Despite the big take-out coffees, Mark and I sleep most of the way to Sault Ste. Marie. Jason drives, plowing through 350-odd kilometers of undivided two-lane highway, where the speed limit sits at a plodding ninety kilometers an hour and the traffic is dominated by giant trucks. He even manages to make good time, catching up on the rented white van carrying our tour-mates Machine Within a Machine.
I manage to blink myself awake when we hit The Soo, tired and needing a proper meal and a good stretch. Jason
follows Machine’s van when it pulls into a Tim Horton’s Parking lot. We’re due to eat at the venue before the show, so I’m not sure why we’re stopping, but I climb out of the van and stand shaky and yawning in the grey afternoon light.
Jason, Mark and I wait for the grumpy-looking members of the other band to get out of their own van and head inside. They get out and walk through the busy parking lot, not looking at or talking to each other.
“What are we stopping for?” I ask them as they pass.
“Bathroom stop before we start looking for the bar,” Gina says. She’s carrying her toothbrush in with her.
As we walk to the door, Wayne, Machine’s Singer, grabs my arm.
“Terry, can I talk to you a minute?” His grip on my arm is solid. Under his shaggy mane of curly brown hair his brow is furled and his eyes are serious.
“Sure.” Everyone else heads into the coffee shop, while Wayne leads me back behind The Clutch Dogs’ maroon mini-van.
“So Terry, listen,” he says, running his hands through his hair, “did you say something to Dave last night on the phone? He said you told him we wanted to throw him out of the band or something. He started complaining this morning, and now he’s bitching like he wants to go home.”
I shrug. “What do you want me to say, Wayne? Dave pissed me off on the phone, basically telling me to screw off if I need a ride. So I said some shit, yeah. I guess I shouldn’t have said anything, but I was pissed off.”
Wayne steps forward, grabbing me by the front of my shirt and pushing me hard against the side of the van. “Listen you washout, you fucking nobody,” he shouts, “I don’t give a shit what he said. You don’t fuck with my band! You want to call him an asshole, you call him an asshole, but don’t you dare cause trouble for this band. You think you deserve to be here? You’re here because Gina felt fucking sorry for you, and don’t goddamn forget it. You’re going to tell Dave you just pulled that bullshit out of your ass and that you’re sorry, you got it? Or I will leave you by the side of the road.”
He holds me there, and gradually slackens his grip, eyeing me keenly as he lets go of me. He takes his hands off my shirt and steps back.
I’m sure what to do. I don’t want to back down and be the meek little boy, saying sorry sir, it won’t happen again. Maybe I was in the wrong with what I said to Dave, but I don’t want to put across the message that I’m a dried up old waster with a limp dick and tears in his eyes. So I do what Bobby Metronome would do. I hit him.
It’s not the mature thing to do, I know, but I catch him with a quick punch in the face which sends him back a few steps. He doesn’t fall down. I’m quick, but not that strong. He touches his fingers to his offended cheekbone, and then runs at me.
Wayne puts his shoulder into me and sends me crashing back against the van, and we fall to the ground, grabbing at each other. We wrestle, rolling around in the parking lot, begging for some jerk to cruise in for a coffee and crush us under the front end of his Lexus. It’s not a dangerous match by any means, with the two of us rolling around and pulling at each other’s jackets, trying to get our arms free to punch while tying the other guy up so he can’t hit back: it’s a horizontal hockey fight on asphalt. We roll back and forth, me on top then him on top then me again. We carry on for maybe a full minute before we’re both too tired to continue, and we end up locked in a stalemate.
We lie there wordlessly for another minute, both of us trying to catch our breath before I ask him: “Truce?”
He gasps for breath, and then responds: “Okay, truce.”
We disengage and get up, doing our best to straighten up our dirty and wrinkled clothes. There’s blood running down my nose. The cut across the bridge of my nose split open again while we were rolling around. I guess we just stand there staring at each other, looking stupid in a parking lot. “Well?” I say.
“Are we cool?” I ask. “About the fight I mean. What’s done is done.”
He nods. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Cool. Very mature. As for what you said before, yeah, I’ll talk to Dave. I shouldn’t stick my nose into your band’s business. As for the rest…well, you don’t fuck with me, I won’t fuck with you. So there’s no reason we can’t get along here.”
“Yeah.” He holds his hand out and I shake it, but I still see challenge in his eye, like he’s got it over on me now. Like he’s got the power, the authority, to take me out if he chooses. So I guess it’ll be up to me to make sure his head doesn’t get too big.
We walk into the coffee shop. The musicians are all waiting in line for donuts and coffee. I make straight for the bathroom to wash the blood off my face. When I get back out, the Machine Within A Machine guys have already gotten their coffees and left. Through the windows I can see them conferring in the parking lot.
Jason gets served his coffee and comes over to me. “Terry man, what took you guys so long?”
“Nothing. What did Wayne say to you guys?”
“Nothing,” Jason says. “He said he didn’t want any coffee and he kind of hustled the other guys out of the place. Weird, huh?”
Mark receives his drink, pays and joins us. “Why’re ye bleeding again, mate?” he asks me.
“All right,” I say. “Wayne and I just had a bit of a fight. Nothing serious, and everything’s cool, but we’ve got to watch each other’s back’s okay? We might not be a big happy family with the other band.”
“A fight as in a fight-fight, not a talking fight?” Jason rubs his eyes. “Oh great, Terry. That’s just…super-special.”
“No worries, boys,” says Mark. “It’ll be all right. No more hand-jobs from those bitches, that’s all, aye? No worries.”
I nod. Jason looks stressed, but I can’t be bothered trying to cheer him up. He wanted to learn what it’s like to be on the road. Well, he’s finding out.
Machine’s drummer Matt pops back inside. “We’re going to the venue. You guys going to follow us?”
It takes twenty minutes (in a small city, I might add) for Matt, who’s driving Machine Within a Machine’s van, to find the club where the bands are booked. Jason continues driving our van, and as we roll up and down the incorrect streets on our circuitous path to The Firelight Bar I try and figure out what attitude I should take to the new information that I had gained from my brief battle with Wayne.
It seems the guys in that band have no respect for me, and by extension Jason and Mark, either as a person or as a musician. I am here because Gina feels sorry for me. Either that or she feels something else for me (love, murderous intent, sexual craving, etc.) and communicates it as pity. Either way, we do not have their respect and therefore we are not seen to possess value. The Clutch Dogs are completely disposable.
As we pull up at The Firelight, I feel the need to express my feelings. “Guys,” I announce from the back seat. “We must prove our value.”
Jason and Mark look at each other out of the corners of their eyes. They look confused and worried, like they think they might have to institutionalize me. I explain: “We have to be better than these guys. We must make them afraid of us, in awe of our power. And we have to outsell them. We need to become the alpha band of this tour. We must make them worship at our feet.”
Mark starts to laugh at my improvised little speech.
“We must be gods on stage,” I continue. “We must be much, much better than them, so that even though we are the openers we are the stars of the show, the band everyone talks about. Machine Within a Machine will hear the talk. They will understand what’s going on. And they will beg us to tell them our secrets. They will become our bitches.”
“I don’t think we need to be enemies with these guys,” says Jason. “Until today, everyone was getting along fine.”
“We don’t need to be enemies” I say. “We just need to be better than them.”
“You’re going to get us fired,” Jason says. “And we’ll have to pay our way home and end up losing a bunch of money.”
“Don’t worry about it, Guitar-star,” I say, sliding open the rear door. “Trust me, we’re going to blow these guys off the stage.”
2006 © Nolan Whyte