When the spotlights fade and the arena clears, my real work begins as I take a seat on the bus, towel the sweat off my hair, and scan the Shopify dashboard, cursing loudly at the backlog of unfulfilled orders clogging the queue. The moment my grandfather taught me my first guitar chord, I dreamed of one day registering a domain name for the shop portion of my website, leasing warehouse space, and hiring a team of dependable professionals to competently pack and ship keychains and duffel bags. Not this bullshit. I do not deserve this. I could play Led Zeppelin IV front-to-back by the time I was twelve. I dicked off in high school, ditching class to shred because, even then, I could see my future: spending seven hours a night on my phone dealing with customer service issues. Responding to disappointed fans across the continental U.S. looking for an update on their water bottle’s estimated delivery window, eating the return shipping costs on a too-small baseball cap, seething with rage upon discovering fourteen fans had filed the same help ticket: all had ordered medium t-shirts but received larges. “That’s not a god damned coincidence,” I shout, alone in the back of my bus. I won the school’s Battle of the Bands senior year and knew then my life needed nothing more than guitars, drums, bass, and full days spent micromanaging the dense drug addicts working in my distribution center who constantly fuck up USPS rates and box sizes, causing me to lose money selling pins and patches. How the hell do you lose money selling a product with a margin as high as a pin? By employing delinquent saps like these. When I was forming my band at twenty-two I envisioned collaborating with a qualified team of e-commerce specialists who’d pack and ship my wallets, mousepads, mugs, and umbrellas efficiently, resulting in an A+ with the BBB. But the unreliable jack-offs in my warehouse have caused me hundreds of sleepless nights and this horseshit ends now. I stumble through my long bus and tell the driver we’re making a detour to the warehouse and he swerves off the highway, speeds east while I close my eyes and try to reconnect with my younger self, that cocky gunslinger who took no bullshit, so sure he’d one day manage a respected and profitable online store. The brakes hiss and I kick in the door, projecting my voice into the cavernous warehouse, “Who has been shipping pins Priority Mail when the customer chose Parcel Select Lightweight? Do you animals realize how expensive that is? Hello? Hello? Have all you fucking imbeciles finally died?”
One of the rats, with long, greasy, unprofessional hair, races out. “Hey, man! We’re jamming! Come listen!”
He leads me to the back room where the six of them rock out on electric guitars and drums, the singer wailing hearty notes I haven’t heard since I was a kid listening to granddad’s records. It’s real rock, from their souls.
I destroy the drums with my boots. Slash their guitar strings with the box-cutter. “Fuck off! Fuck off! I pay you to pack and ship using the correct postage, not make noise. Jesus Christ.”
“But…” one of the creatures begs. “It’s all about the music. Right?”
“Fuck you,” I say, turning away in a pointed show of disrespect to review the Salesforce scheduling portal on my phone. “You’re all doing thirty-nine hours a week from now on. Part-time. No more vacation. No more insurance.” I pull back my leather jacket, revealing the unregistered pistol in my belt. “Now stuff some CDs into padded envelopes before I express myself fully.”
They scramble like bugs. From the top-floor office I glare at them while they sort and pack, aiming my gun at their heads when they stop to drink water. I check my phone, watch the queue shrink as orders are processed and stacked. I think back to myself at age twenty-five, signing my record deal, and I smile, satisfied that I never gave up. Looking down at those dumb pigs shipping my limited-edition Christmas bandanas, I know in my bones that this is what rock and roll is all about.