Maestro Keys — Chapter 38

Andy Goldblatt
7 min readMar 20


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What actually happened after Dilligas split was that no one gave a flying fuck about RK Dizazztr. Not a soul — agent, promoter, producer, bandmate, journalist, stan. Full of hard-earned wisdom he’d have been happy to share, he watched in frustration as one rising gangsta after another repeated his mistakes.

In time Persona 5 and porn stopped interesting him and he went crazy from boredom, neglect, and, most of all, perplexity. He’d had an epic run, traveling the world, teaming with great artists, scoring more girls and dope and perks than ordinary mortals did in ten lives. Then this. Why? He had no idea. All he knew was that now came the seven years of lean that followed seven years of fat. (He really needed to thank his Comp teacher for making him read all that ancient crap.) He could pity himself, or he could carry on until the wheel turned back in his favor. Do his time, not let his time do him.

What he needed was a humble endeavor to devote himself to until the karmic debt was paid. He thought of joining Habitat for Humanity and building homes for the poor, but Jimmy Carter had that covered (though not for much longer, probably). So he worked as a secretary for a people’s lawyer.

Toni Lefferts, who with classic Boomer obliviousness never heard of Dilligas, treated him like everyone else in the office. Which was to say, like shit. But that was okay. There were times the tasks she assigned were so beneath him it took every ounce of self-control not to shout “Do you know who I am?” and stomp out in rage, but he knew the more intense his misery the faster he paid off his debt, so he uncomplainingly organized box after box of papers and fetched the garlicky Thai food everybody in the office ate for lunch.

To his surprise RK learned more than how to patiently handle adversity. Toni was a compulsive pedagogue who refused to give an assignment without explaining how it fit into the overall scheme of a case. Usually he listened with half an ear, thinking she’d make a lot more money if she shut up and did her work. But a fair amount of what she said sank in, until he began to see the law as it really was instead of how it was portrayed in the media and in the stories his father occasionally told.

He’d always considered himself cynical, but the extent to which privilege permeated the judicial process exceeded his bleakest imaginings. Every now and then a Martin Shkreli was put on trial to convince the little people the system was fair. But for every Shkreli there were a hundred Trumps allowed to run amok — and thousands of nobodies who got locked up for snatching a laptop when the owner’s back was turned.

Every case Toni handled was tinged by privilege, from a class action against the county sheriff to RK’s own. “What if you’d been black and hit that woman?” she asked. “You ride into those hills and hit a nice old white lady, the DA prosecutes your ass to hell. Gotta send a message to the brothers to stay out of that neighborhood! Oh, but you’re a nice white boy from a decent family? Hey, anyone can screw up. A little probation and we’ll call it a day.”

Now that RK had internalized Toni’s harangues (her favorite was about America having a government of laws, not men. “Who makes the law? Who enforces it? Who interprets it? Toasters?”), he had to decide what to do with the knowledge. Not being a Sixties retro type, he wasn’t about to embark on a crusade to change the world. Liu suggested he consider law school, which intrigued him, but he was afraid he’d turn into his old man — or, almost as bad, run into Ramesh there. So he decided he’d transfer to a community college, learn to be a paralegal, and work for Toni full-time.

He had his seven lean years all laid out — until Toni told him she couldn’t pay a living wage. No people’s lawyer could. He would have to point himself in some other direction. Too bad he had no idea which.

Fuck it, he’d find something. Everybody found a niche eventually. That was the myth, anyway. Truth was he’d probably end up squatting in abandoned buildings, wearing his clothes ’til they stuck to his skin, and picking his dinner out of dumpsters. No one would recognize him or his greatness. His sole consolation would be that he’d have plenty of company. Here it comes, the Brave New World Order — those under thirty need not apply. An entire generation with no work to speak of, just tons of influencers to remind it of the life it couldn’t have. And that was before considering what climate change would do. Why bother going back to school? Education didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Hope was for losers.

