I was listening to the excellent podcast “The History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” by Andrew Hickey when the idea to write something based on “Zilch” by The Monkees came to me. Before hearing the particular episode on The Monkees, I’d never heard “Zilch.” If you haven’t heard it either, it was meant to be a throw-away filler track, though it seems to have enjoyed more of a life than what was expected. You can see the lyrics, such as they are, here.
I downloaded the album Headquarters on which “Zilch” can be found, and then listened to the track a few times before sitting down and writing this odd this bit of flash fiction. It’s quite rough, so forgive any typos I may have missed.
He sat in the waiting room, his left leg bouncing up and down in place, a nervous habit he’d had since childhood. He remembered his mother placing her hand gently on his knee to stop the movement, which she claimed shook the whole dinner table. What would she say to him? Something about—
“Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
His leg kept its pace as he continued looking at the magazine without really seeing it. It was a magazine about sailing and ships, about which he knew nothing. Except…that wasn’t true, was it? His brother worked on a ship, didn’t he? The China Clipper. Where was it docked? Some place in California?
The intercom in the small waiting room crackled to life: “China Clipper calling Alemeda.”
That was it. Alemeda. But why would someone say that over the intercom in a doctor’s office?
“Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
He looked up and saw that the nurse at the reception desk was looking directly at him, as if he was Bob Dobalina. But that was ridiculous, not only because it wasn’t his name but because it was the beginning of a song by The Monkees called “Zilch.” A silly, throw-away track on their excellent album Headquarters that would get in his head and roll around.
The intercom repeated: ““China Clipper calling Alemeda.”
This time, he felt a chill overtake his body. What if something had happened to his brother? What if he was hurt or lost at sea? He jumped up and went to the desk, determined to ask the nurse if he could borrow the phone to make a long-distance call. He’d pay for it, of course. He had money. He was a lawyer, after all.
The nurse regarded him with a blank look and said again, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
He shook his head furiously. “Listen to me, I need your phone, it’s an emergency.” He reached over the desk and grabbed the phone. The nurse didn’t react. He brought the receiver to his ear and heard someone say, ““Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
“What the hell is going on?” he asked as he slammed the phone down. He didn’t have time for this. In fact, he had an upcoming case he should be working on. Why was he at the doctor’s office again?
“Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense.” Those words resonated with him.
As a lawyer, he knew all too well the importance of self-defense in a case. But he also knew how difficult it could be to prove. The line played over and over in his head, as he thought about his upcoming trial.
“It is of my opinion that the people are intending,” he muttered to himself, finally realizing what it meant. He had to win this case, not just for his client, but for the people. He had to show that justice would prevail, and that the innocent would be protected.
But what about his brother? What about his own health? The phone at the nurse’s station suddenly rang, but the nurse kept her blank stare and didn’t move. Cursing, he jerked the phone off its cradle and shouted. “Who is this?”
The voice on the other end said quietly, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
“Who are you?” he screamed.
The intercom crackled again, and he sank to his knees, sobbing, as the voice uttered the same report about the China Clipper. The phone line went dead as the nurse said once more, “Mr. Dobalina? Mr. Bob Dobalina?”
He stood, regained his composure, and nodded. The nurse’s face lit with a beatific smile, and she said, “The doctor will see you now.”
Bob Dobalina walked through the center door, not noticing how the door seemed to be disappearing as he passed through. He was walking forward. That was what he knew. “Never mind the furthermore, the plea is self defense. It is of my opinion that the people are intending,” he told himself, treating the words like a mantra instead of the nonsense he knew them to be.