A factory, Saskatoon, 4pm. Al forklifts a palette of melamine-coated particle board into the Big Saw. As the saw mechanically cuts these sheets into five-and-a-half-inch strips, Ryan and Flavius stack them on conveyors. Chi takes the strips and feeds them through the edgebander, pasting white plastic along the uncoated guts. Dean cuts the strips into lengths with his miter saw, and Mike drills and dowels these into four-sided boxes. I stand at my station, waiting, staple gun in my hand. It is powered by compressed air. That means, in layman’s terms, that it can shoot fucking hard and fucking far.
In my peripheral vision, something moves. I turn and fire a dozen staples, some of which hit. The grasshopper is stuck to a stack of cardboard sheeting, one staple through its upper back leg and two through its thorax.
I chalk it up under “street cred” on my hip hop resume.
I hate every machine in this factory.
When I was in high school, I used to work at the grocery store. Fifteen hours a week I was Super Bagger, watching cashiers scan cans, eating expired chips in the back room, and surviving after-hours produce fights. It seemed like a glamorous job at seventeen, but at twenty other dreams began to creep in, like making enough money to pay rent and buy food.
Laura helped by getting me a job in her dad’s factory. The interview was just a formality; I came in wearing steel-toes boots so the foreman could put me on the line right then. The factory was expanding so fast that they were building a whole new bay just for the Big Saw. The thing could auto-cut strips and panels for an entire day, so long as someone was there to stack the pieces.
The factory’s expansion made the local news. Reporters from STV and the Star Phoenix took notes as Laura’s mom christened the Big Saw with a bottle of champagne. Workers cheered, cameras flashed. A hired band played garage rock while the workers danced and drank free beer. I held Laura close, laughing to myself at the thought of a full-time wage.
I’m not laughing anymore. Mike hands me four-sided boxes and I staple bottoms onto them. These will eventually become cabinet drawers. After attaching the bottoms, I screw on glides, which will allow the drawers to smoothly roll in and out.
Staple and screw.
Fuck this drawer. I stapled it too fast and the bottom is sticking out on one side. Now I can’t put a glide on it. I could use a planer to grind it down, but bashing the shit out of it seems somehow more appropriate.
I pretend to know Savate, a French martial art I’ve read about in comic books. I scream “Savate!” while putting my foot through it. I only do this when the drawers are flawed. Some days they all start looking flawed, and I yell “Savate! Savate! Savate!”
Now it’s Friday night–time to pick up Gnarly Wayne. I hop into my ’82 Citation (the Kitty) and head up 33rd to California Subs. He’s cashing out. We head back to his place with a 30-inch sub, smoke up, open a forty-ounce of whiskey, eat, and watch old rap videos on tape.
“Soul Clap” by Showbiz and A.G. comes on. In the video, A.G. repeatedly explains that his initials stand for “A Giant”. “Yeah I’m a giant, that’s what you’d better say / you don’t believe it then yo– check my resumé.” We choke/gag at the wonderful awfulness of the line. You wouldn’t know it from the video, but A.G. stands an impressive 5’3″. Wayne begins to draft his own version of the resumé. “Name: A. Giant. Occupation: Giant. Work experience: Pizza Hut, Giant.”
When we were in high school, we had dreams of starting our own rap group, but never got further than choosing nicknames. His was simple–DJ Gnarly Wayne. The only question was, would the DJ ever buy turntables? On weekends he chased chickens into transport trucks, but he never saved much money doing it. Without the cash to lay down dope tracks, we’ve become the ultimate armchair rappers, laughing at the same videos we used to think were so cool ten years ago.
6am Monday, I wake up and hop in the Kitty. I go in through the passenger door because the driver’s side doesn’t open. I used to jump through the driver’s window, but then I kicked the signal arm off and now my wipers are perpetually on. I hit Circle Drive and speed up. At 80, the dashboard heaves in and out like something behind it is trying to get out and kill me.
At work, I staple and screw.
During break, Roy pulls out his scrapbook and shows it around. Polaroids of women passed out on rubber sheets. Everybody in the break room is smoking cigarettes, except for those who are broke until payday. Sam stuffs a tissue in his ear to sop up the perpetual stream of pus. Nobody knows why his ears leak, and nobody asks. Then the supervisor tells us that it’s time to go back to our stations.
