Gary Benchley, Rock Star

Beyond the Show

If a band plays a concert, and no one pays attention, can it still aspire to musical greatness? Is anything louder than the sound of no hands clapping?

We packed up after the show was over and Katherine hugged me goodbye. Jacob was kneeling, putting his bass in its cloth case, and he stood up to shake my hand. “Gary, don’t sweat things. It was what it was,” he said. “It was fine.”

But it hadn’t been fine. Schizopolis’s first concert had failed. It had been like playing a concert for the stone faces on Easter Island. The quietness at the end of the show—I kept going back to that moment of near silence, as the last note faded, when all I could hear was amplifier hum, beer cans opening, and soft, polite applause.

Scott drove me home. It was still only 10; it felt like I hadn’t slept in days.

Gary: I’m sorry you caught fire. And that your shirt was ruined.
Scott: It happens.
Gary: [long breath, bumps head against car window]
Scott: Katherine apologized to me for that.
Gary: That’s good.

I told him about the one Amish-looking guy who liked the show, who’d come up after to congratulate me. “See?” Scott said. “You got someone. He’ll tell someone else. It’ll work out.” He dropped me off, and I trudged up the stairs to my apartment, counting the steps as I went—36. There was no one in the living room, for which I was grateful. I put the guitar case down inside the door to my bedroom and flopped on my bed.

I needed affirmation, a huge, direct infusion of it, so I called Para, but she wasn’t home. Then I called my mother.

Mom: Gobbums! We were just talking about you. What’s going on?
Gary: Hey Mom. [five minutes of random chit-chat] And we played, and we totally sucked.
Mom: You’ve just got high standards, honey.

Exactly. It’s high standards that made me feel that I failed, not lack of talent. I knew moms would understand. She said that I was her incredibly talented Gary William Benchley and I would be able to do anything if I just gave it time. Above her soothing voice, I heard a huge crash from the living room, and a yell. I said goodbye to my mom and went out to investigate. I found David standing over the remnants of a large sculpture, swearing.

Charles had dragged the sculpture up to the apartment a week before, and placed it in the center of the living room without asking anyone what they thought. The sculpture was five and a half feet tall, made of slag iron, rope, ceramics, with steel tendrils emerging from its body—some kind of industrialized octopus. A few dozen tiny plastic dolls were glued to its tendrils.

It had been assembled by Patmavadi, Charles’s girlfriend. It was designed to channel things—energies, emotions, ideas, and you could read it, Charles said, from the bottom up, as a parable of Patmavadi’s journey to feminine self-awareness. A week after that explanation was given, David stood over an abbreviated version of the octopus, which had been divided into two neat halves along its midsection.

David: Shit. You think he’ll be pissed?
Gary: It was an accident. What can you do?
David: My bag brushed against it.

He and I tried to place the two halves on top of one another, breaking off pieces of ceramic as we went. A large chunk of iron fell away and dented the floor. The tiny plastic dolls were scattered in a semicircle. “Can you weld?” David asked.

We gave up. After that afternoon’s performance, it seemed appropriate to be staring at a huge pile of broken art on the floor. “I don’t want to deal with this,” said David. “I’m going to get a huge lecture from that asshole.” Meaning Charles.

Gary: Personally, I think it ruptured from its own weight. I don’t think you had anything to do with it.
David: No, it was definitely an accident—oh. Yeah. OK.

In prior roommate battles, I had remained neutral. I had not intended to choose a side, to lie to cover things up, but like David, I didn’t want any more fighting. And I had no love for the sculpture.

David: Gary, you and I need to smoke a cigar and drink a beer.
Gary: Sounds fine.
David: You want a Griffin? I’ve got some nice Griffin Churchills.
Gary: I’ve never smoked a cigar.
David: Oh my God!

