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Fiction Inspirational Funny

This story contains sensitive content

(Warning: asterisks, pronouns, and possibly-offensive cheap shots.)

I dedicate this to the 'Little People' who work backstage behind every great show.


“Houston, we have a problem,” said Jerry, the gofer. Jerry’s face was pasty, with a slick overlay of sweat, and his eyes protruded like blue marbles. The gofer wasn’t usually one to sweat things, nor did his eyes normally protrude in this preternatural way, which is why we hired him in the first place. In showbiz you need at least one person whose head remains attached to his corpus.

“What f*ing problem?” snapped Frank, the soundman. He’d been busy considering whether to exchange the Blue Spark mic for a Røde and didn’t need anything to muddy the waters of decision.

“Cloris says she dropped her fave pick in the toilet.”

“So?” Frank jerked one bony shoulder. “Give her another.”

“Well, see, we can’t.”

Frank stopped what he was doing to stare. “What do you mean, you can’t? Just open her hand and place the pick in it, what’s so hard?”

“We don’t have another pick of that type, and she won’t go on with anything else. Nothing to do with mojo or woo-woo, I mean she just only plays with that one type of pick.”

“OK, what type? I’ve got a pocketful.” Frank was already reaching deep into his jeans with the hand that wasn’t holding the Røde, and he displayed his findings on his open palm.

“No,” muttered Jerry, stirring through the collection with his forefinger. “Nope. Gotta be an  Ultem .72mm or nothing.”

“Did you really look? There’s like twenty picks here.”

“It’s yellow, kind of pale yellow, white on yellow if you count the eagle emblem, and kind of transparent, or translucent, with a slight grain to it.”

“How can you see grain on a pick?”

“By feel. Your eyes can feel, or mine can. There’s no such here, believe me. I don’t have any either.”

“F*. Ask the crew. Somebody’s gotta have one.”

“I did ask. Lightman said he had one at home, and I sent him back for it, but it turned out to be a 1.20mm. Cloris can’t do 1.20.”

“F*ing prima donna. How can you drop a pick in the toilet?”

“She told me she always goes in the can to be alone and then she says a prayer over the pick, like ‘O holy pick protect and guide my notes’ or something, she didn’t tell me exactly what the prayer was. I’m just guessing.”

“ ‘O holy pick.’” Frank tightened the corner of his mouth. “Who even prays? Supposedly we have separation between church and stage.”

“A lot of people pray, bro. Madonna probably prays.”

“Okay. Dude, this is beyond theology, the place is starting to fill up. What are we gonna to do?”

“I can see if there’s a music store open.”

“Yeah, do that. Like we have time to go to a f*ing music store.”

Jerry wiped his face on the shoulder of his T-shirt while his marble eyes rolled over the waiting stage. “I know a guy,” he said at last.

“What guy?”

“A pick nut. He collects them. He specializes in picks that have some legend’s personal name on them, but he also recognizes the inherent value of ordinary, unmarked picks, and he’s got ’em lined up in labeled jars.”

“You’ve seen this?”

“I swear.”

“Then go. Get him. Bring him.”

“But he’s hard to just bring. He won’t leave his basement.”

“F*,” said Frank. He stared longingly at the Røde; it was f*ing ridiculous that he had to be worrying about picks when there was the mainline question of whether he needed to switch mics, or whether Cloris even deserved to have the pluto-perfect mic when she couldn’t keep her fave pick where it belonged, namely in the safe custody of her roadie.

Jerry, spun by a sudden urge to action, whirled once on his Converse and exited Stage L. The soundman didn’t even watch him go. Already he was unscrewing the Blue Spark from the stand. The thing was, Frank thought, the Røde just looked better than the Spark. Because it was bigger. For stage mics, size definitely did matter. But he was uneasy, too, because this mic wasn’t the vocal, it was the guitar, and if the f*ing guitar wasn’t going to be played with the right f*ing pick, the sound was going to be completely different. Maybe it was that grain Jerry was going on about. Anyway, he screwed in the Røde, which took twenty twists, and by the time he was done finicking with it, Jerry was back. Still sweating.

“I put out an all-points,” Jerry announced.

“An APB? Like you’re going to find an Ultem walking down the street?”

