The Kazakhstan Tales: Have You Done Your Homework?
Author’s Note: Why am I in Kazakhstan? I’m a teacher at an international school. I teach 9th grade Language Arts, 12th grade British Literature, and Drama. Last Friday, I gave my students a writing assignment: write a 3-5 page story following one of three formats as defined by your textbook: the quest, the mystery, or the reversal.
This was the second short story that students were asked to write for their Creative Writing unit, and I gave them Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to work on it in class. Today, Thursday, they were required to share their stories with the class.
As we began the week, one of the students challenged me to complete the assignment with them. This challenge was – in part – meant to see if I would extend the deadline to Friday or allow them to write more than 5 pages. (For all their complaining, a lot of these students are extremely prolific, and if I didn’t give them a maximum number of pages, I would end up grading novellas.)
Unfortunately for them, I managed to write a 5 page story before today, and so ignored their complaining and pleas and kept the assignment as it was. However, you, dear readers, shall have access to the original story. The Director’s Cut, if you will.
Finally, yes, the name “Hayley” is in honor of the singer Hayley Williams of Paramore. “Curtis” is also a reference to a musician: Ian Curtis of Joy Division (I recently watched Control). “Holly” was suggested by a student. The name of the band, as well as the names of the songs, were all picked by my students. And if anyone can guess where the names of the male members of band come from, I will give you a cookie.
Holly and the Talk Sick Bunnies
I was visiting my little sister Hayley when it happened. Maybe you’ve heard of her? Hayley Curtis of the alternative rock group Talk Sick Bunnies? At least, I think it’s alternative rock – that’s what my iTunes lists it as, but I don’t know if the band would agree. They’re not into “labels,” as Adam is always saying in the interviews. Anyway, they were nominated for Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammys, and their last single, “The Creature Must Die,” was in the Billboard Top 40. Is this ringing any bells?
Well, like I said, I was visiting Hayley. At that time, she was living in a dump of an apartment in the Bronx. The band had just flown in the day before from a gig in Cleveland, but Hayley had made a detour in Nashville for a friends’ wedding. She was due back at the apartment any minute now, and then she and I were going to head to another gig.
The gig that night was at Terminal 5. It was an exciting time. The band’s manager, Helen Kennedy, a terrifying woman who always wore red, had told them that if they played their cards right, they could be headed toward their big break.
New Message From Hayley
Running late. Car will be there to pick you up. See you backstage. HC x
The doorbell rang, and a mousey woman who introduced herself as “Sarah, Ms. Kennedy’s personal assistant,” led me to a car parked outside. Sarah the PA was nervous, like most of Helen’s PAs – she went through them faster than my fat cousin Tina goes through Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups. Sarah the PA didn’t say much other than to ask me about my flight to New York. I had flown in from Atlanta, and it had been uneventful and boring.
Within a few minutes we were at the venue, and Sarah led me to the back entrance. As big sister to the lead singer, I always get backstage passes. There were three fans hanging around. I recognized them – they had been tagging along since the last show in Charlottesville, VA, and were, after a fashion, the Talk Sick Bunnies street team. I think their names were Steven, Polly and Sally, but Todd had nicknamed them Hardcore Fan 1, Hardcore Fan 2, and Freak. They waved as I passed – as Big Sis I’m only just a little bit more interesting than a roadie, unless you’re Freak who has a raging crush on Zach and seems to think that if she becomes my BFF I’ll introduce her to him. Adam says she’s one fan letter away from stalker, but Zach loves the attention and anticipates the day when he can brag that he had to get a restraining order against her.
Thankfully, she was in the middle of an argument with Hardcore Fan 2, so I slipped inside without being harassed.
For all the glamour that is associated with the music industry, the members of Talk Sick Bunnies had yet to experience it. I was ushered into a dingy backroom that smelled of stale smoke and fresh body odor. The boys were all there: Zach checking his hair in the one mirror, Todd sleeping on a rather dirty sofa, Gil picking out a tune on his beat up acoustic guitar, and Adam was sitting on the table in the middle of the room. When I entered, he jumped down and strode toward me.