A bee floats by and I fire a quick shot at it. I’ve captured it alive against a wooden post, a staple spike neatly piercing through each of its wings. I call the nearby guys to check it out. When they’ve gathered I give the bee one more staple. Point-blank, separating its head cleanly from its body.
I lean over the work table and return to my task, stapling bottoms onto boxes. I screw glides onto boxes. I’m working in Laura’s dad’s shitty factory, and she’s off at university. Every staple sends a shock up my arm, out through my shoulder.
On the weekend, Gnarly Wayne tells me to sit down. “Have you ever heard of Mp3.com? People record and upload their own music. I have to warn you, this is really awesome.”
He presses a button and MIDI keyboard demo starts to play. An “emcee,” approximately twelve years old, identifies himself as Prozac. I cringe. His creaky voice, poor timing, and weak lyrics are best summed up by the phrase: “So for now you can listen to my crap / I might be white but I can still do OK rap.”
The musical phenomenon known as “OK Rap” changes my life in four phases. First, a sense of disgust at the way that Prozac reduces both the artist and the human to its most repugnant. I feel an instinctive urge to put him out of his misery. Gnarly Wayne laughs as I storm out of the room.
Two: As sawblades shred and clamps capture slabs of medium density fibreboard, OK Rap reaches through to the sawdust-parched monotony of my life. As I staple drawer bottoms and hunt small game, Prozac echoes in my mind, making me free.
Three: Soon, I am sending the URL to everyone I know. In doing this, I realize there’s no turning back; I am in the midst of a process of spiritual decay that is reconfiguring my entire state of being.
Four: “Hey Wayne, let’s start our own rap group.”
And so it is born. We’ll adopt Prozac’s persona and parody his music so cruelly that the young man will commit suicide.
“Son of Prozac, the son of the master / you can fuck my mom, but I can fuck her faster.”
Worst take equals best take. It’s easy to fuck up and quit on a verse. It’s harder to stumble or laugh and keep going. If we get through it, we use it.
Ideally Gnarly Wayne and I are on at least three substances when composing. During recording, we ought to be slurring our speech, bursting into laughter for no apparent reason, and perceiving the air turning into water.
At the factory, I write lyrics on order sheets and drawer bottoms, eager to get back to the studio (a computer with a microphone plugged into it) so the Sons of Prozac can record more gold.
In a surprising twist, we get advance tickets to The Blair Witch Project. The movie is eerily similar to OK Rap: menacing, fear-inspiring, mind-ruining. That night, when I’m too afraid to turn the lights out, I call Gnarly Wayne and tell him my idea for a new song.
“The Blair Witch Project” doesn’t take long to write. We rip off lyrics from Ice-T and change his words to reflect the movie, dropping dope lyrics such as: “What would it sound like if a muthafucka took a laser beam and shot that shit right through a Blair Witch’s muthafuckin skull?”
Unsurprisingly, a song called “The Blair Witch Project” shoots up the Mp3.com charts when the film tops the box office. We even momentarily surpass the popularity of Ice-T, whose current single “Don’t Hate the Playa, Hate the Game” is also on Mp3.com. So I decide to drop him an email.
You should peep our song, “The Blair Witch Project.” We’re better than you on Mp3.com, and we jacked all your old songs for our lyrics.
Don’t hate the playa hate the game,
Sons of Prozac.
In an intoxicated dreamstate, I imagine waking up to the doorbell. Ice-T is standing there. He says, “I heard you’ve been biting my rhymes, motherfucker,” pulls out a gun, and levels it at my head. But when he squeezes the trigger, it’s a trick gun that turns into a gold microphone. Ice-T is here because he wants to collab with me.
The next day I check the Sons of Prozac email.
Sons of Prozac,
I’m putting together a show in Calgary. A lot of people like your music. Come and rap. I’ll take care of your travel and set you up with a place to stay.
And, like that, Gnarly Wayne and I have made it. We are rap stars, both on the internet and in reality.
I call him up. “Hey Wayne, we’ve got a show.”
“Oh yeah, what kind of show?”
“The SoP’s going to play in Calgary in January.”
“Calgary, that’s fucked. Why can’t they come here to see us, fuckin lazy motherfuckers.”
