T.J
               A Song for the price of a dream
                 By
                     Kenneth Burch
 


 

"Fine then, call me stupid, crazy even but it's true. I really was the manager of what could have been, the worlds greatest pop music star, and I and one other, knew about it first."

Shit, where does one begin? Maybe at the beginning, yea, that's always the best place to start. It all began many years ago when I was just about to turn forty years of age. I had been working in the same place for about twenty some odd years, and the walls were long since closing in. I had made a fairly normal amount of money for those times and had put very little of it away.
What was a person to do when one morning they awaken to find that your not a young man anymore and your hopes of hitting the bigtime, had long since faded away. I'll tell you what one does, he or she sits alone in a closed off dark quiet room, and but for a moment, thinks about it
before crying just a little inside. Well that was just about the run of the mill way of life for me back then. The everyday getting up and grinding myself further into that never ending bottom of a job.

Oh it had entertainment, no doubt about it. People from all over came to that place, placing what little money they had and hoping for the best. Some came home a little ahead, others came home broke. I'm sure that some even came home a better person, while others didn't come home at all. That was one crazy city in those days, I mean crazy. You wouldn't have believe the kind of folks that spent their last hard earned pockets of change, for a chance at a dream. Sometimes I wanted to tell them to forget it, to move ahead with their lives and try for better odds like getting struck by lighting on a clear Summer day. But they wouldn't listen, not to me or anyone else. Let's face it, they were hooked and there were people paying other people a lot of money to keep these people that were losing their shirts, coming back for more.

Yep, no hard feelings here. This place could rape you for your month's rent and keep smiling as it worked whatever else you had stashed away in those ever opening pocketbooks. It was the way things were back then, and still so now I supposed. I remember you had every kind of
freak and weirdo from all four corners of the globe, coming to that place. Slot machines and table games all set out like a pretty little chorus line of greed and lust, for they're easy access. And there I was, picking up the loose ends left behind in forms of change, bucket loads.
Back then, you had to have security around you. Those crazy wackos and shubees would do anything to get some of their money back. I still remember hearing them "oh please, that's my money mister, all my money." You could hear them begging too. Once and awhile you'd hear them almost crying as we opened the bottom of the base where the slot machine they had played for hours, sat. All that money pouring out and on to the floor, it would drive them crazy.

I could never understand why those big casinos had so much trouble keeping help. Back then, the economy was so fucked up at times, that it was amazing to see anyone willing to sit home and collect unemployment. Years ago, with the attack on our nations World Trade Center and the six more that quickly followed, people had been put out of work all over this great country. But believe it or not, that didn't stop those idiots from coming to the gaming houses, to cash in on a dream, and like any other business, we were right there to take it. I guess now that I look back, that the houses that stood so huge and sometimes high, had no choice but to hire who ever they could to keep their doors open.

Every now and then, you would come across someone, some person that seemed kind of strange to you. I don't mean alien strange, but strange. Some times I remember shaking my head and saying to myself "Where the fuck do they get these people from?" I mean it was down right awful. Some of the employees were so whacked out of their heads, you couldn't help wonder if the person hiring them, was as whacked as well. Some of these people had odd ways about them. Some even walked funny, talked funny, and some for what ever reason there was, could barely walk at all. I mean someone had hired these people to protect me and my bunch and they couldn't even walk. Then there were the old ones. God damn, I mean old. Some of the guards hired back then, were so fucking old, they were ancient. And to think that this billion dollar casino hired these people to watch over me and my crew with change filled buckets, was almost a joke within itself.

Every now and then however, one newly hired guard would come about. Someone beyond the word strange. Someone who had broken past the world we know and some how found himself on planet Earth, looking and wondering at our behavior. Such a man came to us. His name was
T.J. He was an odd looking fellow, young and a bit plump. He had a goofy grin that seemedaffixed to a face that was in constant question. He had this weird kind of way of touching people too much. With dark colored hair and a sort of boot nose, he almost looked more like a human teddy bear, then young man. I remember thinking, "Oh boy, here's another wacko from somewhere in the hills." I never paid too much attention to him at first, I mean what for? The fucking kid was whacked, Stevie Wonder would have even seen that. So I continued on, pulling buckets and laughing along with those of my crew.

