In the end, it came down to about $12,000.
Every week, for the past four weeks, I would get a three thousand dollar royalty check in the mail from Kraft.
You would think it would make me happy. It had always been my dream to make money as a musician. But not like this.
Not like this.
I had taken a beloved 80’s classic and warped it; stripped it of its innocence and charm. Trading on the nostalgia of a bunch of jaded hipsters, I took a piece of art, conceived in a genuine moment of creation and twisted it into a crappy jingle to shill cheese for a corporate giant.
I was a sellout. I had become what I hated. What I had always vowed to never be. The very thing I had raged against in my youth.
And all for the price of a used Honda Accord.
I knew what I had to do.
As I climbed the steps of the Montgomery Ward Tower building, I thought of my mother. It would be her birthday soon.
I looked over the edge of the roof and paused. It was pretty high up. Maybe this was all too extreme, I should probably take a day or two to think this over, right?
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing up here?” asked the voice with the cocky British accent.
“Who the hell are you?” I shot back.
“I’m James Atkin, the leader singer of the band, EMF. I’m here to jump off this bloody building because I’m a goddam, no-good sell out! I sold the rights to my song to a stupid cheese commercial!”
“Well you can’t jump off this building, because I’m the guy who took your song and re-wrote it to be in that stupid cheese commercial! I’m obviously a much bigger sellout than you and I’m the one who deserves to die!” I stood firm.
“Like hell you are!”
After he said this, there was a moment of recognition that exists only between two people who have sold their souls or children to the devil. I wasn’t sure if we were gonna fight, hug or start making out.
In spite of his best efforts not to do so, he broke into a big smile and we both started laughing. He put his arm on my shoulder and we both doubled over.
We stood there for probably ten minutes, literally wiping the tears from our eyes, so absurd was our situation. I mean, it was an astounding coincidence that two complete strangers would have their lives intertwined in such a way and end up on the very same rooftop at the very same moment with the very same intent to kill themselves.
“Say, why don’t we go grab a pint?” he asked, catching his breath.
“That sounds great,” I said, pulling the royalty check from my jacket to show him, “it’s on Kraft!”
I turned to head back down the stairs and felt a stinging sensation on the back of my head. Then I found myself lying on the floor of the roof. That limey bastard had punched me in the head!
I picked myself up and started to dust myself off and saw he was running to the edge of the roof. That piece of shit was gonna do it!
“You asshole!” I ran after him.
I grabbed his arm just as he was lifting his leg over the precipice.
“Oh no you didn’t!” he said, turning to swing his free arm at my head.
I dodged his weak British punches with ease and managed to grab him in a bear hug to restrain him.
“Hold on, I’m almost done,” I said.
“Eric, no. I’ve let this go on long enough.”
“Wait a minute, I’m almost at the best part!”
I started reading faster. I skipped over most of the fight. I had written this cracker jack story for show and tell and I would be damned if some stupid bitch who makes a fifth of what my father’s investment portfolio pulls in on a bad week was going to ruin that.
“So anyway, they’re fighting and whatever and they were about to fall over the edge when– Let go, you bitch!” Ms. Weiglein was grabbing at my paper, trying to prevent me from going any farther.
Unfortunately for her, I had been through this very routine numerous times with our maid, Felicia. I punched her in the box and she immediately let go with a yelp.
“The roof was old and poorly maintained. It couldn’t take the weight of us both and the ledge broke off. We tumbled through the air, presumably to our deaths. I felt us crash through something and land on something spongy.”
“We looked around, dazed, not quite understanding what had happened. Were we dead?”
Ms. Weiglein was standing up, tears in her eyes, slowly limping towards me, her hand over her crotch. I knew I was out of time.
“Basically, um, they were like, oh shit, we’re in a truck and it’s full of cheese. Like, it was a cheese truck or something,” I was now running around the room, trying my best to read my story while my teacher chased me, “and then we look at each other and take in the irony of the whole situation and then we say, together…”
I ran over and stood up on her desk, composing myself for a split second before delivering the line that tied everything together.
“Eric, get the hell off of my desk!” she was screaming now.
She had attracted the attention of Mr. Waters, the science teacher in the room next door. He poked his head in the door.
“Everything OK, Lindsay?” he asked her as she helped me down.
“It’s fine, Derek. We had a disturbance, but it’s under control now.”
Mr. Waters closed the door with a shrug and I turned to face my punishment.
“You get an F, Eric,” she said, no remorse at all.
“That’s outrageous! This is show and tell, it’s not even graded! You can’t give me an F! My father will hear about this!” I threatened.
I had worked so hard on this story, only to have her tear me down like this out of jealousy because I was already an accomplished story teller and she was a first-grade teacher, which is like the janitor of teaching jobs.
“This is not appropriate subject matter for this class. EMF was a great band that brought a lot of happiness to millions of people and I won’t stand for you disrespecting their legacy,” she was choking back tears. She was actually serious!
“Holy shit, is that what this is about? Listen, just because men aren’t attracted to you, it doesn’t mean you can shatter the dreams of a promising youth like myself! That band sucks, it was a one-hit wonder, let it go!”
“I will have you know that EMF enjoyed moderate success with several singles that charted in England, in addition to heavy rotation of their video over here.”
What a pathetic loser!
“You’re failing me for that?!” I couldn’t believe she was serious. Was I on Candid Camera? Was Alan Funt hiding in the closet?
“For your information, your failing grade comes from your lack of research into your subject matter. The commercial you cited wasn’t recorded by some random studio musician, the band actually got together to re-record it!”
She stood there, triumphant. She had “gotten me.” Though they didn’t really know why, my classmates had now joined in, laughing at her. She was a joke.
Of course, I didn’t let her win. Father made sure that F was erased from my permanent record and Ms. Weiglein was fired immediately after issuing me a public apology.
I believe in myself. I know I have talent and I’m not going to let the Lindsay Weigleins of the world keep me from living my dreams.