Clayton sat quietly in his beat-up red pick-up truck, his eyes darting from the clock, to his hands gripping hard on the steering wheel, up to the small but dimly lit marquee of Jack's Southern Dive which had spelled his name wrong for the third time in two years. Seven minutes passed, and a cold gulp of coffee was finished from a cheap Styrofoam cup, which was purchased from a roadside church group for 50 cents. The coffee tasted like shit, but a voice in his head told him to finish it and throw the empty cup to the floorboard.
He finished off what was left of a roach of dirt weed he'd picked up in Virginia, and held in a long rip until his eyes watered, and bluish smoke exited his nose and filled the cab of the truck. "Shit." he said, after he had rid his lungs of the pungent smoke, and stretched his arms that ached from steering his ailing vehicle over an eight hour drive on the way to Jack's.
After straightening out the food wrappers, miscellaneous hand tools, maps, and CD jewel cases from his passenger seat, Clayton uneasily stepped out of the truck, imagining a masked assailant coming out of nowhere and sideswiping him with a framing hammer. He shook off the imagined moment of panic, opened the small rear half-door of his truck cab and reached inside for his guitar, a 1978 Aria acoustic, and his road case of CD's, and vinyl, all released on his own record label (426 copies sold over the course of one year, a new milestone for Red In The Face Records).
By this time, it was 7 pm, and the sky was quickly turning a deep pinkish purple, with the sun dying somewhere in the distance. A Mack truck roared by, and he felt the gust from it's wind-drift slam cold against his flannel shirt and Levi's, each with four days on them since the last wash, which was in the bath tub of a Red Roof Inn.
The bartender gave him a nod of semi-approval as he walked by, and headed towards the stage. The PA was a Kustom, all covered in black vinyl padding, direct from the factory, and was installed around the time of Jimmy Carter's inaugural address. The stage monitors' metal screening had been bent and stepped on, with beer stains populating their faces, yet somehow they worked every time. The thin green carpeting on the stage had now turned a shade of brown, and was ripped and torn in places, and stood upon and scuffed and puked on so many times that it almost looked artistic. Show business.
Clayton deposited his two cases, and headed for the bar. After several minutes, the bartender peeled himself away from the 21 year old blonde he was coaxing over to his studio apartment after his shift, and asked what it would be that evening. Clayton gave a half smile and introduced himself, "Hey man, I'm Clayton. Playing this evening..." The bartender raised both eyebrows as if surveying his face for a hint as to how bleak his life must be, and replied "Alright man, you know the deal by now I s'pose." as he slid a frothy beer to Clayton's calloused hands.
All the Yuengling you can drink and $100 at the end of the night, with an optional room in the bombed out motel that was attached to the place. Nine to midnight with two breaks. That was the deal. After gas and food, that left him with $30 profit for three hours of work, not to mention the eight hour drive.
The house music played a duet with George Jones and Melba Montgomery. Something about swingers that just can't stay away from temptation. The Yuengling seemed to be sweating profusely, as Clayton cradled it rather nervously in his fretting hand. He took a long pull, and remembered the first time he got laid. About as dismal as this bar, he thought to himself and the bar-stain laden oak booth he was sitting in.
A grizzled farmer type sat at the end of a long line of red vinyl swivel-top bar-stools and barely moved an inch. His drink looked like whiskey, and so did his face. He just sat there, staring at it, as if it was speaking to him. It most likely was.
Clayton cracked his knuckles quickly and effectively, both hands, and took a deep inhale of the tavern air and began feeling nauseous. It was still two hours before set time. His eyes were only closed about fifteen minutes, silently trying to calm his nerves, before he felt someones presence coming towards him, and a hand slapping him on the back. "How yah doin' rock star?" All of a sudden a cold sweat began to form on his back, and an uncomfortable feeling hit him like a board to the face. "Hey Tory, I'm doing well, how's the family?" he replied to his father's best friend from high school, who came to see him whenever he played Virginia.
The sound guy was an over-excited sound engineering student who worked at Jack's when the not-so-well-known acts came through town. He pelted Clayton with technical questions, and made statements about compressors, proximity effect, and certain frequencies that he was trying to get under control in the room. "Just give the guitar and the mic a little extra low, a little verb on both, and absolutely no delay." This statement was met with a blank stare from the young sound guy, and was followed by a disappointing "Alright, suit yourself. Want me to record the show for you?" to which Clayton replied "This isn't exactly a night that I want to remember, or have documented, but thanks."