“Where’s Hayley?” he demanded.
“Dunno,” I said. “I came alone.”
“She was supposed to be here ten minutes ago,” he said. “What happened?”
“I told you, I don’t know,” I hung up my coat and took a seat on the arm of the couch at Todd’s feet. “She said she was running late and that I should go on.”
“She’s not answering her phone,” Zach informed us, slipping his cell back into his pocket. He licked his thumb and smoothed an eyebrow. “Rock and roll,” he said, winking at his reflection.
“Where is she?” Adam yelled.
“Relax,” came Todd’s bored and sleepy voice from the couch, his eyes still closed. “She’ll be here.”
Gil continued to strum.
“When do you go on?” I asked Adam.
“In about twenty minutes,” he sighed and pulled his drumsticks out of his back pocket and began to beat against the table.
“And boom goes the dynamite!” Zach shouted. He spun around, finally done with his pre-show grooming. “I feel really good about tonight, guys. We’re going to bring the house down.”
Rat-a-tat-tat, ratta-tatta-tat, Rat-a-tat-tat, ratta-tatta-tat.
“Mmhmm,” Todd mumbled.
Gil started playing “Stairway to Heaven.”
“I’m serious!” Zach said. “This is our night. You guys—” His voice choked up, catching
my and all of the boys’ attention, including Todd who popped open an eye. “—Tonight is going to be awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I –” He inhaled deeply. “I am going to jump.”
“I wouldn’t,” I said.
“What? Why not?” Zach looked genuinely offended at our lack of support.
“Zach, how can I put this into terms you’ll understand?” Adam’s voice was saturated with sarcasm. “You look like an idiot when you jump.”
“I do not!”
“Yeah, you do,” Todd sat up, swinging his long legs around to the floor and nearly swiping me off my perch.
“I look cool!” Zach claimed. When his band mates disagreed – silent Gil actually snorted in disgust – he looked to me: “Holly?
Zach looked as if Christmas had been canceled. “But last time – at that gig in Jersey – I jumped, and –“
“And you jumped 6 inches off the ground,” Adam reminded him. “It wasn’t impressive.”
“You kicked your legs out, too,” Todd reminisced. “You looked like you were having a fit.”
“Stick to headbanging,” Adam told him, trying to make him feel better. “You and Hayley are both good at that.”
The door opened and Helen Kennedy swept into the room. “Alright boys,” She greeted them. “You’re on in ten minutes.” She stopped and removed her sunglasses. “Where’s Hayley?” she asked.
“We don’t know,” Adam said, biting the bullet.
Helen’s face went rigid. She spun on her heel and barked, “Sarah! Quit flirting with that roadie, and get in here!”
The mousey girl who had picked me up earlier appeared, her eyes wide with fright, entered the room. “Yes, Ms. Kennedy?”
“Right there,” the girl said, pointing at me.
Evidently, I wasn’t the only one confused. Adam was glancing back and forth between Sarah and me so fast I thought he might get whiplash; Zach’s mouth had dropped open but was now slowly stretching into a grin as realization dawned; Todd buried his face in his hands and sighed in exasperation; the pick slipped from Gil’s fingers and fell inside the body of his guitar.
“Crap,” he muttered.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Helen Kennedy so angry. Now I know why Hayley refers to her as Battle Axe Helen.
Thrusting her hand behind her to point at me, the manager shouted at the hapless PA: “That is not Hayley Curtis! That is her sister, Holly Curtis, who has as much musical talent as Ke$ha!”
“No offense,” she told me. “Where’s Hayley?”
Everyone looked at me.
“She said she was running late,” I told them again. “Perhaps she was delayed at the airport?”
“Her phone’s dead,” Adam chimed in. “I’ve been calling her, but…”
Helen jabbed a bony, scarlet-tipped index finger at Sarah. “Get on the phone with JFK and find her. Now!”
As Sarah scurried away, Helen moaned, “This is just not my day. Hayley missing in action, and the venue already trying to cheat us out of our cut for the night.” She sighed and glanced at her cell phone: “And you lot go on in five minutes!”