“Listen. This is our chance. We’ve made it.”
“That is the sound of a non-drunken person. And I hate that. Sons of Prozac is a joke group. We’re just pretending to be a twelve year-old. We just say stupid stuff.”
“But people like it in Calgary. I have no idea why, but they like it. Lots of them, I think.”
“That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.”
“But we can rock a crowd like we always wanted to do in high school, when you were going to buy turntables but never did. Just think about it, it’s not until January.”
So it’s three days before the show and I’ve booked a couple of sick days at the factory so that I can head to Calgary early. As the bus leaves the station, I’m listening to MC Ren on headphones: “I don’t give a fuck if niggas is fightin in the crowd / I only got one concern–that’s my vocals pumpin loud.”
I’d take the Kitty if I wasn’t scared of its heaving dash and bent axle. I could have gotten a ride with Wayne, but he isn’t heading up until the day of the show. I want to be there early, to meet the fans and check out the venue.
The bus is on the main highway, and as I gaze out the window I feel the burden of Saskatoon becoming distant. Winter grass speeds by, so fast I can’t even see it. The trees in the fields fall behind slowly, one at a time. The horizon is crisp to my sight, but I cannot perceive its movement at all.
Now I’m listening to Canon in D. Gnarly Wayne decided that at our show we should start off by playing a beautifully orchestrated rendition of Pachelbel’s song. We’ll walk across the stage, gazing reverently down at every audience member. This will set them up for the big moment, where we attack them with sour MIDIs, shameful lyrics, and obscene acts of self-fondling. Then, Calgary will learn the true meaning of OK Rap.
The sun is starting to set. I move forward in space and time. I watch the shadows lengthen until there are no shadows.
The Greyhound station is at least twice as big as the one in Saskatoon. Amanda is inside, waiting for me. She’s sent me pictures of herself over the internet and we’ve looked at each other on webcam, but this is the first time I’ve seen her in three dimensions. She’s about five feet tall and cute, with short-trimmed bangs and arms covered in simple plastic bracelets of various colours. She asks, “How was the ride?”
“Seven hours. Long and tiring.”
“Well you’re here now.” She puts her arms around me. It’s out of my control. I hug her back.
“Do you want some Taco Bell on the way home?”
“I’ve never been to one. In Saskatoon, we only have Taco Time.”
“Really? Well you’re in for a treat. I’ll show you what to order.”
She does, and it’s great. I mean, not as good as Taco Time, but still fucking good. She talks about the bands she likes, I talk about the bands I like, and we both talk about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I drink Pepsi and she drinks Dr Pepper. It’s almost flirtatious, the way she looks up at me as she sips at the straw. After we finish eating, we head back to her place. She quickly leads me into the basement.
“Shh. We need to be quiet. My parents are sleeping.”
“Yeah, and if they ask, you’re nineteen. This is my room here, and you can stay in my brother’s room, here. He’s out of town right now.”
Her brother’s room is palatial. It’s like three or four rooms put together, easily as big as my mom’s living room or any other living room I’ve seen. There’s a king-sized bed, couches, coffee tables, and a huge entertainment system.
She folds the couch out and gives me some bedding before heading to her own room. I have an exceptionally comfortable sleep. Ice-T, Eazy E, and Schooly D all point gold microphones at me.
The next day, Amanda shows me around her house, introducing me to her mom, grandma, and little sister. She shows me the Au Claire Market and Stephen Avenue. There’s an Imax theatre, sculptures, foods imported from all over the world. There are skyscrapers, streetcars, and hobos who say “weed” as I walk by. There’s the Calgary Tower and more fancy restaurants than I ever thought even existed.
At night some of her friends come over. They talk about zines and music. One of them is playing the night before me, in a grindcore band. The friends have conversations about drummers and ska guitarists. These should be my fans but I’m not receiving the type of adulation I expected. Are they aware of the Sons of Prozac at all, or only shitty groups I’ve never heard of like Reel Big Fish and Gob?
I glance at Amanda and roll my eyes. She smiles like it’s the most charming joke in the world. After they go, we hang out in her bedroom and watch Dead Alive.
She explains, “This is the goriest movie in the history of film.”
