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Keep Times Good (Or the League to Save the Good Times)

Joe Farley


Rex liked to have a good time. Rex liked to ensure everyone else was having a good time. Rex liked to keep times good. He played the towns centennial party. He played the townie bars, the basement bangers, the Knights of Columbus and the local VFW. If you graduated from any school in Bergen or Hudson County over the last decade, he probably played your prom. Hell, he even played your sister’s birthday party. Think back to anytime you were anywhere and a howling madman tried to grab your attention with a loud guitar and call to arms—that was Rex.

            As for me, I’d recently flamed out at Vanderbilt, lost my baseball scholarship and part of right hand. Recently meaning three years ago, time flies when you’re properly pickled on painkillers. I’d been living in my dear mom’s basement in Hoboken telling everyone who’d listen I was still destined to play in the major leagues before I tested her patience too many times and was tossed out on my ass with a small stipend. It must have had something to do with the time I sold her car. Or the time I rented out her room when she was on vacation. I offered to split the money with her, 50/50, but she wasn’t interested, which was strange because I did all the heavy lifting and to her it was all profit. It was a long time coming but still it all felt very sudden.

            So, I was on my way out of town, catching a train from Hoboken station to parts unknown when I dropped my rucksack on Rex’s guitar case. Rex didn’t look up at first, he just kept on playing as a few bills floated from the case and out onto the train platform. Between songs he said, “You gonna pick that up?”

            I scrambled up and down the platform, scooping bills and stuffing them into my pockets before a conductor told me to show him my ticket or back up. Since I didn’t have one—wasn’t yet sure where I was going—I scurried back and forked over to Rex what I could. “Think I got most of it.”

            Rex took the money without counting it. Then, he shook my hand warmly while looking me over. “Getting out of town?”

            “In a way,” I said.

            “You look familiar.”

            “Class of ’03,” I said.

            “’99, but you already knew that. Need a place to stay?”

            “Just like that?”

            “Sure,” Rex said. “I’ll start you on bass straight away.”

            “I don’t have a guitar. Plus, this.” I held my right hand up to the light like I was examining a hundred to see if it was real.

            “Comes with the room,” Rex said. He grabbed some bills from his guitar case and snapped it shut. “We can work around the bad mitt, you’ll see. Go for a taste?”

            I looked in my wallet and found it thin, and for a brief moment considered knocking on the door of my high school girlfriend and begging for a place to stay, I’d even take the couch and assure her of absolutely no funny business. In the end, I said, “I’m not exactly liquid. Not sure I can swing it.”

            “Relax, that’ll all come later.”

            Rex started out of the train station and I tucked tail after him. Even though he was playing music on the street, Rex still had the charisma and presence of a seasoned rock star speaking to the crowd between songs—you hung on his every word.

Before I ran into Rex I spent most nights out on mom’s balcony with a sweating Coors and my press clippings. They read like a one man wrecking crew. Everyone in the county, hell the state, wanted a quote from me after we won the 5A state championship. Sawyer this, Sawyer that, Sawyer saves the day, etc.

            After I met Rex I stopped pretending like I was ever going to play baseball again, like my big comeback was right around the corner. I even stopped watching baseball. I grew my hair long and began developing a pouch from a steady diet of cold pizza and cheap beer. My hand hurt like hell but I practiced that damn guitar from sun up to sun down, learning the chords out of a book Rex himself was writing. It was part philosophy and part instructional guide, a manifesto on how to Keep Times Good. To me, it was a revelation, and I couldn’t stop wondering why Rex wasn’t a household name. I figured he ought to be on the daytime shows selling the shit out of the thing. That’s not to say that living with Rex was easy. He was erratic, prone to flights of extreme fancy, and for a minute I considered begging mom for my spot back in the house, but instead, I got better at bass.

            Somehow, Rex owned a house. It was in a very undesirable area out in New Jersey’s industrial flatlands, but it was a house nonetheless. It was dilapidated and spacious and painted bright red—in short, the thing was an eyesore. By summer, we had another guy living with us. His name was Slater and he’d recently got out of prison. He played drums pretty well. He hit the kit like he was trying to bring rain with every whip thrash of his sinewy, prison inked arms. Slater and I got along like gangbusters from day one. When Rex brought him to live with us I got a good vibe; like this was the final piece to whatever puzzle we were putting together. “You’ve been to jail?” I asked him, noticing his ink and shifty manner.

