The last strum of Ronnie's guitar was met with a smattering of applause. Hollow echoes of Oasis' "Wonderwall" sailed out to the peer and over the moonlit cove. He swayed slightly in the breeze, his balance thrown off by the half bottle of whiskey in his stomach. Ronnie had just played classic acoustic jams, a blend of Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Jimmy Buffet, for nearly two hours now. He threw in a few classic nineties songs for the young couples on the boardwalk, trying to lure them in with promises of a nostalgic evening conversation.
"Thank you, you glorious motherf**kers!" Ronnie yelped into the microphone. He raised his hands triumphantly, pinching his ring and middle finger together, giving thanks to the devil. His contractual obligation to the Marlin's Fin Pub and Poorhouse was nearly fulfilled. A few more songs. "I'll be back in 15 minutes! I've just got to use the toilet!"
With that, Ronnie unzipped his Tommy Bahama khaki's and relieved himself on the deck. "Rock and Roll..." he muttered to himself through a crooked smile. Marlene, the waitress covering the outside of the Marlin's Fin, just shook her head. She had seen Ronnie melt down enough times that nothing shocked her. Just last month, in the middle of playing "Jammin'" by Bob Marley, Ronnie had strayed down the peer and into one of the massive houseboats that was docked in the lagoon. His wireless microphone still transmitted an unfocused version of the Reggae classic, but he was out of sight. The audience thought that the crashes and muffled breathing were just sound effects. In fact, they were the sounds of Ronnie trying to break into the boat's liquor cabinet.
"Hey, baby," Ronnie replied. He turned to face her and wiped his hands on his orange floral Hawaiian shirt. His body had been beaten by years on the road as a traveling musician. A dollop of fat had replaced his once flat stomach and wispy dark hairs grew out of his once smooth arms. The nearly emaciated, heroin-chic frame he had known for many years was now buried under a mountain of booze, folk music and crab cakes. He and his band Dragon and the Brutal Diamonds had toured the punk circuit in the Northeast for many years, playing chaotic shows that usually ended in drugs, alcohol and poor decisions. But now he was in Hilton Head, SC; making a living and growing soft.
"How many times do I have to remind you? You are a boardwalk act now," Marlene scolded, her dyed-blonde ponytail whipping around her shoulder. "Your punk days are over."
"The fire never dies," he replied. The whiskey had given his eyes a dull, dead sheen. Light from the tiki torches on the porch replaced whatever spark of life had been there prior. "Could you get me another drink?"
"No, Ronnie," she replied as she tapped a customers order into the cash register. "You've obviously had enough to drink."
"Oh yeah?" He picked up a heavy glass ashtray and threw it toward the bar. It crashed against the mirror and shattered a bottle of old tequila. He laughed at the alarm of the patrons. A murmuring from the uncomfortable crowd rose up through the straw thatch roof of the deck canopy.
"Looks like nobody can have no more to drink then!" He scanned the increasingly uncomfortable audience. "Let's get this encore done with, huh? I'll take some requests."
He sauntered back to center stage and picked up his six-string. "What do you want to hear, my friend?" he asked as he motioned to a balding man wearing a Salty Dog cafe T-shirt. The man avoided eye contact with Ronnie, fearing a confrontation.
"Um...how...how about 'Cheeseburger in Paradise," the man replied timidly.
"Ab-so-lutely! You look like a guy that could use a little Cheeseburger action," Ronnie slurred. "You ever think about paradise, man? About Nirvana? About transcending this painful blue orb that we call a planet?" Ronnie took the pick out from the neck of the guitar and strummed lightly. He began to sing:
Cheeseburger / Cheeseburger
Here's you're f**king cheeseburger.
Blew out my flip-flop/because the man
the man keeps me sedated.
Be sedated little bedbug.
Here's your cheeseburger.
Ronnie stopped playing his guitar, choked up on the neck with two hands and took a wild swing at the PA system. The maple body of the instrument smashed and splintered against the speaker box. He began screaming, "Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! You fascist little cheeseburger!"
What was left of the crowd began a mass exodus. Marlene was trying to dissuade them from leaving, but no one would have it. "Please, please come back tomorrow. We'll have a mime and a balloon animal artist."
Ronnie had collapsed onto the floor of the deck and already had a lit cigarette in his mouth. Marlene slumped down next to him. "Well, there go my tips for the night."
"Bunch of pansies," he replied as he looked at Marlene. Her apron was filthy and she looked ragged. She hadn't done anything to deserve this. There was a spot of silence and in that spot grew a tiny patch of regret. "I don't know how to turn it off Marlene," he mumbled with his eyes to the straw ceiling.
"That's a pathetic excuse Ronnie. Just pathetic," she began to rage. "You come in here and you just ruin everything. The bar business is down. We're getting our butts kicked by the Blue Lagoon Saloon over there," she said, motioning to a vibrant watering hole 25 yards down the boardwalk. "You just don't get it!"
"But," he took a drag of his cigarette and offered it to her. "You have to agree, that part where I smashed my guiter was pretty bad-ass."
Marlene breathed heavily and her lips quivered. Her trembling hand took the smoldering roll of paper from his hand. She inhaled long and deep, curls of smoke falling gently from her fingers. Her eyes locked on to the reckless, arrogant bastard that sat before her. "Damn you Ronnie," she said. "You know it was. It was so bad-ass."
They made love later that night inside the walk-in-cooler of the Marlin's Fin.