Frankie’s Sticks, Man

If you saw me now, you’d think that I time-warped back to 1983.

Getting here wasn’t as hard as one might think. The fact is, a powerchair is my best friend in crowds, where it works almost as well as a snowplow, ushering people out of my way. Maybe even drunks at a rock concert have empathy for a guy seated in a wheelchair among a standing-only crowd, or maybe the look in my eyes – that I’m not stopping for anyone, that my 300-pound powerchair could break toes and ankles – appeals to their common sense; but, for whatever reason, I can always work my way through the most obnoxious of crowds.

And, that’s what my buddy, Dave, and I did tonight, making our way to the front row, center stage of this concert.

Now, this isn’t a big concert venue, but a club room, where there’s nothing between the audience and the band. The stage, in fact, is barely over a foot-and-a-half high, and I’m right against it, looking up at the lead singer of Quiet Riot, who’s still decked in purple spandex, a bad wig, and gaudy jewelry after twenty-five years without a hit, looking like this gig is at least fifteen years past his fitness level, as judged by his pouring sweat and labored dance movements.

At some point, a guy warned us that the flashback-frenzied crowd might surge forward, pressing us against the stage. However, with my reinforced-steel legrests touching the stage, and my push canes protruding behind me, ready to impale the crowd, no one’s pushing me anywhere.

Indeed, my game plan is working. See, in 2007, there’s nothing less cool than going to the concert of a hair band from the ’80s, whose members and fans are frozen in time, unable to see that a 1979 Trans Am isn’t the chic magnet that it once was. Yet, in 2007, there’s nothing more entertaining than going to the concert of a hair band from the ’80s, whose members and fans are frozen in time, where the skinny guy to my left – mullet, graying beard, skin-tight T-shirt, bandannas tied together as a belt – is playing air guitar and drums like he’s part of the band, and the 40-something mom to my right, with teased-up hair, hasn’t stop jumping up and down with her fist in the air since the band started playing two hours ago. Of course, the woman directly behind me – a seemingly over-erogenous DMV clerk – keeps leaning over me, trying to grab the lead singer’s crotch, and even he gives her disgusted looks, pulling away each time she gets lucky.

“In ’92, I talked to Frankie, the drummer!” Mr. Mullet yells in my ear. “Dude, I live for these shows.”

And, I believe him. But, I can’t stop laughing long enough to get as excited as he is. Sure, it’s terrific that this is a highlight in the lives of those around me. But, how any 40-year-old can think that playing air guitar at hair band concert, decades past the era, is cool, is beyond me. Maybe I’m turning old and boring, but in my circles, being able to trade stocks on your PDA while you’re vacationing on a beach in the Bahamas is cool; popping a cassette tape into the dash of your Gremlin on the way to the Quiet Riot concert is uncool.

“Dude, no one’s ever come close to their genius!” Mr. Mullet yells to me.

“Dude, do you live with your mom?” I yell back.

“Yeah, but I’m moving in with my girl!” he replies, pointing to the middle aged, pear-shaped woman next to him, poured into her black velvet top and faded jeans, screaming every cheesy lyric.

I look over my shoulder, to Dave, who’s notably out of place, wearing a fatherly sweater and slacks, unable to change since someone offered us free, last-minute tickets at work late in the day, and he’s chuckling at the whole scene, too. I look back to the stage, and read the song list taped to the floor, noting that the band is playing the last song on the list – and, I’m glad, as it must be close to midnight, and two hours of being stuck in the worst of 1983 is plenty for me.

The drummer just hit the last few beats, and the singer is thanking the crowd. I’m looking around, seeing if the packed crowd is going to immediately rush for the exits, but now I see that the crowd is freaking out again. It’s the drummer coming toward me, and everyone’s reaching toward him. He kneels down, and hands me his drum sticks, but due to my poor coordination, I can’t grab them, so he gingerly sets them on my lap.

“Thanks, man!” I yell, giving him the thumbs up sign.

Mr. Mullet to my left, and Teased-Hair Tammi to my right, look simultaneously elated and disappointed by my score, and I feel guilty, instinctively thinking that I should give the sticks away to the crowd. After all, I’m here in mockery, with no regard for Quiet Riot as musical icons, thinking that the whole scene is a Saturday Night Live skit that I rolled into. Yet, those around me have seemingly invested their entire lives in this band and scene, presumably passing on any sort of cultural growth over the last twenty-five years – that is, their receiving concert drum sticks from the drummer of Quiet Riot might be like getting blessed by the Pope, a forever link to hair band immortality. But, then, here I am, a sucker-bet, all but guaranteed to get the sticks, with the well-meaning drummer likely thinking that I, as guy in a wheelchair, have had it rough in life, that it’s probably my last wish to be in the front row of a Quiet Riot concert, that receiving the drum sticks will be a golden gift. Is it my fault that I’m a tough racket to beat at a hair band concert when it comes to societal projections of sympathy toward those with disabilities?

“I’ve waited my whole life for this,” I yell to Mr. Mullet.

“Right on,” he replies, patting me on the back. “Now, you’ve got Frankie’s sticks, man!”

I turn to Dave, and he leans toward me. “How much do you think these will sell for on Ebay?” I ask.

Dave laughs, and adds, “This whole thing is just wrong.”


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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