            “Prison,” Slater said. “You take drugs, right?”

            “Correct,” I said.

            And we laughed.

            Initially, Slater and I were unsure how Rex made money. He had the house, plus he was always coming and going with new musical equipment, not to even mention how he kept the fridge full of beer and the coffers full of drugs. Rex never slept. He didn’t ask us for any monetary contributions, only excellence and an undying commitment to the Mission. He’d taken to calling the Mission the Sound, and we were still deep in the process of looking for it.

            One night, not too long after Slater joined us, Rex sat us down and told us we were ready. I wasn’t sure, I’d only just learned the basics, and the pain from my hand shot up and down my arm like a pinball. He scored us a gig and we were to play under the moniker the League to Save the Good Times. Rex was relentless as the big day approached.

            “This gig is big,” Rex said.

            “I thought it was a bar and grille in North Jersey,” Slater said.

            “Don’t be thick, “Rex said. “While it is a bar in North Jersey, it is one frequented by industry types, A&R men, maybe some podcast people.”

            Slater nodded in agreement, picked up his drumsticks started tapping the hi-hat.

            “How much does this thing pay?” I asked

            “Please,” Rex said. “That all comes later, this is significantly more important than cash.”

            I started to talk but stopped myself—he was referring to the Sound. Rex counted us in and we continued rehearsing. As I played through the pain in my right hand, I saw stars.

In early July, a few days before the big to-do, I ran into Rex behind the house. He was tending to the garden. “Jersey Tomatoes, these are worth serious cheese.”

Huh, I had no idea. Tomatoes?

            “Now, they need a good six to eight hours of sun—per day.” He picked some off the vine, examined them before biting a large hunk. “These are perfect.” Rex tossed me one. “Be sure to wash that off first, otherwise they’ll taste like chemicals.”

            I put the ripe tomato in my pocket. “Chemicals?”

            “This is still Jersey,” Rex said, pointing to the smoke stacks in the distance. “Come over here, let me show you how… it can be quite lucrative, brother.”

            I shadowed Rex while he dug, planted, mostly moved dirt around. Further in the backyard there looked to be another garden, but this one was larger and covered with a blue tarp. “What’s growing there?”

            “All things in time,” Rex said and went back to his tomatoes.

            The day of the show we got another guitar player, rhythm. And a keyboard player showed up, along with some mustached man to work the special effects, effects we did not yet have. Also, there were three girls I’d never seen whose sole job it was to sell band merch. Believe it or not, Rex said, merch is a critical aspect of the Mission. They carried a cardboard box full of black t-shirts that said “Keep Times Good” in white lettering with a lighting bolt beneath. We all drove over to the gig together in the back of Rex’s new Econoline. “Killer deal,” he said.

            Eventually, we arrived at a suburban bar & grille. Rex parked the van right out front, told me to go ask them where they wanted us to set up.

            “This is it?” I looked around, the parking lot was sparse. The neighborhood already looked asleep. 

            “What did I just say?”

            Without another word I was out of the van, walking through the front door. I approached the hostess, asked her where the band should set up.

            “Band?” She said. She was clearly in high school, some kid trying to squirrel away some extra cash.

            “Yeah, band. We’ve got a lot of shit, is there a back entrance maybe?”

            She hurried away from me like I was some guy under a bridge, said she needed to ask her manager. Passing the buck, this kid had no ambition, less heart. Things didn’t look promising.

            Rex came through the doors next, lugging gear. The merch girls opened up a folding table right in the main dining room. Rex turned to me, said, “It’s more of a guerrilla show, I guess I forgot to mention it.”

            No shit, but I too was unloading gear, tuning up my strings. Before long the young hostess was back, wanting to know what the hell we are doing. I ignored her, was a bit nervous—my first real live performance.

            The crowd was stiff at first, unsure of what was happening, why there was a band playing loud music over the clink of their silverware and the wolfing of their veal parmagiana. Rex plowed ahead, and soon enough, maybe halfway through the third song, he worked them up into a lather. They were having a good time. That’s when the police showed up. We skated before they could slap on the bracelets.