About a month had gone by before this new kid and me, even spoke. I remember hearing some country tune that for the life of me, can't remember the name, playing on the speakers throughout the casino. It was a good song, but an older one for the times I remember. Well, that
kid, that T.J kid was singing along and well out of tune, when I walked up to him and asked "Hey T.J, you like this song?" He quickly stopped singing and smiled. He gave me that big bear of a grin and reached up patting be on the shoulder, with his big hairy hand. "Yep, I love country music!" he said. "You know why I love country music Kenny?" He asked. He was still patting me and smiling. "No T.J, why do you love country music?" I asked. "Well, it's because I'm a redneck!" he answered. And smiled with such pride. I remember bursting out laughing along with him. He laughed at his pride, I laughed at him. I couldn't remember ever hearing someone making such a dumbass statement in all my life. Now that I think about it, to this day I've never heard anyone say that again. I guess I'll always remember him for that, always.

As time would go on, T.J and I would chat a lot about things. Not things of great importance, just things. He seemed to like to talk to me, chatting about shit that often made little sense then, and even now, that I think about it. He had this way of chanting my name a lot. Every time he'd
come on his shift and find himself guarding me and the money, he would walk over, hand stretched out for a shake and chanting my name over and over. "Ke-nny, Ke-nny, Ke-nny," to make matters worst, he had this lisp that gave his ongoing chant, a fag like undertone. I think it was the lisp, that may have caught the attention of a good friend of mine named Jack Milone. Jack, so it seems had his mind made up about T.J long before T.J's ritual of chanting my name came about. I guess some people see things in people, others don't. And maybe that's a good thing. I myself never really paid much attention to the chanting or the lisp for which he spoke with. By my own account, I had summed T.J up as a young man who was simply S-l-o-w in mind. He seemed like a good kid, under developed mentally, but a good kid just the same. Fact is, to me it was these handicaps that made T.J a little different.

One morning, while working what we called the "Drop" T.J came over, chanting as usual and shaking my hand. He gave me that wide fixed grin that should have been a smile and for the thousandth time, pat my on my back. "You theth man Kenny, you theth man, my man Kenny" he said. I looked up to see the tubby of a young man looking down and still trying to smile. "Hey T.J" I said. "Nah, it's you, it's you who are the man." I said. "What's going on dude?"I asked. "Not muchth, just hanging out. You be the manth Kenny, you..the man!" I smile at him, making him feel he belonged and why not, he really was a good kid, just a little slow. Besides, I wasn't the one who hired him and even back then, I had seen people far worst then he. Shit, I remember one such guard that simply stood in a daze not knowing where or even what year it was. One such guard was named Donald. I had long since forgot his last name and only remember his first because they used to make us wear name tags back then, first only though. Well, this one guard named Donald was an old man back then, so I'm sure he's long gone by now. The guy stood about 5' 2" and with wire rimmed glasses and a balding head, was something to behold. He used to wear a Donald Duck metal pin, on his tie which added even more to a strange bird. This guy had no clue what the fuck he was doing, none. He stood there, just stood there clue less as to his surroundings, or the customers he was supposed to be keeping back from the drop. I couldn't  tell you how many times I shook my head at this man, wondering what the fuck had gone wrong with him, and why oh why did we have to deal with it. One other such guard was named Roger Block. I only remember his last name because back then he seemed to in charge of the keys we used to open the slot machine bases. He was more of a jolly old man, 75 years old back then he was believe it or not, sharp as a tack.With a raspy voice that no doubt came with age, he would shout into his radio "Block to the podium, coin drop completed coming in!" I'm almost smiling now as I recall the way he sounded. Good ole Roger, he was a good man. Well one day Roger, after hearing me talk so much about Donald to my friend Jack came over and tried to explain what was wrong with Donald...ah Bender, that's it, his name was Donald Bender, amazing how after all these years, it comes back. Well, Roger had told me back then that Donald had been in W.W.II and had seen a lot of things. Roger too, had served our country but had seemed to place, those horrors of war behind him, or at least it seemed.

Back then, the computer age had swelled to a common place in life. The concept of making music and sending files were somewhat trendy. I remember a company called Napster that back then allowed one to download files of music and share those, with friends online. The company later would pay the price and for several years, this once trendy affair went quickly out of style. Of course, after the settlements and paid dues came about, it wasn't surprising to see Napster like companies sprouting up all over the place, attached with a fee. Music had changed too. Back then, the world of music had run into a dry spell. Pop artist were a real bore as America quickly tired of the same people, singing the same old music. Even the videos of the times, were a bore. What the world needed was something fresh, something different and
strangely enough something, well, funny.

With so much bad news now pouring in from wars being fought, the American people had now set their sites on rebuilding their lives. And what they really needed was something to laugh about. Comedies in Hollywood were making a fortune, while Science fiction and Fantasy, drama and most of all horror, were tanking faster the the Titanic did, the ship not the movie.People needed laughter, they needed to feel good again, at any cost so it would seem.

