The members of the planet Xandau gather for another Friday night hour of interstellar television. The dozen inhabitants of the flat, island-sized world slump into barca loungers quietly stolen from pawn shops during their last visit to planet earth and halfheartedly debate which show to watch. They have four options, being that there are five inhabited planets in the known universe including their own (on which filming people is strictly prohibited -- the Xandans are fierce defenders of their personal privacy). As usual they quickly opt for So You Still Want To Rock, currently the premiere show in the universe. The shows from Xypo, Mando, and Yerbo are informative and interesting and all, but they lack the flair and excitement of real-life rockumentaries from planet Earth.

The show opens in the middle of a concert by Unholy Trinity, an aging heavy-metal trio from Cleveland, who are thrashing about on stage in tight fitting spandex outfits that strain to contain the musicians expanding girth. The band is less physically nimble than they were during their snort-coke-off-chicks-tits heyday, but they still rock just as hard. The Xandans cheer the return of their favorite dysfunctional band. During the last episode they watched in disbelief as Craig, the goateed guitarist with crazy eyes, spit on audience members while dodging airborne beer bottles. The concert audience wasn’t yet privy to the news of Craig’s nasty divorce, in which he lost three homes to a groupie who, two months earlier, had left him and moved on to Chuck, the bassist. The tension between the two musicians had been heading into overdrive for a few weeks, and the Xandans had watched each messy backstage altercation with awe and bemusement. When Craig secretly took a leak in Chuck’s pre-show bottle of Jim Beam the Xandans stared at the screen, completely bewildered. Having no such thing as art or artists on their staid planet, the befuddled Xandans had no way to understand these people. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy watching them.

The image on the screen zooms past Craig and lands on Rob, the drummer, who is pounding a drum with monstrous sticks as if he’s trying to kill a prizewinning fish on a bass boat. The Xandans roar approval. Rob has quickly become their favorite member after last week’s profile of the percussionist’s history with the group. The flashback was quite amusing, for viewers at least:

Rob had decided once again, after another futile stint in rehab, to get out of LA and the band for good. Both were killing him, as was his second wife Loretta, so he fled the city with a twenty-two year old he’d met in rehab and snuck off to Oregon to grow Christmas trees. He knew almost nothing about forestry or agriculture, but the scene sounded clean and peaceful, a far cry from the late nights, booze, and strangers the rock world had plunged him into. And how hard could it be, really, to plant trees?

When Craig and Chuck finally tracked him down, Rob was living in a special-ed school bus surrounded by thin, dying evergreens and subsisting on a diet of roadkill and wild mushrooms. The twenty-two year old was nowhere to be found and the struggling tree farm was littered with garbage bags full of stinking trash. The locals were circulating a rumor that Rob was cooking meth to sell to local teenagers, and the word in town was that people were getting ready to do something about the situation. Craig and Chuck loaded Rob into their van with the Arizona sunset mural and got him out of there pronto. No one wanted a repeat of Rob’s incident in Bulgaria, where leather-clad, unfriendly mobsters accustomed to protection payments had chased him off with guns and death threats and then taken possession of his new recording studio.

The Xandans watch in awe as Rob’s arms fly around his drum set, the sticks a blur in the smoky nightclub air. The noise from the drums and the cheering crowd builds into a roar. Suddenly, Rob stops playing and raises his hands towards the lights in a touchdown sign of victory. He’s back, he’s bad, he’s done with silviculture, and he knows it. When the crowd erupts Rob whips his hands forward, sending the huge chunks of wood toward the audience. One sails over Craig’s head but the second crashes into the back of Chuck’s head, slamming his mouth into the microphone.

Chuck spins, lifts the instrument strap over his head, and slams his base onto the stage. He breaks into a sprint, races toward the back of the stage, and dives into Rob, wiping out the drum set. As drums roll across the stage, the two start pulling hair and throwing punches.

The Xandans break into raucous laughter and cheer the combatants on the screen. They love these humans that call themselves artists. They’re so entertaining yet oh so serious, unaware that their lives are meant to be messy and confusing. That, the Xandans realize, is where their art comes from, and without it there’d be no art. Like on Xandau, where everyone lives a neat and clean existence with no strife but plenty of boredom.

"Checking In"
Copyright: © 2009 Thomas Sullivan
Thomas Sullivan's writing has appeared in Whispers Of Wickedness, Word Riot, and Underground Voices, among others. His comic memoir Life In The Slow Lane is forthcoming from Uncial Press in Fall, 2009.

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