Friday, 4 May 2012

Stairway to Heaven: Dan O’Shea goes dancing with himself

Excuse me a moment. *Turns around and slaps own face* Geeze, just because Nigel put on Stairway to Heaven doesn’t mean I get to grope my own ass during the slow bits.

Stairway, eh, Nigel? Damn, that’s better than eight minutes, and that’s the radio version. Not letting me off easy, are you old sport? Couldn’t go with something hard and fast, get this over with? Maybe The Jam, Eton Rifles maybe? Let me show off my anglophile chops, transition into a nice Occupy Wall Street groove, do a little socio-economic two-step, a little geopolitical rag, try for some 1980s nostalgia just to make myself look a tad younger? No, huh? You’re going for the jugular, gonna make me show my age, eh? OK, time to bust a move. Dancing with Myself.

I’m suspicious of this whole exercise, frankly. I mean look at these puppies – these are big dogs,13Ws. And I don’t mean in those whacky-ass European shoe sizes either, Nigel. I checked the conversion chart. 45s? Really? That’s a handgun caliber, not a shoe size. No, on me we’re talking 13W worth of good ol’, god-fearin’ American shoe leather. The problem being, you can’t start slinging gunboats like these around the dance floor without stepping on a few toes. But there are advantages, of course. Yes ladies, I did say 13 wides. *wink wink*

Not that I can’t pull off a little fancy footwork. Did some boxing back in the day, strictly amateur hour stuff, but still, I laced ‘em up and climbed into the ring a couple dozen times. And your fists won’t go anywhere your feet don’t take you, even if you are known around the gym as the even-whiter-and-less-talented Jerry Quarry. So yeah, I can move the tootsies a little. And I can take a punch, but you knew that already. You’ve seen my face.

Crap, the slow part’s over. Bonham’s really pounding the skins now, Jimmy Page is firing on all cylinders, all that mamby pamby Hobbity shit, the rings of smoke through the trees shit, that stuff we were trying to digest down in Brian’s basement, lubing up the process with a case of Old Milwaukee because, god damn it, we were pretty sure some sort of paradigm shifting universal secret was stashed in there somewhere, we’re past all that now. Now we’re winding on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, the tempo cranked all the way up. Time to let go of my date, break out of that feel-up clinch and shake it. But we didn’t used to, not at the dances in the school gym, not back in ’75. Of course, we weren’t listening to Bonham on the drums, that wasn’t Jimmy working the ax. Just some guys in bad polyester shirts and worse heavy metal hair, guys with maybe five years on us, but not guys who’d been to our school. Guys with day jobs at Caterpillar, or maybe down at All-Steel, Guys that ran drill presses Monday through Friday, guys that stamped metal. Guys with enough left in the tank after all that to get together in the garage, work up a playlist, waste their passion on a mess of 16-year-olds who stayed in that graceless four-armed circle-stomp clinch all the way through the fast part because we weren’t even hearing the music, just the blood in our own veins, just that voice in our own heads that kept telling us maybe tonight maybe tonight maybe tonight. Or maybe not. Usually not. Didn’t matter. Not our awkward gyrations, not our clumsy innocent pursuit of our pubescent fantasies. Didn’t matter to us, not on the gym floor at Marmion Military Academy.

Because it was all still ahead of us, we knew that. College, jobs after college. And not running drill presses either, jobs with ties. We had nothing on the line. But those guys on stage did. Not just another Saturday night for them, not in their heads. They were dreaming of filled arenas, limos, t-shirts with their names on the front and tour dates on the back. They were up there doing the one thing in their lives they loved at the end of a week they probably hated so that we could ignore them and turn in our masturbatory little circles wondering if this was the night we’d find out what color panties Mary Mulcahy was wearing.

Those guys, they were playing with desperation because they knew that they had maybe another couple of years. A couple years left to pretend that some guy from A&M was going to hear them playing a soc hop in East Bumblefuck, Illinois, was gonna give them that mythical break. A couple years before some girl in a bar became more than some girl in a bar, became a wife, became a mother, and then they wouldn’t have time for the garage, time to work this year’s new sound into the playlist and they’d put away the ax with the rest of St. Paul’s childish things. Maybe take it out late at night sometimes, just working the strings, not even plugging it into the amp, not wanting to wake the kids, trying to convince themselves they still have some magic in them somewhere, or at least that’s how I picture them, say nine years on, in 1984, the third baby on the way, the mortgage payment late because the holding company that bought out the plant had packed it up for some non-union spot down in Mississippi and the unemployment had run out and they had to shut off the tube when that Regan commercial came on again, the one that said it was morning in America, so then they were sitting there alone in the dark and they had to reach for something, so they reached for the guitar. Maybe called up some old friends, maybe got the band back together, maybe played some weddings or something, not chasing dreams this time, just making ends meet.

Somewhere down in Mississippi, somebody else is reaching for the guitar now. Not picking through old Zeppelin tunes, probably. Drive By Truckers maybe, old Skynyrd tunes maybe, Tom Petty maybe. Because now the plant’s packed off to China, and it would take four shifts a day at Walmart to make up that paycheck, but Walmart’s only hiring part time because full time would mean paying more benefits, so its five hours a day in the blue vest unpacking the boxes from Shanghai, throwing the shit they used to make on shelves for a quarter of what they used to get paid, then shucking the blue vest for six more hours of pushing shopping carts around the lot at the Food Giant, and Obama’s on the tube telling them Hope and Romney’s on the tube telling them Obama’s the anti-Christ, and they’re pretty sure it isn’t going to matter much to them either way.

What’s that Nigel? The music’s stopped? I guess I didn’t notice again, guess I wasn’t listening. Guess my mind was somewhere else. I wish it was still on Mary Mulcahy’s panties, but I know what color they were now. Sometimes I think that was the last good thing.

But hold on, don’t throw it to the judges yet, let me see if I can’t work up a little paradiddle, go out on a high note. *a slow, pathetic shuffle, muscle memory gone all Alzheimer’s*

Fuck it, who am I kidding? I’d pull a groin.

Dan O’Shea is a Chicago area writer represented by Stacia Decker at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His short fiction collection, Old School, is available through Snubnose Press, Amazon  (UK) and Smashwords. On days when he remembers he has a blog, you can catch him at .


  1. Dan, this has to be the craziest thing I've ever read. And totally perfect. "... and she's buying a stairway to heaven." ;-)

  2. haha! Best Dancing with Myself ever!

  3. Done as only you could do, Dan. Bravo... you crazy fucker.