MIDSUMMER PUNK: A Work In Progress

Hiya folks and Tad fans:
What follows below is the first chapter of a novel I have had fermenting in my brainpan for some time.

Provisionally titled Midsummer Punk, it’s based on the summer I struck out on my own, ending up in Los Angeles just as the Punk music scene there was just beginning to assert itself.

As I say, I’ve had this on the back burner, notes and all, for some time and am considering dusting it off and making the proverbial hat. Thus, comments, constrictive crit. and such are, of course, more than welcome.

Chapter One
Summer 1977, Maryland/DC

Eight months lazed and blazed through being eighteen, Martin Hewitt truly believed he had done his best.

Closing in fast on that final teenage year, in the Maryland suburbs just outside Washington DC, Martin had dutifully endured high school graduation, freshman college classes, his first experiences in the workaday world, church, bad family dinners, worse family arguments, Larry Welk and Ed Sullivan on TV every Sunday, prayers to his God in the sky and to the earthly deities he turned to taped on his bedroom wall.

Or under the covers late at night, trying not to lose himself in dirty dreams so deeply he’d wake younger brother Roland, asleep on the other side of the room.

And yet, it was of no help: by June, it was plain for Martin to see that 1977 was clearly not on his side.

How could it be? He had spent his freshmen year of college on academic probation, resulting in his flunking out. No comment on his scholastic abilities; Martin had simply come to find more fulfilling activities within ivy academia than wasting away his days listening to some tenured pedant, droning on about A Canticle For Leibowitz or some similar dusty dreck. Verbally pulling apart current events behind an afternoon beer buzz in the Student Union lounge, for instance. Acting out Monty Python routines with chain mail clad members of the Medieval Mercenary Militia. Drooling over the latest rock imports crowding the bins of the campus record store.

Martin was also out in the working world for the first time, which in theory would enable him to repay that year’s student loan, as well as the weekly rent that his parents had newly imposed, and maybe, oh golly gee do you really think so, leave him with a little cash for fun and gasoline. (His high school graduation present had been a 1967 white-primer Ford Tempest convertible, and he was taking full advantage of this new mode of solo transport.)

Martin had the misfortune to be hired by the local branch of a then-thriving national franchise of ice cream parlors. These parlors’ signature decor was early Dixieland, white Dixieland at that, requiring its employees to dress up like members of a strolling barbershop quartet, complete with Styrofoam boaters and garters around the arms of candy-stripe-patterned shirts.

The big attraction for its suburban patrons was the unholy, unnatural fuss made when the wait staff got wind of the birthday of a customer, the younger the better. With fire bells clanging, lights ablaze and sirens flashing, they would leap into a mad Keystone Cop dash around the place, carrying among them whatever cake and ice cream sculpture was the birthday boy or girl’s special celebratory treat. With the gooey goodie safely set at table, everyone within earshot was shamed into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ in not quite classic barbershop style.

Though a keen participant in his high school drama group, Martin found he had limits when it came to public humiliation, especially at $2.30 an hour.

He had been hired as a short order cook on the dinner shift, but after a few nights of proving himself useless at anything more elaborate than a patty melt, the powers that be made him their flunky go-to guy. This meant, more often than not, being assigned the task of mopping up an unceasing supply of chunky birthday-cake-and-ice-cream puke in both toilets. Martin was ultimately sacked one night after bussing tables, when the shift manager had spied him helping himself to tips left for the more stuck-up waitresses on duty (and they were all stuck-up).

So now there were two strikes against Martin that summer. Thus, he set about finding a replacement summer job, eventually snagging what looked like a sure thing at the local Mickey D’s, only a few miles away. The night he returned home with the good news, Martin’s mother and stepfather sat him down and laid out their foolproof strategy for saving the behind of their heathen oldest offspring. The plan was for them to confiscate every week’s paycheck, only allotting him gas money, until the student loan was paid off. He would not be allowed to socialize with friends or go anywhere besides back and forth from work, a distance that, conceivably, he could have walked.

Martin may have young, naïve even, but to his mind it sure as hell sounded like house arrest.

On top of all this, the disco duo that shat out ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ had swept that year’s Grammies – drastic actions called for an equally drastic reaction.

For Martin, that came in a grass-roots-level revitalization of rock music that was bubbling up here and abroad, which couldn’t have occurred at a better time. Up till then, he’d been in danger of having his musical tastes fatally sullied by bands comprised of people who’d never listened to the Beatles before Sgt. Pepper, who were capable of playing a million notes per measure and did, and given to performing meandering instrumental exercises with titles like ‘What is Cosmic Normality?’ and (Martin’s personal ironic favorite) ‘Stumpy Meets The Firecracker in Stencil Forest’.

Punk Rock presented an appealing message: passion, enthusiasm and imagination trumped dry musical technique, solos and song cycles in its sleep.

Clearly, Martin Hewitt knew enough in his brief time on earth to know that what was laid out before him was not enough. After years of being the kid jumping to see over shoulders of adults watching the big parade, now it seemed like he might have a chance to be in the thick of it.

The world was calling to him; now it was all down to how he would choose to respond.

Copyright 2013, ML Heath.

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