We went into his room and opened a window. He gave a brief lecture on humidors (his was Tupperware), and handed me my own cigar. It tasted like burning pepper, but the buzz was pleasant, very different from the morning’s hash cookie. It was hard to remember the morning, out in the street protesting the war. Anything before noon was ancient history. I told David about Schizopolis’s concert.

David: His hair was on fire?
Gary: Just for a minute.
David: I’m miserable too, if that helps.

It turned out that Carly, his girlfriend, had come to some conclusions regarding the relationship. After two years of dating David, at 32 years of age, she decided that David was either going to take steps involving a ring and a viable fetus, or she was going to find other options.

David: I wish she’d just forget to take the pill, and whoops. That’s the old-fashioned way.
Gary: You want that?
David: Well, if it happened, I’d be OK with it. That’s what I’m saying. I don’t want to sit around making big decisions about whether or not to move to Westchester.
Gary: [coughing] My girlfriend insists we hug all the time.
David: Just hug?
Gary: Yes.
David: That sounds horrible.
Gary: She’s in therapy.
David: [low whistle]

The room was filled with smoke and I was catching the hang of the cigar, puffing every few moments. We heard the sound of the front door opening, a pause, and then some loud, muffled words. Finally there was a knock at the door to David’s bedroom.

David yelled for the knocker to come in, and the door opened. But Charles didn’t enter the room. Instead he sniffed the smoke and covered his mouth, and said from the door, “Do either of you know why the sculpture in the living room is in pieces?”

Gary: I got home about two hours ago and saw that.
Charles: But neither of you have any idea how it happened?
Gary: It looked kind of top-heavy to me.
David: I think it was the little dolls. They’re kind of deceptive. There’s a lot of mass there.

Charles looked at me through narrowed eyes. I felt bad, for a moment—he thought of me as a friend, someone to talk to about his life as an instructor in Yogic Drumming, someone to whom he could complain about David. But here I was, in a room with the enemy, smoking a cigar. From the other room came a moan.

David and I wandered out behind Charles to find Patmavadi kneeling in the mess of her sculpture. She’d cut her hand on a raw piece of jutting iron. “You know, this is exactly like everything else,” she said to Charles. She sobbed. “I gave you this.”

“It just happened,” said Charles. “It was top-heavy.” He was quiet for a moment. “Maybe the dolls—”

“I can’t trust you—not at all,” she replied quietly.

David and I retreated to our rooms, leaving them to sort it out. A short while later, as I fell asleep, I heard the door close, and the noise of something heavy being dragged around the floor.

The next morning I woke up feeling like I’d swallowed hot tar, with a hangover from beer, a bad concert, depression, cigars, and hash. David had already left for work, and I thought I was alone until Charles emerged from his room. He’s usually up by five and out by six. His long hair, usually in a ponytail, or brushed down, was going in 50 directions at once. Some of it, I noticed, was gray.

“I’m sorry about last night,” he said. “It was quite a scene.”

“She seemed pretty upset,” I said.

“We’re going through a phase,” he said. I offered him a cup of my coffee, caffeine being his only vice, besides incense and pot. He sat down at the kitchen table. “I was on the phone until five this morning.”

“I know what that’s like,” I said.

“She puts her heart into those sculptures,” he said. “All those little dolls.

“What did they represent?”

He thought about that. “I can’t remember,” he said.

With his hair a mess, in a T-shirt instead of a billowing blouse-shirt, Charles was small and human, just another guy in Brooklyn. I wondered if I’d done the right thing to let David off the hook, to cover up the sculpture breakage for him. If Charles and Patmavadi split up, would I be partly responsible?

But I wasn’t going to sell David out, not after he’d produced cigars and beer and listened to me talk about Schizopolis.

Charles shuffled off back into his room to see what he could salvage of the day, and I headed off to work, with British Sea Power in my headphones. I was hoping I could go out to lunch with Para, tell her about all of these troubled men and their troubled relationships. Even with Schizopolis a mess, I had something stable with her, something that ran deeper than a broken sculpture.