Sunday Stories: “Verga Disaster”


Verga Disaster
by Michael T. Fournier

The end started when Addie Pocene stopped playing guitar mid-song.

It was hard for Verga Disaster to see all the way across the Boston stage– the harsh theater spotlights rendered Addie a silhouette. Before this tour, supporting Festival of Hamburgers, their band Greenspan drew maybe twenty people per show, graduating in a few towns from basement parties to dingy bars with stages jammed into far corners.

Zohn-Yves Escondito, with his grey uniform jacket and Sam Browne belt, flailed and gesticulated, pantomiming a politician taking bribes as he sang. He wasn’t helping Verga’s sightline, either.

Even when Addie was drunk – every day now that Greenspan had a bus and driver – she could play any of the band’s songs, including her solos, which under the worst of times garnered a begrudging respect from crowds who came to see Festival of Hamburgers and Festival of Hamburgers only. Winning over a hostile theater was quite a trick, and while Greenspan didn’t always do so, the grizzled rock dudes in the audience wearing shirts bearing the names of obscure amplifiers often left the band’s sets intoning something resembling a compliment, like ‘that broad could play.’

The night before, in New Haven, had been a bad one, even by Addie’s lofty standards: she’d found a bar beforehand, told everyone she was in a band, downed complementary shots, lord knew what else. Some nights she knocked back rails off grimy bathroom porcelain, others found her pie-eyed, questioning the nature of existence through giggles. Verga retrieved her – it always landed on Verga to corral their errant guitar player — and Greenspan played their half-hour.

And at the end of the night, Addie wasn’t on the bus.

Zohn-Yves, sitting near the front with a giggling woman, said Verga, we can’t leave without Addie.

Why not? We’ll teach her a lesson.

And lose money? Boston’s a big show.

She’ll never do it again if we leave her.

Zohn-Yves didn’t dignify Verga with a response, turning his attention back to the giggling woman.

Maybe, she thought, his pickup will be gone when I get back. Night after night Verga hoped against hope that her earplugs plus a pillow over her head would squelch the noises emanating from Zohn-Yves’ bunk.

Nor did earplugs and pillow squelch the noises of nightly violent vomiting from Addie.

Verga sighed and exited the bus. The bar was but a few blocks from the club.

She saw Addie first, sitting with her back against the bar’s brick outer wall. Then, a few steps later, Verga smelled her. She struggled to keep her dinner down as she approached Addie, whose chin lolled against her chest just above a drying blast of vomit. Half-digested bits of the evening’s buffalo chicken mac and cheese stuck to her shirt, and her jeans, Verga saw, were soaked through.

I can’t keep doing this, Verga thought as she half-dragged her bandmate back to the bus, puke and booze stink an enveloping cloud. Addie won’t stop blacking out. I’ve talked to her about it. Everyone has. She keeps going. And Zohn-Yves won’t stop his hookups. He’s making it worse. If I can’t help, fuck it. I’m going to leave. Once this tour’s over, I’m out.

Now, in Boston, Wyatt Holderness kept the beat as Addie stood, unmoving. Good ol’ reliable Wyatt Holderness, the drummer steady in time and demeanor, who spoke in a hush. Wyatt, who had duct-taped blankets around his bunk a few days into tour, emerging only to play shows before disappearing back, silently, into his childlike fort.

Zohn-Yves, ever the pro, never missed a moment of his elaborate windmilling. But he heard. Zohn-Yves Escondito heard everything.

Verga worried the stoppage was related to the food she’d made earlier in the evening. The prospect of cooking lobster – the first time she’d done so – had been initially daunting, but ultimately not difficult. Prices were low: after the abnormal Northeast winter, lobster shells weren’t as thick as usual, rendering their market both impossibly local and cheap, for soft-shelled crustaceans didn’t travel well. She’d bought more than she thought she needed, boiled them, shucked the meat (a huge pain in the ass), chilled it, and tossed it in mayonnaise she made herself. A bag of hot dog buns later: lobster rolls.

She made some cash off the meals she served fans before shows, enough to pay for her ingredients and then some – often more than the band made selling merch, infuriating Zohn-Yves. But he wasn’t posting photos of their t-shirts and seven inches as diligently as she did of her food on the punk rock and foodie messageboards she frequented. On their last tour, half their accommodations were through connections she’d made online. And at least two or three people per show, now, introduced themselves by screen names. She tried to jot these down immediately – faces she could do, but names not so much.

Addie, in particular, had eaten with gusto, proclaiming loudly to anyone around that the bass player of Greenspan was an underrated American chef.

Zohn-Yves had eaten a lobster roll.

So had Wyatt, who surprised her first by emerging from his bunk prior to showtime, then by speaking: this is excellent, Verga, he’d said. Neither man in her band showed any adverse effects as they turned the corner back into the song’s verses despite their guitarist’s silence.

Something else was going on with Addie. Not food poisoning.

And it wasn’t the drinking. Addie had an uncanny knack for finding the bar closest to the night’s venue. That very afternoon, after soundcheck, still smelling faintly of the previous evening’s puke, Addie disappeared. Verga first looked in a touristy place on the main thoroughfare, then descended a wrought iron staircase into a dimly lit space with velvet curtains. Addie sat at the bar with a small throng of men and empty shot glasses surrounding her. She saw Verga and said gotta go, fellas. Thanks for the laughs.

