Inspired by three (real) albums of protest music released in 2018 -- "Retake the Middle Ground," "Unfollow," and "World Almost Over?" -- the novel follows the travails of three (fictional) songwriters as they deal with issues from writer's block to physical intimidation, from trolls to the seemingly endless social media feeds devoted to politics.
Rome Didn't Fall in a Day
"A ponytail! I should've known!" said Jenny in an excited whisper as she and Kim stood on the sidewalk looking through the window and into The Oat Wheel vegetarian restaurant.
Since they were in the neighborhood, Jenny had convinced Kim to swing by and see if Nathaniel was working. He was. He was waiting tables and as he did so his long hair had been pulled back in a ponytail.
"Oh man, I should've known. Dude has long hair and works at a vegetarian restaurant. Of course he does the whole ponytail thing."
"Okay," said Kim, "Now you've seen that he's working and that he's got a ponytail, how about we leave him alone and just head to campus as planned?"
"Or… How about we go in there and have a chat with the third member of Political Music Club? Gotta maintain relationships, right?"
"Is that what we're going to do? Maintain relationships?"
"Well, that and give him shit about the ponytail… And maybe have some lunch."
"Have some lunch? Are you a vegetarian?" Kim asked.
"No, but honestly if you're in the mood for it, this place actually is pretty good. Every now and then Mom will convince herself that she's gonna get 'healthy' and we'll come here. Like I said, if you're in the right mindset for a meat-free meal, this place actually is pretty tasty."
"I don't have much cash on me, is it expensive?"
"No — which is another good thing about it — They say it's because veggies are cheaper to buy than meat," said Jenny as they walked through the door and into the restaurant.
They stopped next to the 'Please Wait To Be Seated' sign and Kim looked around the restaurant for the first time. The walls had been painted into a continuous mural of trees. The impression being that the restaurant was located in a clearing deep inside the woods.
To add to the effect the sounds coming through the speakers were the sounds of the woods: birds chirping, frogs croaking, bees buzzing; accompanied by pan flute music.
"Oh," said Jenny, "And speaking of the fact that we've only got three members in our club, we need to up that, don't you think?"
"I do. And I was planning to re-write and re-post the Craigslist ad today."
"Spice it up, man! We need more people in here. I mean we're taking on the big bucks, big power crowd. It's not just that orange billionaire. It's all the other billionaires and millionaires propping him up. We need numbers. We need enough musicians that we could hold our own marches, enough songs that we could fill up a week-long festival of protest. This three person shit ain't gonna cut it."
"Well, I hadn't quite gotten that ambitious yet. I was happy just to see that there were two other people in town who felt like I do," said Kim, "But you know, I was thinking that maybe we could see about doing it twice a week. I was thinking that we could get together at Starbucks maybe on Monday and talk, then get together in my garage on Thursday and actually jam."
"But I'll have to clear it with my roommates first."
"Why in the world would you have to clear it with your roommates? Are they the boss of you?"
"No, but it is the polite thing to do, especially since there's likely to be a fair amount of noise coming out of there. I know I'd want them to tell me if they were — I don't know — having a party or something in our home."
"What about the name?" asked Jenny. "I really like the sound of Political Music Club, but I'll bet there are some alt-right assholes writing political songs. We're not letting them in the club, right?"
Kim said, "I really don't think that anyone from the alt-right would respond to that Craigslist ad."
"Hey guys," said Nathaniel cheerfully as he walked over to where the young women stood. "Is something going on? I gave you my number, right? You didn't have to come by."
"We came by for some of those fuckin' potato pancakes. Those things are awesome! You've still got them, right?"
"Yeah, come on," Nathaniel said as he led them over to a table and handed them menus.
Jenny said to him, "Oh, and I'll need to see your ID."
Nathaniel looked at her, puzzled, "What?"
"You heard me Ponytail. Show me your driver's license pronto."
"Because I keep thinking about it and I don't believe that you're 33. In fact, in this light you look even older than you did in Starbucks. Show me."
Nathaniel pulled out his license and handed it over to Jenny.
"Shhhhh," said both Kim and Nathaniel.
"Sorry, but look at this Kim. He really is 33. Actually, he just had his birthday, so he's barely 33."
"That's what I told you," said Nathaniel. "Now can I have my license back?"
"Can we have some water?" asked Jenny, "Bring us water and you can have this back."
Nathaniel sighed. As he walked away to get them some water, Jenny called after him, "You've gotta shave that fuckin' beard, dude!"