After an hour or so I fall asleep on her bed. In the morning, I am startled to wake up beside her, sleeping peacefully above the covers.
The show spreads out over two days, and the Sons of Prozac is slated to close the show on the second night. We are playing right after the headliner Moneen at 2am Saturday night. Gnarly Wayne and I haven’t even discussed what we’re going to do for our stage show, aside from Canon in D.
The first night of the show, I investigate. It’s in the cement basement of a small hall. No stage. The musicians are surrounded by a crowd of punk teens. Sound bounces off solid walls. January air pours in. The crowd thrashes about violently. I can see my breath. From the periphery, I examine a black-jacketed mob.
Amanda emerges. I want to ask her why this place is so cold and loud. I motion for her to come to me. She says, “I’ve got shit to take care of!”
A girl is throwing fists at random people. Two big guys drag her out screaming. The bathroom is crammed with hoodlums and I’ve needed to piss for hours. The show won’t be done until 3am.
The next morning. The day of the show. Amanda wakes me up. I stumble around her parents’ basement for several minutes, then take a long shower. I do everything as slowly as possible, as though it will buy some extra time before I play tonight. When I come upstairs, Amanda’s mom has made breakfast: eggs, toast, sausage, and brand-name orange juice.
Amanda and her sister spike my hair. “You look better this way,” they tell me. “Better for the show.” I put my toque on to cover it up. For lunch we have Chinese food and when I start getting stomach cramps she drives me to the drug store for stomach medication.
I can feel tonight’s show approaching. My fingers are still unable to circulate blood from being so cold last night. I can think of nothing but the approaching show. The stomach medication helps.
At eight, Gnarly Wayne meets us at the hall’s parking lot. He’s got Bzarhands and Al with him. It’s a relief to see them. I double-check with Amanda that Sons of Prozac is the last act, and we head out to the café across the street. We order tea and burgers.
I sigh, “So, we’re going to do a show!”
“I guess so!” Gnarly Wayne is working on his burger.
“The venue kinda sucks though.”
We sit around, riffing about the fact that Calgary has a freeway called Deerfoot Trail. We decide that “Deerfoot Trail” is, in fact, an inappropriate name for a freeway. The small talk is excruciating. The burgers are dry. Still, I’m content to stretch out this café visit as long as possible. I finish my food, sip tea slowly, and smoke cigarettes.
When I can’t think of any more reasons for staying at the café, we head back to the show. Wayne sees our venue for the first time: our doom. “Whoa. I thought we were going to have a stage. I didn’t know we were going to have to stand in the middle of a bunch of fucking riff-raff.”
I say, “Yeah man, I told you.” We watch skinheads and bihawks smashing their hands into drums and guitar strings and each other.
“Well, I have no interest in this music,” Wayne says. We head out, walk around the parking lot, and sit in the car with the heater turned on. We play our CD of instrumentals and rap over it. From the back seat, Bzarhands and Al laugh and applaud. We slip up on half of the lines.
Amanda comes out to the car. “Hey, can you guys play right now? Instead of after Moneen?”
It’s only ten o’clock. Gnarly Wayne and I look at each other. We get out of the car, walk to the building, through the punks, and to the front of the room.
I hand Amanda our CD and ask her where to find the mics. “Wait,” she says. “You didn’t tell me you needed a CD player.”
“Our music is recorded. We need a CD player to play it.”
She says to me, “Oh god.” Then she motions to the crowd and asks, “Does anyone have a portable CD player?” Nobody does.
Amanda sets up the next act and leads me and Wayne to the parking lot. We speed back to her house, a 30-minute ride each way.
“I hope those guys have more than an hour of material, or we’re going to come back to an empty hall.”
When we get back with the CD player, the band is still going. They’ve managed to stretch out their set, and the next guys are ready to play. So we weren’t actually in a hurry at all.
Gnarly Wayne and I spend the next few hours outside, listening to the echoes of hardcore bands and avoiding fistfights, a pompadour pounding a skinhead bloody. They punch and kick and slip on the ice.
We practice our songs. I chain-smoke. My fingers jitter as I light a fresh cigarette off the last. I haven’t brought any pot with me. Wayne hasn’t brought any alcohol. I just have cigarettes, and I smoke them.