With this change in attitude came a change in perspective as well. Big time pop stars were now being replaced with the small town persons. It wasn't that they were better at making music, it's just that they gave people what they wanted, something different, and new. This new trend of music would come from the most unlikely of places too. Little towns like "Roy, Utah" and Tifton, Ga, Two Rivers, Wis. and not crazy enough, Tupelo Mississippi. Strange man had come from there as well, but that's another story.

It didn't take much either, no sir. You didn't need much at all. One person, maybe a group, a few ideas and a twist on image and sound and there you go....cash in city! But like anything else back then, you needed a plan. For example, you needed a look, something that was so different that no one had done before. And of course, you needed to know how to sell it. People wanted something new, but it had to be real.

I was closing in on a career that had spanned 20 years in the casino industry, I had seen enough. My life back then had come much to a stand still. Any chance of becoming someone famous, had slipped through me, unaware. It was Monday morning and business as usual. Noisy bells and clanking machines, voices talking and one or two shouting at their lost. We had just started pulling buckets in what they called the South tower and was well into a good morning sweat, when T.J showed up. Over the weeks and now months that the casino had employed him, T.J had picked up a few other lines he liked to pass along. He still went about with the chanting of my name, but had added a few other saying that seem to do nothing more then irritate Jack. A new phrase "Don't make me schmack you" seemed to form from T.J's mouth on a regular basis. He didn't mean it at the time, I'm sure of it. But to Jack, it simply added to his already set conclusion that T.J was nothing more then a freako fag. I never asked T.J where he got the phrase from or why he said it so often. It sounded kinda funny to me, hearing him trying to pronounce "Smack" and coming up with "Schmack". I have to admit whenI first heard him say it, it made me laugh. Maybe that was it.

One afternoon while eating lunch after work with other coworkers and friends, Broer, Robert L. Hudson (who claimed that the "L" was for Lover and set out to prove it) and of course Jack.We sat talking and much to my surprise, comes T.J. He walks over glancing around as he always did, looking for someone to talk to. "Ke-nny, Ke-nny, Ke-nny You the man, Kenny." he said. clamping down that big teddy bear of a hand on my shoulder. "Hey T.J, what's going on man? Are you just hanging out or what?" I asked. Standing to my right, he stood a cup of soda or juice in his other hand and that silly little grin papered on his face. "Yep, just hanging out man, thusht hanging out, you the man Kenny." he added and walked away. The boys had long since teased me about T.J and every time he came around, it only made things worst. "So Kenny, when are going to let him fuck you?" Robert asked. "Dude, do I look like a fucking faggot to you? Have you lost your mind?" I replied. "I don't know man, that guy wants you, I'm telling you." Jack added. After an expected burst of laughter, Broer asked. Why don't you just put a bullet in his fucking head and be done with it, you'd only be doing him a favor and ridden the world of the sick." More laughing, which seemed to be the one thing we always did in those days. I couldn't understand why no one else could. "Look man, the kid in not gay okay, he's slow no doubt about it, but he's not gay." I replied. "Yea right" Jack says. "That's fucking bullshit, that guy is not only gay and slow, but I think he loves you man." more laughing, more so from them, then me. "I don't know Kenny." Robert said. "I just wish you could keep your friends from coming up here, while we're eating. There's something strange about that boy." I looked at Robert and added. "Well, he doesn't seem to affect your appetite too much, that's your second piece of pound cake." We all laughed and Robert added. "Oh I'm going to get my eat on, hehe, heheh, believe me, fuck that."

This was how things went, for awhile. T.J being T.J and them more then me, making fun. I remember Jack asking me one time why I tolerated T.J and his ways. "I'm not sure why Jack." I answered. "I think it's because deep down inside, I realize that he really can't help himself, he's who he is. All he really wants is to fit in and for me, that's not too much to ask for." I added. Broer, who had been quietly listening and snickering at the same time added. "Well then, what if he wanted to fit his dick in your ass." And now, it didn't matter who was around, we all burst into laughter, it's just the way things went.
 

Before long, we were once again out on the floor and again pulling buckets. Jokes about T.J never came about unless he was around. It was as if, he didn't really exist until the boys saw him. You know, out of sight, out of mind as they used to say back then. We were doing the drop one morning and for some odd reason, T.J's name came up. Jack of course started in on him and Broer followed. We started joking about his dance steps that he had performed once before me and in front of Jack. Bad move I'd say, because Jack never did let me live that one down. We were talking about making up a song for T.J to sing and what it would not only sound like, but look like. Of course this was supposed to be in fun, but on that Fall day, something happened. And our lives would never be the same.