In their van days, it had been Zohn-Yves who’d instituted the band’s draw-straws policy for driving to the next show. Addie had groused about this, proposing a rotation. Her straw came up more than anyone else’s – as if rigged to keep her from blacking out every night. Now, with a dedicated driver and no such framework to keep her in check, she had redoubled her efforts.

But never had the drinking affected their shows. And neither had Addie and Zohn Yves’s breakup, his subsequent hookups. Verga thought the unspoken tension between them made the band sound better than ever.

Squinting against the spotlight glare, though, Verga saw Addie, across the stage, stumble backwards and then lurch forward, hitting the first verse chord right on time.

Verga trained her attention back to the bass. She’d never been a player who could get through songs on autopilot, like so many musicians she’d seen on stages and in basements across the country. And she didn’t feel like she’d improved much, if at all, since her audition, which she’d done on a lark. She suspected her place in the band was more about her Mohawk and all-black wardrobe than her playing.

But she did feel like her cooking was improving. That very night, after her first-time foray into lobster, she felt a pang of guilt that she liked cooking more than playing bass. The pang carried with it a weird humility: she knew people who would kill to be onstage at a big theater like the one she was playing, the kind the Festival of Hamburgers tour hit every night.

Everyone in Freedom Springs knew FoH, but they toured so long and hard that they were never in town, save brief periods of dormancy between legs. Verga didn’t think anyone in her band knew them even peripherally –they’d stumbled upon Greenspan playing the Kensington, liked what they heard, and asked them to open their forthcoming U.S. tour, with busses and theaters replacing their rickety Econoline and litterbox-smelling basements.

As the song ended, Verga braced herself for histrionics – a series of false endings, a noise jam, something different than the norm. These were part of Addie’s occasional screw-ups: such theater drove Zohn-Yves absolutely crazy.

But Addie ended the song quickly and easily.


Behind them, Wyatt thumped out the kick pattern for “Boehner Youth.”

He’d been doing his part to knit together the entire set, no dead space. It makes us sound more professional, he said, for the big audiences. Zohn-Yves took this personally – he thought the time between songs was his, designed specifically for broadcasting fake secularity which Verga thought had both lost and gained edge since the beginning of tour. When Greenspan played small spaces to nobody, his declarations had sounded more sinister and exaggerated than his normal tone and cadence. Now, in front of packed houses, he was at ease discussing extermination, ceding to the inevitable, the human sacrifice involved, all that – he wasn’t trying so hard. And perhaps believing his proclamations rather than parodying the rhetoric of the men behind curtains who manipulated the world. This belief disturbed Verga. And his hookups were a symptom.

The bass figure on “Boehner Youth” accented the drums’ drive. She caught Wyatt’s kick and latched on. He looked over his kit at her. Was she, like Addie across the way, too bright to be discerned as anything but a silhouette against spotlights?

Zohn-Yves was due to come in, a chant escalating into a rant, a membership drive, which, when he was on his game, was hypnotic and terrifying. Verga put her head down and spread her feet further apart, readying for the build.

Addie, across the stage, wrenched a sheet of distorted noise.

One not in the song.

Verga almost stopped playing her bass figure out of sheer surprise. Wyatt, unflappable as ever, moved the song along. And so did Zohn-Yves, after a second to regroup.

Speaker Boehner, he intoned. Boys in –

Another sheet of noise here.

He waited it out, started again.

Got cut off.

Again and again: interrupted by Addie.

He took his foot off the monitor and stormed across the stage, mic in hand, to where Addie stood. She quelled her flurry.

Verga realized, after a moment, that her mouth was an O of surprise.

She would soon be endlessly reminded of this moment by strangers on the street, on the internet.

As Zohn-Yves began screaming at Addie, Verga took an instinctive step towards Wyatt and his drum riser. The stage had a strange effect on her bandmates’ words – it was hard to make them all out from where she stood. In the YouTube video, which circulated further and faster than anything the band had done, any of her cooking, her messageboard posts, everything was fairly audible. Later, some enterprising soul ran the audio through software, eliminating all noise, boosting both sides of the argument.

It’s up online if you want to listen to it, Verga said.

Oh no, Jeannie McGillicuddy said. It sounds horrible. I don’t want to hear any of it.

Can I tell you the rest?

Go on, Jeannie said.

I was standing near the drums when Zohn-Yves hit her, Addie said.

Here, also, multiple views of the incident are suddenly and virally available as audience members record the events:

Verga stands stock still, shocked, unable to intervene as Addie rubs the side of her head, a glancing blow off her skull, and breaks into a grin as she knees Zohn-Yves in the balls. Hard.

He crumples and curls into fetal position as Addie lands kick after kick, screaming.

From every vantage point, in every video, Verga is paralyzed.

Part of this is because the incident is short, perhaps thirty seconds from start to finish. Wyatt, uncharacteristically in action, hurls himself between his two bandmates, and seconds later, a throng of meaty security guards pull the scrum apart.

The other part is wonder. She thinks: I’m done. I’m free.

But she is not.

Michael T. Fournier is the author of two novels — Hidden Wheel and Swing State, both on Three Rooms Press — and a book-length investigation of the Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime,” the 45th installment of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series. His writing has appeared in Oxford American, Razorcake, Pitchfork and Boston Magazine. Mike is the publisher of Cabildo Quarterly, a broadsheet journal he co-edits with the poet Lisa Panepinto. He plays drums and writes songs for Dead Trend. He and his wife Rebecca live in Massachusetts with their cat. More here:

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