And so life never looked more absurd to Rodolfo “Rudy” Keys — the mega fuck-up whose mega fucked-upness was conclusively proven by his inability to shed his pathetic addiction to RK Dizazztr, because the same shit that kills us always tastes so right — than while he sat alone in the second row center of Symphony Hall amid the pricey suits and dresses of the Bay Area elite. Walking through city center on the way here he and his parents ran a gauntlet of homeless people, hundreds of them, mostly men with nothing except liquor on their breath and whatever they stashed in their tents, but also women, some of them pregnant or with kids. His mom and dad picked up their pace and stared straight ahead, not talking until they entered Symphony Hall, where they remarked about how light the traffic had been. They made Rudy want to shove a finger down his throat and puke.

“What did you do that for?” his father would ask.

“Ignore that,” he would answer.

That was his role now, though instead of achieving it through art like RK he would achieve it through failure. He wouldn’t let his dad escape, or any of these people. Ugliness is everywhere. It surrounds this hall. It’s in this hall. It’s right here in front of your nose. Hide behind this moldy old music and I will shout over it until you have to look at me. I am all of humanity’s stupidity and failure and YOU CANNOT IGNORE ME!

His mother inched past an elderly couple sitting at the edge of the row and plopped down next to him. She looked like a goose in the papery gray and white dress she was wearing. “Your dad’s so nervous his hands are shaking,” she confided, half-giggling.

He’d been invited backstage too, but had spent a lifetime there so he politely declined. No big deal, and besides, what would he say to a bunch of classical musicians? If one of them said she admired his music it would detract from his father’s big moment, and he didn’t want that. He was in penance mode. It would be bad form to steal the spotlight.

“These are great seats,” he said blandly.

“Yeah. Almost worth what we paid for them,” she winked.

His mom was totally clueless, but she had a sense of humor and she stood by him no matter what, so he loved her. Of course, moms were supposed to stand by their kids no matter what. But the way everyone else treated him of late it wouldn’t have surprised him if she turned her back on him also. Every day she tried to cheer him up even though she hurt so badly he was tempted to reach out and comfort her. She was, in her own way, a great woman. He was sorry he forgot to thank her when he won his second Grammy.

She’d been in better spirits since they met with Toni. This in contrast to the old man, who seemed more wound up than ever. What did Linda see in him? How could such a buoyant person attach herself to such a heavy anchor? Arnold was an incredibly lucky man. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t pull her down to his level. Instead Linda lifted him to hers. But did Arnold appreciate it? Not that he ever saw.

More musicians ambled onstage, tuning their instruments and running through tricky sections of their parts. The seats around him and his mom began to fill. One thing he could take comfort in: no one he knew would be here. Although there were some people his age, they came from a completely different stratum (Stanford, probably), all buffed and polished and shined up like Rollies — they were always perfect, and he was only practice. He despised them, especially the girls, who didn’t even notice him.

“Isn’t this exciting?” his mom leaned over and whispered.

He shrugged indifferently. It was nothing compared to what he’d done. If he wanted, with no preparation whatsoever he could walk up there and do a better job than Ah-nuld. Sheer musical ability would pull him through. Instead of the leaden Kije Arnold would produce, his would shimmer, and afterwards even the Stanford snobs would give him a standing ovation. Backstage those stuck-up bitches would elbow each other trying to be first in line to beg him to —

No. He couldn’t have them. He knew that with terrible finality now. Maybe if he’d been a real star and could undo that fateful moment at the stop sign so he wouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life gnarled up in guilt and self-loathing he’d have a chance with them. But he couldn’t have them as Rudy.

He was sweating under his arms and down his back. “Is it me or is it hot in here?” he asked. It wasn’t the question he wanted to ask. The question he wanted to ask was whether they had to stay after his father finished. Because if he had to stay a second beyond that he might scream.

But he didn’t ask. Of course they’d have to stay. His seven years of lean were just beginning.

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© 2023 Andrew Goldblatt. All rights reserved. This work may not be used in part or in whole for any purpose without the author’s prior written consent.

Pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Martin Shkreli, infamous for raising the price of life-saving drug Daraprim by a factor of five hundred in 2015, testifying before Congress in 2016. In 2017 he was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy. He served nearly five years in prison.



Andy Goldblatt

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four printed books and one e-novel on Medium, ectomorphic introvert.