I mentioned to Jack that since T.J latest saying of "Don't make me schmack you!" had become common place, that we should have him do a rap song entitled "Bitch, don't make me schmack you!" we laughed about it for days and even settled in on what the video would look like. We
joked about how the video would be T.J dressed up like the home boys from the inner cities, and how a group of beautiful women, hot ones too like models would dance around him in the video. The theme was to be them wanting T.J so much and he maybe dressed like a pimp, saying "Bitch, don't make me schmack you!" You know, it's still funny now when I think about it, all those years ago. It took us about eight weeks to finally approach T.J with the idea. I of course was the one to do it, because up into that point, the others only wanted him dead, Broer by his own hands.

To much surprise, T.J thought it would be a great idea. In fact he couldn't believe I wanted him to do it. His eyes lit up and for a second, that grin of his almost turned into a full blown smile. We had the computers at that time and after Jack had found and downloaded the needed software, all we needed was the song and music. I had an 8 mm digital camera at the time and Robert knew a few girls that didn't mind dressing up for a photo shoot. It was very involved but after awhile, we were off and running. The song was hokey at best and to be honest, I can't really remember all the words it was something like: "Hey girl, I see you watching me. I see you wanting me, I see you needing me, but if you even think about touching me, all I have to say is bitch, don't make me schmack you!" I'm telling you, we couldn't lose. Jack and I had even contacted a producer in New York named Joey Fingers. This guy had made a fortune bringing young talent to the top. He had an eye for scouting too. The only thing we didn't want as to have T.J taken out of our hands. I mean after all, we discovered him you know.

We had spent two weeks working on the beat and samples for the music. We needed something tough, but cool. The rap music of that time was what they had called "Off the hook" and we needed something like such. Neither I nor the rest of my group, had any experience in rap music. Robert listened to mostly R&B while Broer was more fond of Rock like "Tool" and "NIN (some band named nine inch nails)" What we needed was someone on the inside. A young man had worked with us not long ago, his name was Al Fuller. We called him Ali Al. Ali Al was into hard core rap music and had a ear for what was going down in the rap world. He had left the casinos and was now doing construction work, when we caught up to him. We told him what we were trying to do and before long, he too was in on it.

With bottom heavy beats and a kick ass rip line, we were off. T.J had taken things in stride and apart from acting his usual goofy self, had agreed to whatever changes Jack and I made. Robert came through with the girls and we filmed the whole thing in Atlantic City. I had taken the part of T.J's manager, while Jack handled the agent's duties. We were set to light the world on fire. Jack continued talking with Joey Fingers in New York. I trusted him to do the right things. Mr. Fingers wanted to see the video we had made and listen to the song before agreeing to anything. So one day, I along with Broer (who had a small vested interest in the project, providing that he didn't have to use his real name) Robert who had already started spending money we hadn't even made yet, and of course Jack. We decided to leave T.J behind, it's nothing against him I remember, I think we just didn't want Mr. Fingers getting his greedy hands on the kid until we had a deal. Music was and still is a very shady business, you know.

Fucker made us wait a whole hour in his big ass office before returning, I remember. We all sat around looking at the gold records that were framed and hanging. He had a big screen T.V and an aquarium the size of Broer's apartment. Nice place, cost a mint I bet. When he returned he had a devilish look on his face. He was already tall, about 6'4" maybe more, crew cut and earrings in both ears, a pencil thin mustache and he walked with a limp. "Well, let's see here." he said. He sat down behind that huge desk of his and asked Robert to pop in the tape we had made. I asked if he wanted to hear the song first seeing that I had written it, but after looking into a pair of eyes black as coal, I'd seen he could care less. "Gotta sell the look first, fuck the words, we can always change them if we have to." he said. Call me crazy but, we should have walked right then, I had the feeling we should have walked.

The five of us sat watching a video I had directed and Jack produced. We fought a little over the look and location, but in the end I think Jack and I did a good job. The scene opened with an over the top view of a city which panned down to where the ladies of the night were waiting. The sound of beeping car horns and police sirens with the flashing of lights would catch a car pulling up to a curb. The next shot was of a pair of snake skins boots getting out of the car and a quick shot of a woman with her hand to one side of her face say "Oh!" with pleasure. She would then drop what she was doing and with high hills clicking run over to the car. It was then that we would get our first shot of a well dressed T.J. as he shuts the car door and looks around, he sees that every woman on the block wants him. The first woman walks up to him and after trying to touch him hears "Bifth, Don't make me schmack you!" at this point the woman backs up,  all do and T.J breaks into his dance which begins with a supercool urban beat. It was great, fucking great! We had even worked in a dance number where the girls, all eight of them would do the T.J dance. It took awhile but it worked. In the end, we had something very special and Mr. fingers knew it.