“Stall them, Helen,” Adam begged.
“Yeah, Battle Axe, work your voodoo,” Zach said.
“I’ll do my best,” she told them. As she turned to leave she looked back at us and said, “None of you are to leave this room.”
“Yes, ma’am,” we sang in unison.
It seemed like only seconds later, but it was really another fifteen minutes, when Helen returned, a whirlwind of fiery red.
“I can’t stall them much longer,” she said. We could hear the crowd outside growing restless. “They’ll be wanting blood soon.”
“What are we going to do?” Adam asked.
“Well, we found Hayley,” Helen explained as we gathered around. “She was waiting at baggage claim and didn’t realize her phone was dead. She’s heading here now in a cab, but with this traffic – it could be another thirty minutes, it could be an hour before she gets here. We’ve only one option,” she said. “Holly.”
“Holly?” Zach laughed.
“Holly can’t do it,” Adam shook his head. “She’s not a singer.”
“She’s got no stage presence whatsoever,” Zach agreed.
“You know all the words, “ Helen said to me. “You’re the best we’ve got.”
“But what about – you know, that I’ve got less talent then Ke$ha?” I sputtered.
“You’ll have to do,” Helen said. She rummaged around in her purse and retrieved eyeliner and a can of hairspray. “Now, hold still,” she told me. “I’ve got thirty seconds to turn you into a rock star.”
“But Hayley’s a soprano!” I shouted. “I sing alto. And badly!”
“Boys,” Helen nodded to Todd and Gil behind me. Suddenly I found myself seated in a chair, the two of them holding me in place while Helen attacked my face and hair. She stood back and admired her handiwork. It warranted a “Meh” from her and a grimace from Zach, but Todd gave me a thumbs up.
Helen pulled me up out of the chair. “God be with you,” she said, and suddenly I was being ushered out of the room into the darkened backstage. The boys all quickly filed past me, the crowd cheering at the sight of them. As he passed, Todd whispered for me to “just have some fun.”
“This isn’t going to work, “I pleaded with Helen. “Hayley is short, and I’m tall. Hayley’s blonde; I’m brunette. She can sing; I can’t.”
The opening notes began as Helen spun me around and pushed me on stage. “Too late now,” she called after me.
The light was too bright, and I couldn’t see. I felt frozen, and the boys were playing the intro over and over. Somehow I managed to remember the words and began to sing. If I squinted, I could see Hardcore Fans 1 and 2 with Freak right below me. They seemed confused, then angry, but the rest of the crowd hadn’t quite noticed that I wasn’t Hayley Curtis.
Halfway through the chorus, something happened: I loosened up. Here it was, my fifteen minutes of fame, and I took control of it. I started jumping. Then dancing. Screaming. And finally, headbanging.
One more song and I might have gone so far as to jump from the stage into the crowd, but as the last chorus began I heard my little sister’s voice join in. Hayley appeared onstage and the crowd went wild as we finished the song together.
“Hello New York!” Hayley shouted to thunderous applause. “We are Talk Sick Bunnies, and that was our newest song, ‘We Like to Google.”
I started to edge offstage, the reality of what I had just done beginning to hit me. Hayley reached out and pulled me back to her, shouting, “Give it up for my big sister, Holly Curtis!”
I blushed and gave an awkward bow before Hayley released me and I could run offstage as the Talk Sick Bunnies went into their next song. In the sudden dark of the wings, I could just barely make out Helen standing there. “You did good,” she said.
“Thanks,” I whispered.
“You should go into the business,” she continued. “I could manage you. I think you’d do well as a country singer.”
“Helen?” I interrupted. “I suck, remember?”
She shrugged and grinned, “So does Ke$ha.”
I laughed and shook my head. We watched the rest of the show, and even though it ended early because Zach got the bright idea to climb onto the stacked stereo tower and jump into the audience, only to have them step aside and let him drop to the ground, resulting in a broken leg and a quick rush to the hospital, I will always be proud of the night when for a few minutes I got to be a rock star.
- The End