up the courage to say it. Kingly rewards, we used to call it. I was never unkind to them I don’t think. I was always nice. Damn, I’m glad I don’t have a daughter.

You remember Funk Bible. We had that song. Wait, wait, stop me if you’ve heard this one. It was called… “Funk Bible.” It’s in that Pontiac commercial. The cool one. Not the zoom zoom commercial, that’s some other car. It’s the Pontiac commercial where Robert Stack does the voiceover. You wouldn’t believe the money a guy like that makes doing a voiceover for a commercial. It’s been 20 years since Jamie thumped out that bass line and I’m still making money for it. That’s me singing, though you wouldn’t know it from hearing me speak. You think you would, but you can’t. Think you can hear anyone, any famous singer, speak and know the song they sing just by the sound of their speaking voice? Of course not.

No one knows this about me: I was once a rock god.

The checks come in through my old manager’s office. He’s gone now too. No one there knows me. I’m just a name on a check and an address to send it to. No one but me knows where that money comes from.

Sometimes the money comes in a trickle – that Pontiac commercial runs mostly in the Midwest – and sometimes it’s a flood. Remember when it played through the closing credits of that movie about cars? It starred that guy with that voice. You know the one. Remember the song they drove away to? “Funk Bible.” The movie’s on DVD now so the money keeps coming in. As long as the movie plays, the studio pays.

Once upon a time I was a rock god. Now I’m an ordinary guy. My real life is here, in this crumbling building that houses paintings no one even remembers why they’re supposed to care about, except that someone once told them to. I wear a suit to work, something I never thought I’d do. Don’t get me wrong, I never thought suits were bad, or a sellout or anything like that. I just didn’t think they were for me. I was going to Jimmy Dean it – live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. Except I don’t really imagine Dean looked all that great dead, when you think about it. Splat. Ouch.

It wasn’t the best plan, but then it wasn’t really a plan at all. Just what I thought was going to happen to me.

The house I live in now has two stories, security lights that make the place look like a goddamn gas station when a raccoon so much as wanders through. Two cars tucked away safely in the garage and my son’s VW in the side yard. I have a son, words I never thought I would say without having to write a check to some girl I’d barely remember. Words I would only say after blood tests and court orders. I say them every day now. Every day.

My wife is Rosemary. Not Rose or Rosie. Rosemary. She is beautiful. Strong and smart. Not someone I ever would have chosen back then because she wouldn’t have been there for the choosing. She has too much pride to give herself to some musician, even if he is a rock god. He’d have to be a charming, sensitive rock god. That’s me now. Minus the rock god part.

How does it happen that you stand on a stage, smoke bombs and purple lights, holding in the palm of your hand the hearts of thousands of people who have shown up for no other reason than to stand there before you and take whatever you want to give them, and then you step down, down, down those steps and out that door and find yourself almost thirty years later dressed in a suit, tie perfectly knotted. The bills come in the mail and I pay them. I sit down with the calculator and checkbook and the checks I write are always good. The car I drive is just like half the cars on my block. The color is your basic dark blue. I am just like a real person.

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Cynthia Lugo

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