As several of the customers looked first at Jenny and then at Nathaniel, he blushed deeply and made his way off to the kitchen.
Kim reached for the driver's license and said, "Let me see." The Nathaniel in the license photo had hair that was only shoulder length and a beard that was trimmed short and contained no gray. "Now this is not a bad look for him," she said, "Maybe if he just dyed the beard and trimmed it up a little?"
"What, so he looks 45 instead of 50?" Jenny replied, "Nope, he needs to ace the whole thing. Beard. Hair. All of it."
As Nathaniel came back to the table with waters he said, "Jenny, can I ask you a favor?"
"Dude, I told you that I'd give you back your license when you brought the water. I keep my word."
"No, not that. You've probably noticed that we try to keep a certain… ambiance here. We try to keep a kind of low-key, peaceful vibe here."
"It's like a fuckin' church."
"I wouldn't go that far, but we do like it serene."
Jenny raised her voice a bit and said, "Is this the part where you tell me I'm too loud?"
"No — although your voice does carry — this is the part where I ask you for a favor. And that favor is: could you please refrain from the F word for me? Just while you're here, please?"
"Jesus, what is this hang-up with you?"
"I'm simply asking for a favor. Just, when you feel like saying the F word, just substitute something else. Something else that's not another curse word."
"Okay," she said with a gracious smile as she pulled out her phone, "Okay, how about each time I feel like saying the F word I instead say…" Here she seemed to ponder this for a bit, then she whispered, "How about I say 'There are cockroaches in the rice'?"
"Oh, please don't." And Jenny snapped a photo to capture his exact expression at that moment.
She whispered, "Nathaniel, Kim and I would each like to get the 'There are cockroaches in the rice' potato pancake lunch special."
Nathaniel shook his head and walked away. Jenny called after him, "Just kidding Nate. You're too easy to mess with!… Oh, but we would like the potato pancakes, please!"
Jenny looked at Kim and said, "He really is too easy to mess with."
"He did ask you nicely."
"I know. And to be honest, I do feel a bit bad about that. But he really is just too damned easy to mess with. So I'm probably gonna do it a few thousand more times."
Jenny got up from the table, "I'm gonna go to the restroom real quick," she said and headed off in that direction.
As Kim sat at the table she pulled out her phone. Now, she thought, would be a good time to work on re-writing that Craigslist ad. Maybe if there were a few more members then maybe Jenny wouldn't feel so much of a temptation to mess with Nathaniel.
And what should she be aiming for in this ad?Actually, the quest could be expanded to ask what was she aiming for with Political Music Club?
She had moved to Bloomington to escape her conservative Indiana town without actually leaving Indiana. She had placed the ad so that she could find some like-minded souls. But what was the next step here?
She had originally envisioned a small group of musicians getting together to write songs and enjoy one another's company. But was she thinking too small? That had been her vision, but was that vision too small? At the least it would seem logical that there would be some sort of performances of these songs.
Jenny's vision, on the other hand, seemed much too large. Jenny seemed to think that they were starting some sort of a movement. That they were beginning something that would sweep across the land.
No, Kim thought to herself, that just seemed too far out of the realm. Especially since they were starting out here with just three people in a college town in Indiana.
But live shows… that did seem like a feasible goal for the group. A good idea for the group. Once they were able to develop the song co-writing and the camaraderie kicked in then getting on a stage and performing these songs would be a natural culmination for the project.
Kim tapped the table as she thought of how to phrase her new Craigslist ad text. As she did so, Nathaniel walked up to the table. In a quiet voice he said, "May I ask you something Kim?"
"Do you like her?"
"Nathaniel, I'm straight and as far as I know, so is Jenny."
"No, I didn't mean it that way. I meant just as a friend — just as a person even — do you like her?" he asked.
"Do you not?"
"Well… it's just that she's always so aggressive toward me. I don't think that I've done anything to deserve being treated that way… It's… I don't know."
Kim found herself wishing that she actually had taken some psychology classes. She might now know what to say. Finally, she said to Nathanial, "Jenny's a little rough around the edges, but I think she's got a good heart. Give her a chance."
"I feel like I have. I feel like I've given her several chances."
"Well Nathaniel, you seem to me like the kind of person who could give her a few more," said Kim. She smiled and Nathaniel smiled back, apparently feeling better.
"I'll get those potato pancakes for you guys."« previous next »