Holiday 2014 — THE POTOMAC

Mr. Nipple Apologizes

  Bonnie ZoBell

The weekend before Neon Narcissist's concert, Mark Nipple made a point of being home late in the afternoon when his son, Aubrey, usually awoke. At 4:00 p.m., he found Aubrey standing before the open fridge scavenging for his first meal of the day, the light beaming onto his bare torso. Wearing only Levis, Aubrey drank milk straight from the carton, took a bite of someone's donut, then put it back.
       "I'm sorry," Nipple told his son. "I competed instead of supporting your creativity." Nipple had been in a band at his son's age, Hell in Handcuffs, and couldn't seem to stop offering pointers.
       "Hmfflppll," Aubrey said, immediately escaping to another room, Nipple following.
       Aubrey slumped onto the velvet ottoman in the Nipple living room and sneered. "Apology not accepted. You were never in the running." His blond hair was in dreadlocks, his beard shaved into three stripes that met at the tip of his chin. His nasal septum was pierced as were his eyebrows, and he had three-inch ear plugs that his mother said deformed him.
       "Now, Aubrey." Nipple sat, hands clasped, head bowed, hoping to appear philosophical, but what his son said stung. He pondered a framed Botero his wife Anita had hung in the hallway, a large nude with a dimpled ass. Back in college, his punk band had made girls cry. A hot commodity at keggers, Hell practiced hard, drank and did drugs with the best of them. Never the coolest, he always sat in the back corner with his drums. If only the lead guitarist hadn't started swallowing girls' house keys onstage. The last one did him in.
       "I'm proud of what you've done with Neon Narcissist, son. You've got talent."
       Aubrey shook his head and slammed out the front door.
       These days, Nipple was a graphic artist, a job using his creativity but producing a steadier income than Hell had once Anita became pregnant. His specialty was rock band album covers. He'd surprised Neon Narcissist with one of his best, but his son had said it was all wrong.
       That Friday, Anita and he prepared to go to Neon's concert.
       "You're not wearing that Hawaiian shirt again, are you, Mark?" Anita asked. "You'll embarrass him." Eventually, they appeared in front of the mirror both wearing black Neon Narcissist t-shirts, Nipple with a black bandana tied over his head to hide what had happened to his hairline.
       He stepped back. "I think he said you're never supposed to wear the t-shirt of the metal band you're going to hear."
       "We're his parents," Anita said. "Mierda!"
       Inside The Casbah, it was clear beer was flowing by the way kids bumped into each other. Nipple decided to get one himself.
       "They're not going to have your Dos Equis," Anita said.
       "I don't need Dos Equis to be happy. I've been to plenty of keggers."
       They held hands when Neon Narcissist stumbled onstage, Aubrey at the lead. Like the other three band members, he wore all black, black leather spiked cuffs, black vest. With one of his heavy black boots, he kicked a Coke can halfway across the auditorium. He growled into the mike.
       And then the music enveloped them, feedback from the amps, squeaks, drums so loud they beat all other thoughts from your head, stripped your brain of meaningless day-to-day shit, left only the primal. Nipple knew Anita had brought earplugs, but he closed his eyes, beat his head to the sound, let go. From his old music days, he picked up the blues rhythms, the distorted guitar, the constant beat of drums that wouldn't allow you to hang onto polite society but demanded you riot. The harshness of the music cloaked the aggressive lyrics, but Nipple'd already read Aubrey's words, knew the anarchy they embodied, the nuclear annihilation. The speed of the riffs, the discordance, created some huge wall he had no desire to climb over.
       He opened his eyes. Two distinct lines had formed in the audience, all kids, facing each other as Neon tore up their guitars. Aubrey grunted and groaned before launching into an anthem he'd written about Son of Sam.
       Nipple stood, Anita tugging at his sleeve, almost ripping it to make him sit back down, but he would not. He removed her grasp finger by finger, then walked over to join the group. He knew about mosh pits, but why had two lines formed? The amplification of sounds prevented verbal communication, but bodies could be felt beside each other, animal smells, power. The crowd started a countdown. When they reached the number one, the two lines ran straight into each other, bodies hammering, smashing. One guy slugged another in the face and somehow Nipple ended up cheering, too. He flailed his arms, crashed into more bodies. Suddenly he was airborne, being thrown by different sets of hands, until he felt himself slipping head-first to the floor.
When he opened his eyes, he could tell time had passed. The room was bright and white. Was this heaven? Then he saw blood on his clothes, a doctor, and a nurse. Anita was perched beside him on a bed, holding his hand.
      "Condénele!" she said when she realized his eyes had opened. "How could you, Mark? I thought you were dead."
       A nurse patted her shoulder. "Let's not excite him, ma'am. He needs calm."
       Apparently, they'd already given him a lot of tests. A few hours later, Nipple was released. Anita drove, helped him straight into bed.
       He awoke the next day to Aubrey standing leaning against his mattress, staring, crumbs of his toast freckling the carpet. "Saw you got to taste the Wall of Death in the mosh." It'd been a while since Nipple had seen him smile.
      "People don't get it, but it's a release," Aubrey said.
       Nipple nodded. "Great show, Aubrey. Really." He held his hand up, and the two shook.
Aubrey leaned against the wall. "Still think your college band was better?"
       "Just a little," Nipple said.

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