There was no denying Rex on stage, or the collective feeling that was inside the room. The crowd looked on with a mix of worry and wanting—it was spread across their thick faces. We ducked out to avoid total disaster, but not before getting a ticket for disturbing the peace or whatever. Doesn’t matter because we tossed it out the van window as we ripped back towards the compound. Lately we’d began calling it the compound.

            The next day four guys and a girl knocked at the compound door, begging to be let in. Rex let them in, good help was hard to find. They said they could play so they joined the band, pending a tryout and a yet undetermined evaluation period from Rex himself. I wasn’t sure how many people could be in one band, but around that time we started referring to our band as a collective.

            I began helping Rex sell the tomatoes. We made some money but not enough. Rex showed me how to grow things besides tomatoes, how to properly shake and bake amphetamine. I wasn’t sure about it at first but these sorts of things grow on you Rex told me. We began selling that stuff and then we had more money than I’d ever seen. Rex started paying me—a lot. We didn’t work out a specific payment rate or schedule, instead I’d simply find knotted rubber bands of cash under my pillow sporadically. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t count it. Why would I? I had knack for planting, a head for sales, and shit, I was even improving at the guitar. I’d mostly forgotten about my hand, I was on the right path, and nobody on the planet could tell me I wasn’t well on my way to fulfilling the Mission, I was keeping times good.

            Later, we built a legit stage in the backyard of the compound. We hung lights and large speakers with the hefty price tags still on them. It was important that we get people out to these shows, Rex said.


            “You’ve seen Wayne’s World 2?” Rex asked.

            “Only the first one,” I said. Rex said it didn’t matter, we’d watch it later that night. Then he put me in charge of outreach.

Outreach was a lot like recruiting. Luckily, a friend of Slater’s was ex-Mormon so he knew the drill. We all hung back and followed his lead those first few days. His name was Cameron, and he said the name of the game was being friendly, congenial.

            “Congenial? Fuck is that?” Slater said.

            “Just follow the leader,” Cameron said. And we did. Although, none of us were very congenial, most of us wore black, loathed small talk, considered comprise death. Still, we followed, we learned, and by weeks end we had more than a dozen new faces back at the compound, helping with the work, setting up for the show that was promised, no, foretold, to come.

            Thing was, a lot of these new recruits were young. How young? I couldn’t be sure, and when I asked Rex, he told me it didn’t matter, they were here to help. They were to cook, clean, support the band, even sell t-shirts. Around this time, there had to be more than two dozen people living in the house full time, and space was tight. Still, Rex kept us focused on the big show being planned for the compound, it was to be a festival that would take place over the long Labor Day weekend.

            “This is when I really need you to focus,” Rex said. Rex walked me out behind the house, the moon was high and bright providing all the light. He handed me a beer, told me to sit down. “I need complete commitment these last few weeks, you understand that?”

            “Sure I do,” I said. I was a pretty good guitar player by this point, knew most of the songs by heart.

            “Now is the time to really push,” Rex said. “We need more people.”

            “How many more?”

            “Always more.”

Next morning I was in town outreaching with Cameron and Slater when cops picked us up. The F-150 we were riding around in wasn’t registered. Truth was the thing didn’t even have tags—I hadn’t notice until the officer mentioned it.

            The cops separated us at the station, drilled us all individually about Rex, the state of the compound. I couldn’t even come up with Rex’s last name. They kept asking me about girls, were there girls, how many girls, how old were these girls, etc. I tuned out because I didn’t know. Girls were girls. We, at least I, never asked for hometowns, what year they graduated whatever shit high school they attended.

            They told us to stop lingering around and approaching people, and then they let us all go. But not before they took me aside and had a word.

            “We need your help,” this one cop, Rizza said. I wish he were a fat doughnut eater but he was fit, could have caved my head in without thinking twice.

            “With?” I tried to look as tough as Rizza felt.

            “The situation, shithead.”

            “I can’t help you.”

            “You know, I’ve spoken with your mother.” At this, Rizza looked cockier than ever, like he’d just made his girlfriend cum.


            “She’s looking for you,” he said.

            And that’s when I left, even mustering the courage to call him a rent-a-cop and a stooge of the state. He simply gave me a crooked smile, like he’d seen my Internet search history.

            When we got back from the police station we all did a thing we never did—left Rex out of it. Slater and I said it didn’t matter, and we had rank at the compound. In private, to each other only, we thought maybe it mattered a little.

