Some (OK, two) of my friends have written me to suggest that, since I mentioned in my intro guestblogging post that I'm working on a novel, I should include some small pieces of that novel-in-progress/disarray here. I'm a bit nervous about this, but OK. The Rock Star Next Door (working title) is a sometimes comic novel about the pop music industry, this passage is pretty much all description with only the faintest tip to the plot, and I'll start the 1,300-word excerpt after the jump so those merely cruising the Boing Boing front page don't have to deal with fiction if you don't want to.I call this fragment-in-progress "Ten Dollar Cover": Jack takes it all in: That boring early-evening quiet in a club, post-soundcheck, before paying people show up, some staff at tables, drinking, smoking, crew standing at bar, finishing the Value Meals one of them bought at the McDonald's across the street, green rubber covers on tables. Someone switches on the TV by the bar even though one of the band's mix CDs is playing already. It's too early for the place to smell like beer or for your sneakers to stick to beer on the floor. Now, still a little light coming through the front door, the hall smells like cigarettes. Not even menthols. The sight lines at these clubs are an abomination against usable design, like those teapots with the handle one the same side as the pourer. None of these buildings were designed for live music, sometimes beams are right in front of the stage, sometimes the bar is right next to the stage, sometimes the entrance or fire exit is right next to or behind the stage, often there is no way for band members to get to the stage except through the crowd, if there is a crowd. A crowd. At arenas and theaters, there's this same emptiness before the doors open, but there's more confidence, too. No one thinks the place will stay empty; no one would have booked the place if it wasn't likely to be filled, mostly. There's infrastructure. The emptiness and space and sometimes silence of an empty pre-show arena feels reassuring, transitory, the lull before a hurricane that has 100% chance of smashing down the silence. An empty bar, even if there's the beginning of a line visible outside, feels more permanent. An hour later, such fears seem absurd. The door opens, everyone shows their (or someone else's) drivers license to the woman behind the podium, and slowly the room fills, first the bar, then the tables around the bar, then the pool tables under the Bud Light sign. And then one person, always a young man, ambles up to the stage, right in front, front row center if there were seats on the wood floor. The presence of one person in front of the low stage pulls pairs over from the bar and the tables. The first pairs are young men, friends in rock, eager to be in front, and then you see the first woman led across the floor by her date. It's always the boys who want to be in front for these bands, even if by accident a couple members of the band turn out to be attractive to women. It's the women, of course, that the band members are hoping to attract. When they see women, you can see their behavior change onstage. They all want to get the girls' attention, and they're juvenile in their competition for what the drummer acknowledges as "the occasional lucky poon." If the pair of women are all the way to one side of the stage, you can see the boys in the band gradually work their way to that far edge. Grown men move microphone stands from one end of the stage to another to be closer to the women. Grown men turn their carefully tuned and placed drum kits at 90-degree angles so they can smile at the women while they play. We're still hours before the band can come onstage and notice those women. The band is sequestered at the Middle Eastern restaurant upstairs, inhaling the falafel dishes that will inspire a million fart jokes before, during, and after the show. The falafel dishes don't cost much more than the Value Meals the roadies have abandoned, but it's the ambience - the tables, the cleaner restrooms, the Jordanian music, the aging belly dancer - that make it a better choice. They work through the meals quickly, in part because they haven't eaten for real all day, in part because the sound check ended an hour late and no one wants the food too close to the surface when the DJ or whoever calls their name and onstage they go. The dance floor is mostly filled when the band members return to the club (through the front door because no one heard their knocks and kicks on the metal door out back). A brief exchange at the podium confirms they are indeed the band and most of the 70 or so people standing on the dance floor (no one is dancing) follow them with their eyes as they walk to the tiny dressing room behind the mixing board. The dressing room appears to have been renovated roughly around the time our ancestors crawled out of the primordial muck. A light layer of cloth on a steel frame, an Inquisition-ready piece of furniture that once was a couch, remains empty. Band members mill, sit on plastic milk crates while they tune their guitars, add to the magic-marker words and images hemorrhaging all over the wall. There's no one onstage, not even a roadie, so many on the dance floor are looking to the side, where a big screen on the far side of the bar is playing a reality TV show about a boy band that wants to be *NSYNC, all on the screen charmingly unaware that *NSYNC has peaked already, dragging down all the other five-boy vocal groups with it. The bar is full, but it's still cigarettes that rule, both because they're all you can smell and because the haze makes it so hard to see. Bars and clubs are some of the last places someone in America can smoke safely. Everyone rocks together; everyone suffocates together. In the dressing room, leaning against the wall as he lights another Kent 100 Light, the bass player thinks about smoking unfiltered Camels as a teenager, the first time he went on the road. Nineteen, he was the only white member of a 12-piece band backing up an aging second-tier soul singer nearly at the end of his brief disco revival. That was a good year for weed, he recalls. He inhales until he coughs. "All right, already. Go out there and act like men for a fucking change." The road manager -- yes, they have one -- opens the door of the dressing room and points toward the stage. The canned music has stopped, prompting someone to turn off all the lights, making it difficult for the band members to find the stage through the audience. The route isn't quite direct, but the "EXIT" lights draw the boys to their destination. As some in the crowd clap and shout to the sounds of plugging in and tuning up, the guitarist thinks, in these very words, "the tedium is about to end." Twenty-two hours of tedium a day is more than he bargained for, but two hours onstage makes up for them. Most nights. "1-2-3-4!" No one on stage is thinking of Middle Eastern food or depressing dressing rooms or motels without basic cable or interviewers who don't show up or missed connections or flat tires or hemorrhoids from sitting in the van too long or unchilled beer or guarantees unmet or promo people who don't show up or girlfriends who don't call or ex-girlfriends who do call or the real reason the first marriage broke up or the disappointment that hovers over them every time they see a family member or the deal they should have signed or the deal they'll never get. As they crash on the "4," they're as alive as they'll ever be. It'll go fast. After 18 taut songs and a loopy encore, it'll be all over. The women on the side of the stage will scatter, the heat and then the radiator of the van will fail up the steep hill to the Suisse Chalet, the road manager's credit card will be declined, the band's share of the ten dollar cover won't be enough to cover the rooms. But that hasn't happened yet.