We are in no kind of state perform OK Rap. The air is not turning to water.
Bzarhands and I go into the venue. At 2am, Moneen plays. “The Passing of America” is undeniably moving. The lyrics are passionate, sincere, meaningful. The crowd is in love with them, the way they hold back nothing of themselves. These are very good, very serious musicians.
When they finish their set, the crowd begins to drift up from the basement, into the parking lot, to their homes. Amanda asks if we still want to play. I head to the car to talk to Gnarly Wayne, who is asleep, or pretending to be.
“You want to go on?”
He groans. “If you really want to play this show, I’ll do it. If you really want to.”
The car ride back to Amanda’s is silent. When we are in the basement, she says, “You guys can sleep here.” She puts mats and blankets on her bedroom floor, says goodnight, and leads me to her brother’s room.
I’m lying on the pull-out couch, covered up with a blanket, shivering more than last night. I ruined Amanda’s show. Ideally, I would like to apologize, but I’m afraid I’ll start crying. She grabs a videotape and puts it in the VCR.
“Do you want to watch a movie?” I say nothing. She puts on KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.
“This is my brother’s. He watches weird stuff.” Amanda dims the lights and joins me under the covers.
She runs her small hand over my chest. My stomach is aching. My fingers and toes aren’t getting warm. The blood isn’t circulating. I want to vomit. Amanda pulls at the button on my jeans. Funny, I’m wearing jeans in bed. She pulls at the zipper. She slides her head down under the blanket.
I fucked up Amanda’s show. I have failed, I have failed, I have failed. I am pitiful. The pleasure intensifies the sorrow. My dreams amount to nothing. Anguish. I feel good. Oh yes, good. And here is my failure, inside of Amanda’s mouth. Fuck, fuck, fucking good, fucking garbage. Fuck I hate myself, fucking loser, fucking scum.
Amanda spits semen onto my stomach. “What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me you were going to come?” I’m so ashamed that I’m paralyzed. She points me to the bathroom with my jeans around my knees.
The next morning, Gnarly Wayne asks if I’m ready to leave. I don’t worry much about formality or niceties. I don’t even ask Amanda for reimbursement for the bus money. We just go.
On the drive home we listen to hardcore gangsta rap. Bzarhands sits in the front, even though I’m auto-shotgun in Wayne’s car. In Drumheller we stop at A&W and eat in silence. I have a chicken burger. My stomach is still too weak for ground beef. When we’re done eating, I get in the back again, napping frequently. We’re on our way home.
Monday, Saskatoon, 6am. I’m stapling bottoms onto drawers. Mike built stacks of them while I was gone, and they’re all waiting for me. I shoot staples into boxes. The compressed air gasps with every touch of the trigger. The bay door is open and I’m wearing a winter jacket. I screw glides onto boxes. Spasms shoot through muscles in my back and stomach. I process boxes quickly, struggling to catch up.
Ryan and Flavius are making a commotion, running around. I keep my head down and focus on the task. There’s time for goofing off Wednesday or Thursday, but not today. I fasten bottoms to drawers so quickly that when I’m out of staples I don’t notice for six or seven shots. I attach glides so fast that I’m sure a screw will slip off and stab my hand by the end of the day.
The guys at the Big Saw are making a lot of noise now. “Hey Joel, you’ve got to check this out!” I finish a drawer and put down my tool. As I walk toward the crowd, Flavius and Ryan are holding staple guns. They take turns calmly firing into a metal wastepaper basket. The guys are laughing. Something in the basket is scuffling around, trying to get out.
Joel Katelnikoff was once editor of The Neo-Comintern Magazine, but only a fool fights in a burning house. Instead of lamenting among the ashes, he is hard at work on his first collection of short stories and a new wrestling novel. Joel is also a student at the University of Alberta, where he studies early electronic zines, postmodern fiction, Dada, surrealism, and the Beats.
The Sons of Prozac recorded nearly fifty songs between 1999 and 2001, including their hit singles “The Blair Witch Project,” “Cokefest ’99,” “Drunk ‘N’ High (Epsilon Mix),” and “This Crack Azz Beat.” They disbanded while recording their gangsta fantasy epic entitled “AG&G.” A few of their songs can still be discovered in the darkest recesses of the internet.