            A few days later my mom showed up looking for me, telling everyone within earshot that I was unwell, something about my need to be medicated. I never saw her, Slater told me Rex got to her first. She was threatening all kinds of shit, how she was going to inform anyone and everyone just what was going on over here. She left without major incident. Not long after she left, Rex informed everyone that we’d have to move the timeframe up. When we asked how far up, he told us the following weekend, at the latest.

            That night I had a drink with Cameron out by the tomato garden. He wanted to know what I knew. I wanted the same.

            “No more than you,” Cameron said.

            He was right, he’d barely been with us a month. Cameron impressed though, he could sing harmonies like a choir boy—Rex put him in the Collective almost immediately. I asked Cameron what he wanted. He looked at me like I was crazy.

            “How should I know?” He patted me on the shoulder, told me he needed to catch some sleep.

Everything was being ratcheted up, amplified. Rex wouldn’t stop talking about good and evil during the following days. I wasn’t sure which we were.

            “The law has nothing on us,” Rex said.

            “I’m not concerned with them.”

            “So what then?”

            “What’re we even doing here anymore?” I pointed to all the random people.

            Rex looked hurt. “You are my best friend. We started this together—no?”
            I thought back to the train platform, to oblivion.

            “Will you do this for me?”

            What could I say? I was ready to keep times good, had been for longer than I even knew.

Two days later I was in town picking up a few baker’s dozen, it was my turn to grab morning bagels. I got the bagels and was having coffee on the bench outside the place when a car screeched up. Out came the same cop from the station, this time the smile was gone. Turns out he was a detective.

            “Sorry about the other day,” Detective Rizza said.

            “It’s fine.”

            “You know, I saw you play back in the day,” Rizza said. He came over and sat next to me on the bench.

            I considered offering him a bagel but decided not to.

            “Man, could you hit.”


            “My younger brother played for Tech, played you in the 5-A state championship. What did you go? Four for four?”

            “Five for five,” I said, then snapped my head away from him. “I get what you’re doing.”

            “Do you?”

            “Do you really have a brother?”

            “What do you think?”

            “Yeah,” I said, looking him in the eye. “I get it.”

            “Will you help us?” Detective Rizza rose from the bench and loomed over me.

            “Help you? With what?” I was starting to become bothered, I’d done nothing but get great at bass and grow tomatoes.

            “We, I, believe you’re on the inside,” Detective Rizza said.

            “Are you high?” I leapt from the bench, started to pace. “So…what—you want me to wear a wire?”

            Detective Rizza cracked a half-smile. “This is a county investigation, it’s not that involved.”

            I didn’t know which way to go. What Detective Rizza told me didn’t make zero sense, but still, he was a cop, a liar in the first degree.

            Back at the station I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t connect strings, decipher the reason. As I was being interrogated they drugged me with coffee and didn’t let me eat any of my bagels. It lasted ten minutes or ten hours, I wasn’t sure. Detective Rizza asked about the event, the Mission. I couldn’t speak, I dropped my head to the desk, worked on my triads: 1st, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. I tapped my fingers on his desk like code until he told me to quit it. Then he gave it to me straight.

            “Cameron works for us.”

            “No way,” I said. This didn’t make a lick of sense. I didn’t react responsibly, I flailed. “Cameron? Fuck you! You a Latter Day Saint or something?”

            At this Rizza finally cracked. “Kid, really?”

Cameron couldn’t be trusted. I wanted to tell Rex right way but couldn’t. For some reason, I still had an affinity for Cameron. I quickly thought about what I had, my entire life—it didn’t add up to much.

            “I think we should get rid of some of these people,” I said.

            “Get rid of who?”

            “Just the non-essential’s, like everyone who doesn’t play an instrument…some of the girls?”

            “That’s a lot of people,” Rex said.

            “Well sure,” I said.

            “What’s this really about?” Rex put a caring hand on my shoulder. “You know, they say these things happen in your early twenties—are you experiencing some sort of break?”

            Had he been speaking with my mom behind my back? “Break from what?”

            “All of this,” Rex said, seeming to suggest the world.

            “Who is Cameron?”

            Suddenly Rex slapped me across the face. “You know what I’ve done here? We’ve done here. This is our place, our sanctuary—we built it from the ground up.”