We sat bobbing our heads at the beat and I caught Mr. Fingers slipping into it himself. Sure he was big time and worked with a lot of people, but he hadn't seen anything like what we had done. Afterwards, he ordered us a nice lunch and wanted to meet this T.J We told him that we wanted his input and asked if he could use our talents. He leaned back into his chair which smelled of real leather and folded his hands. "Fellas, let's make history" he said. "I'm going to have a contract drawn up in a few weeks and upon signing it, I'd like to first meet this T.J fella." "Also, we're going to need at least one other song. A slow song, the kind for ballads. Think you can do it?" he asked. Jack had played around some time ago with the idea of T.J singing a love song to me. It was back when Jack was convinced that T.J not only liked me, but was in love with me. Jack had even selected the song "Ben" by that former pop idol Michael Jackson. He had did this song years before turning white and ghastly. Jack had joked about turning the song to "Ken" and having T.J sing it. Of course we all laughed then, but now it seemed like it was something that was maybe going to happen. After all, we needed a tune and one fast.

With a few change of words and ideas, we had another song, starring non other then the man himself. I told the guys, that I'm not shooting a video where T.J sits on a stool in the middle of the woods, singing about me. Fuck that, I said. We'll have to try something else. Broer tossed in having T.J in his bedroom singing it and I damn nearly hit him. In the end, we all settled for a video of T.J in a boat out at sea. He was singing about getting home and spending time with his friend named "Ken". The video came out nice and although it didn't come off this way, the boys always figured it a song about T.J to me.

Little did we know, by the time we returned from New York and Mr. Fingers office, the wheels of power had already been set in motion. we had all quit our job and worked around the clock getting this T.J thing off the ground. We had high hopes indeed and were about to ready ourselves when we got the phone call from T.J's mother. She was crying and unable to control her speaking, she rattled off skipping over some things and reversing others. I was sitting in the sound studio with Jack recording the horn section for "Girl, don't make me schmack you". Mr. fingers had made us do two versions of the tune, one for MTV and VH1, the other for the CD, when the news broke.

T.J had taken his life on the morning of September 21st 2002. We had spent a whole year trying to get things off the ground and trying to hold on to our dream. We had no idea then, that it simply wasn't his dream at all. T.J just wanted friends, a place where people looked to him as normal, just one of the guys. He did the videos and sang the songs because it made us happy. But in the end, the work and hours spent, no longer allowed us all to just sit around and crack jokes. And for T.J this was of the utmost importance. His mother handed me a letter written by T.J just before hanging himself in his bedroom. I remember being unable to read past the first four lines, as tears now filled my eyes. The boys were wrong, true he did love me, just not the way they joked about.

Well, that all happened a long time ago. Life has since moved way ahead of me and I haven't heard from the boys in years. Can't blame them though, I kinda of freak out on them after T.J died. Mr. fingers had taken what we did and released it anyway. Just as I thought, a number one hit single. Blew the top off billboard magazine, nailed it at number one for 42 weeks in a row! We got paid, some of us more then others. And we kind of went or separate ways. We kept in touch for a while, although it wasn't the same. We still joked on and off and made fun of people, but the boys never poked at me about T.J anymore. Something had changed in them as well. I think we all tended to feel guilty about T.J, I know I did. The amount of money we got from T.J and his songs afforded us a nice living. Jack moved to Australia were he and some friends started a computer software company, making advanced 3D shooters. Robert Hudson, dropped the "L" from his name and married a woman from New York. He divorced her three years later and in the process, half his earnings. She convinced the courts that he was and always would be a cheater. Broer managed to keep his real name a secret, now lives in Japan with a geisha. He had met her while traveling and never returned to the states. Ali Al is the only one still in the music business. He along with an old Joey Fingers, still search for that one talent, that one person like T.J.

As for me, I too have moved on. Three failed marriages and six children to show for it, have turned this old man, older. I still try to keep in touch with the family that came to me late in life and welcome the visits from my daughters, who are very beautiful, thanks to they're mothers. My only son, cares more for Baseball then music. At least he got one half of me. I get around fairly good these days, and have even looked forward to my 82nd birthday, who knows what may happen.
 

On February 28th 2043 Kenneth Burch an old man from New Jersey slept quietly as his heart pumped it's last ounce of blood, through his tired body. The nurse would come in to find him in peace. Upon removing him from the bed, a small piece of paper folded tightly and aged yellow
would fall from his closed hand, it revealed a letter written to him, so many years ago.
 
 

                                                            T H E  E N D

                                      For Jack, may we one day find our dream