“No, I put Mister Lucy at the door.”

“For what? What’s she/her got to do with it?”

“She/her’s going to ask each person that enters if they happen to be carrying.”


“Picks. That’s what we’re talking about.”

“Okay, and what’re we gonna do when no one is? It’s not that common a pick. You’ll get plenty of Fender mediums.”

“Wouldn’t even touch one, don’t worry. Also, I have a call in to the pick nut to call me STAT if he can come through. –You switched mics?”

“Yeah, it was a last-minute call,” Frank frowned as he started coiling the Spark’s cord. “But I’m just assuming we’ll have a show tonight at all. What if we can’t get her a pick, do we give everyone their money back and go home?”

“I guess.”

“I do not get paid enough for this gig.”

“Me either,” said Jerry, “considering I actually don’t get paid except for the privilege of sleeping in the van. Wait, hang on, I need to take this call—it’s Picknut. Yo!”

Frank stopped coiling. Slow down, he told himself. Sure, time was of the essence, but when life got really stressful, a person was supposed to just breathe and embrace the pain. He started to do that. He didn’t care whether the pick nut had an Ultem .72mm. Didn’t care…didn’t care…didn’t care…but he couldn’t not watch Jerry’s face, so he forgot about breathing.

“Bingo.” Jerry slipped his smartphone back in his butt-pocket with a grin. “He has one. He says it’s pretty wore down, it may have belonged to Bruce Springsteen—”

“No way. Bruce wouldn’t use a .72. The 1.20 maybe.”

“Anyway, he’s called an Über, and he promises he’ll have it here before the opening act gets done.”

“What’s he want for that?”

“Probably just a line. He’s not materialist.”

“Okay, I’ll get Supplyman on it. Have you seen Cloris?”

“I peeked in.” Jerry raked back the few long hairs that still inhabited the top of his head. He looked like a wild mustang about to be shoved out the chute, and Frank averted his eyes. “She had People with her.”

“And?” Frank gave the Røde a couple of taps. “How is she? Will she pull through?”

“Sh*t. I can’t tell, it’s hard to say. She’s tough, though.”

Frank snuggled the Spark back in its box and slid the wooden lid over it. He was conflicted, and he’d use that very word, too, if he had to talk about it with Jerry. Confliction was f*ed, in a soundman or anyone else who served on the front lines of the biz. Confliction, even in the humblest equipment carrier, had a way of spreading like cooties; pretty soon you’d notice the whole audience just kind of squirming in their seats. “Look,” he said, putting his free hand on Jerry’s shoulder. “You’ve done what you can do, man. I appreciate it. Tell Cloris we’re working on it; give her what support you can. If we have to cancel the show, hey. Nobody’s gonna die.”

“Yeah, but the money.”

“Well, yeah, that does suck. But if our star can’t play, she can’t play. Willie Nelson got bronchitis or something and had to cancel.”

“Cloris isn’t Willie.”

Right. Frank sighed. He breathed. He embraced the pain. It was true, Cloris wasn’t Willie, and truthfully he’d a lot rather be working for Willie, because there would be a lot more money, and also, Willie was Willie. But in either case, he understood that his job was always a thankless one. He embraced that.

“She was sobbing,” Jerry went on. “Hysterically. She blames herself, I guess.”

“Well, sure, I mean I hope she doesn’t blame me. Or you.”

“No, no, she wouldn’t. Anyway, I gave her some Jell-ō, and a bunch of brown M&Ms because those are the only ones she can eat, ever since she used to open for Van Halen. And she’s trying hard to pull herself together. I told her she may be using Springsteen’s pick, and she kind of shuddered, you know. But she’s a trooper.”

“You went above and beyond the call of duty,” Frank reassured him. “You should have a medal or something. Don’t hold your breath, though. We don’t get medals. We work underground, in the dark, unseen and unappreciated.”

“You got that right.”

“Just know that we are the foundation. Keep saying that; say, “I am the foundation.”

“I am the foundation,” said Jerry. Frank said it too, pressing his palms together, “I am the foundation.” He also murmured, “Atītyam nānvāgameyya,” with the queasy feeling that he was not actually longing for what had passed away—viz. the  Ultem .72mm—but dreading what was to come if the future involved cancelling the show.