            “The cops—”

            “Pigs,” Rex said. “They want me out of this house, is all. Ghouls want to sell it for double. Someone is leaning on them for sure.”

            “They’re tapping our shit, trust me. We’ve been infiltrated. Listen, talk to Cameron—”

            “Enough,” Rex said. “You’re my best friend, I’ve never had a friend quite like you, but I won’t hear of it. Cameron is one if us.”

            Suddenly I noticed Rex was drunk, I’d seen him drink a ton but had never once even seen him buzzed. “Are we going to be taking any more young girls?”

            “Brother,” Rex said, grabbing my face between his hands, “we are keeping times good, remember? It’s all part of it.” Rex stumbled back, turning for the house. Just then I noticed his fly was down. Part of me wanted to hurry over and help him zip it back up, he still had that power, that sway.

Sometime in the night Rex woke me from a dream. He was standing over me panting with his teeth chattering. He grabbed me out of bed with force, and at once we went on with the festival preparations. “It’s been moved up!” Rex was going in many different directions. “It happens tonight!”

            Everyone was hopping around the house, setting up the stage; tuning guitars. Slater handed me a large green pill, I swallowed it dry. I was the only one who seemed panicked. Cameron didn’t seem to be around. Troubled, I asked Rex for his whereabouts. Rex told Slater to show me where he was, he didn’t have the time. Slater took me to the basement stairs, told me he was down there.  As soon as I took a step down, Slater closed and locked the door. “Sorry brother,” Slater said, “bang if you see the devil.”

            I was alone in the dark. I heard clanging and footfalls above, my head pounded, sanity was knocking. I sat down on the cold cement, hugged my knees to my chest. I heard myself repeating a mantra: Keep Times Good, Keep Times Good. Cameron wasn’t down here. Eons later I heard the door open, creaking on the basement steps. It was one of the t-shirt girls, Mary something or other.

            “Hurry up,” she said.

            I followed her back up the stairs, my vision spotty, eyes burning as they met light. Once my vision cleared up I saw Rex in front of me holding a rucksack. He pressed it to my chest. “Sorry brother, had to be sure.”

            That’s when I saw Cameron tied up in the corner. His face was roughed up, looked like he’d been worked over pretty good. “Jesus,” I said. “The hell?”

            “No time,” Rex said, “we are adapting. Our friend here hipped me to some information—festival is off. Time to take this thing of ours on the road. Big tour, all fifty states, well, forty-eight. But we’ve got to leave now.”

            I had no time to think, even if I could, would that have helped? I threw the rucksack over my shoulders, grabbed my guitar from my room. “What do we do with him?”

            Rex pondered this for a moment. “Leave him, cut him loose—is there a difference? Either way, it’s time to go.”

            There was a funny, sweet smell in the air. I pulled Cameron loosed from the ropes, told him there was no hard feelings. He looked at me like I had two heads and sprinted for the front door. I followed him out, the van was loaded up and waiting.

            Mary something or other tossed me a t-shirt. It read: “Rex & The Good Timers, The Manifest Destiny Tour.” On the back there were tour dates. “You work fast,” I said.

            “I’ve got my own silk screening gear.” She smiled and got in the van, pushed her way to the front and climbed on Rex’s lap.

            I stood there looking back at the compound. Most of the equipment was still rigged in back, in fact, the lights were on and a song was blaring over the speakers. That’s when I noticed the house was on fire. It happened that quickly, there was loud popping and snapping as the roof caved in.

            I jumped into the van and slammed the door. Slater gassed it, kicking up gravel as we banged down the entry road. “Listen gang, I get that was drastic, but we needed to act fast. Sometimes, it’s more important to feel good than to be good.” Rex took out his acoustic and started picking. “That’s a lesson, brothers. Now, we are still a community, all future decisions will still be made collectively.”

            As we crested the hill on the byway that led to the still distant Turnpike, I could faintly hear sirens over Rex’s gentle strumming. And just then as the morning light began to push into the darkness, I recognized the real tour started now. Up ahead I could already see the kaleidoscope of lights, all reds and blues.


Joe Farley is a writer and teacher from North Jersey. His fiction has been published in Bridge Eight, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The South Carolina Review, Weber—The Contemporary West, among other places. He lives in Denver, where he was selected a Denver Literacy Fellow. He has taught reading and writing to underserved sections of the Denver Public School System.

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