Just as the soundman and the gofer were winding up their affirmations, they heard footsteps pounding up the center aisle. It was the pick man and Cloris’s personal manager. They scrambled onto the stage at the same time, both looking even more shoved from the chute. “I hope to Goddess I got here in time,” gasped the manager. 

“Wait, me first,” panted the pick man, bending over and clutching his chest. “Oh cr*p, guys, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry, I should be shot and buried on the spot. I lost it.”

Frank froze. “Lost what?” 

“The Springsteen pick. Oh, sh*t, cr*p, I swear I was just looking at it, thinking how I was never going to see it again—which is alright because that’s the kind of sacrifice we have to make if the show’s gonna go on—and I was talking to the Über driver, and he was all, ‘Let me see it, I’m a Springsteen freak,’ and next thing you know, I was passing it to him and it fell right down between the seats. We crawled around for fifteen minutes trying to find it, and all the time I was sh*tting fingerpicks because I knew it was almost showtime and I was letting you guys down. I’m so sorry, oh kick me.”

“But wait,” shouted the personal manager, dolphin breasts heaving. “My news! Mister Lucy found the  Ultem .72mm!”

Jerry’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me.”

 “Hey, man,” Frank warned. “That’s not something to joke about.”

“But I’m not joking,” cried the manager. “She/her is coming with it right now, as soon as she/her dries it under the bathroom blower.”

“Where was it?” Everyone wanted to know, including Lightman, who’d been trying to contact a plumber even though that wasn’t his job.

“Right in the toilet! Still! Cloris never flushed, she was too freaked out. I mean, Mister Lucy is the hero(ine) of the day! She/her looked in there just on a whim, there was the off chance that it would be there, and there it was. You couldn’t quite see it at first because it was yellow and all, but she/her reached right in there, seriously, and grabbed it from where it was lying on the very bottom of the you know.”

“My God!” whispered Jerry.

“I know, right? Look, ooo-eee, here she/her comes now!”

Sure enough, Mister Lucy was holding a thick towel in outstretched hands like a baby blanket, and there on the towel lay the pick, washed, dried, shining pale yellow-gold, and with the almost visible grain of a virgin Ultem .72mm.

“Has anyone told Cloris?” Frank asked, gripping Mister Lucy’s wrist in his urgency. “Do we have a show?”

“She knows. She’s been told. We have a show. And I have to bring her the pick right now, if you’ll release me. She’s in shock. This is going to mean so much to her.” With these words, Mister Lucy strode into the wings and disappeared, leaving the stage crew delirious.

“I used to want to be a star,”  the pick nut confessed.

Frank nodded. “Me too.” 

“Not me,” said Jerry.

“No,” Frank rejoined, looking straight into Jerry’s eyes. “’Cause you couldn’t have been, anyway. You don’t have anything.”

“Well, I can—”

“But you know, here’s the thing. What you do is every bit as important.”

“What do I even do?” Jerry’s face was sagging, and Frank pressed his shoulder for the second time that night.

“You show up,” said Frank. “You check in. You carry messages. You bring Jell-ō. You sleep in the van so no one can break in and steal stuff. Are you kidding, Jer? Never ask, what do I even do. And that’s so for all of us, the unsung. Bring a pick in an Über, provide Jell-ō and brown M&Ms—we do what we’re called upon to do. So we don’t get the cheers, the honor, the record contracts, the undying fame, or the money, so what? We are the foundation. Let’s join hands and say it out loud, come on, guys: We are the foundation. We are the foundation.”

And that’s what they did—all but Mister Lucy, who was at that moment delivering the Ultem .72mm into the hands of the one person who was actually going to get all those things Frank had just mentioned. Did that matter? Not at all. They were the foundation, and being the foundation was every bit as important as being the star of the show—or at least, that is what they said out loud.

I know all this to be true, because I was there. I had this witnessed and notarized, with my name on it.


I.B. Watchen

April 27, 2023 22:32

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1 comment

Brain Changer
23:00 May 05, 2023

Good writing, Kajsa. Unique story idea. Point of view was a little confusing--until your wacky twist. Well done.


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