After renting a twin bedroom at the first beachside motel we came across, David, Jordan and I drew straws for who would sleep on the couch. I lost. We were near the town of Mantao, which is where Roanoke is situated.
That night, I had a nightmare that still makes me shudder today when I think about it. Ever since the first Crysis game released, I have been a huge fan of the series. The trailers for Crysis 2 had come out a few days before the spring break began, and the aftereffects of the residual excitement haunted my head for weeks afterwards. My nightmare consisted of me in a nanosuit, fighting aliens, and obviously, losing. Just as I was about to get a tentacle shoved into my chest, I woke up, terrified, staring at the ceiling. I said "cloak engaged.", but then realized I was awake, and chuckled at my stupidity. My heart fluttered like a starving eel.
To clear my head and get some fresh air, I decided to go for a walk on the beach. I took my guitar with me. It was a full moon night. As I sat on a dune watching the stars, all I could hear were the sounds made by my guitar, the crashing of the waves, and the soft rustle of the wind. Soon, I fell asleep. Driving all day had taken its toll on me.
I woke up at dawn. There was sand on my eyelashes, which I rubbed off. A middle aged man was sitting nearby, fishing pole in hand, and a black Labrador was frolicking in the waves. I set off for the room. By the time I had completed my ablutions, showered, and dressed, Jordan and David were up. We walked down to the cafeteria to use the microwave. Cheesemac was cheaper than motel food.
"Jordan, why are we here? Ocracoke is a dead place. It's just a beach. I don't need a tan, you're black, and Rob's Hispanic, so we can rule out sunbathing." David said.
"I'm not Hispanic. My dad's Indian, and my mom's also part Indian." I said.
"Your name doesn't sound Indian." He said.
"That's because my dad's Catholic." My coffee coloured skin and jet black hair usually elicited such reactions, and my name had saved me from a lot of terrorist/seven-eleven jokes.
"Let's go sightseeing. There's a few lighthouses around here." Jordan said.
"Lighthouses? Yeah, right. I'd rather build giant penis figurines with sand." David said.
"That's a great idea." I said. "But I don't want us to get arrested for indecent behavior."
"Let's go running, then." Jordan said.
"Running?" I asked.
"You and I are ace runners. We were in the track team, and the soccer team back in high school. The sand is soft, the wind is freaking wonderful, and the waves are breathtakingly refreshing. David, how far can you run?"
"Here's my plan, then." Jordan continued. "We're gonna keep running until we find ourselves a lighthouse. Then, we'll run all the way back."
"I think I'll agree. Sounds like fun." I said.
"What's with the lighthouse obsession?" David asked.
"NC is famous for its lighthouses, I think." Jordan said. "We should live up to our heritage."
And so it was. We began running at eleven o clock, jumping across dunes, occasionally wading in the shallows, picking up interesting items, and laughing like jackasses, as the runner's high kicked in. An hour passed and none of us was winded, as the smell of the sea was like some kind of anabolic steroid, minus the side effects. Finally, a lighthouse came in our line of sight.
"Aha!" I yelled, pointing at it. We accelerated into a sprint and leaped over a fence, careful to avoid thorny plants that grew farther away from the beach. I felt like Forrest Gump. The lighthouse came closer and closer, as my breath grew shorter. Finally, I slowed down and collapsed.
There were plenty of seagulls flying around. The post workout endorphins started kicking in, and I couldn't stop smiling. Sweat drenched most of me. The other two were in a similar state.
"I" I said, panting, "f--king love this place."
"Word!" They yelled together.
Once my breathing had returned to its normal rhythm, I stood up and stretched. The other two followed suit.
"We shouldn't have stopped. I don't think I can kickstart my engine after the bashing it just received." David said.
"Then let's walk."
It took us an hour and a half to get back. On the way, David and I had another argument.
"Tool has talent? HA, HA, HA. Those guys are a bunch of whales."
"Whales? Whales? Dude, whales? I mean, shit, whales? You..."
"How long is it going to take you to think of a nice comeback?"
"Stop pulling shit out of your ass." I said.
"Wow, that one was great. No, really." He said.
"SHUT UP, BOTH OF YOU, or I'll throw you down and ghetto stomp your faces!" Jordan yelled.
"But he..." I said.
"ARE YOU CHALLENGING ME?" he yelled again.
Neither of us said anything for the next five minutes. More and more people had arrived, sunbathing or fishing or surfing or frolicking. Finally, Jordan broke the silence.
"We should hook up with some nice chicks." he said.
"Touch." I muttered.
Jordan took one look at the Buffet lunch at the motel and grimaced. "I'm black, and I know when Fried Chicken is undercooked. I will NOT eat here." Thus, we went into town and decided to eat at this place called the Armadillo grill.
"Get us your best fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and some cheese sticks with marinara sauce, miss." Jordan said.
"Yes sir!" Said the cute blonde waitress, stretching the words like Southerners do, and winking at us.
"I love the South, man, especially the coast. People are genuinely nice around here." David said.
"And not douchy at all. Man, in cities, you'll never find somebody who is as down to Earth as country folks." Jordan added.
There weren't many people in the restaurant. However, I did notice a few bikers and a redneck or two. The place felt like it had come right out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, minus the violence.
We talked about random things. When the food came, we ate like wolves, satiating each of our voracious appetites. It was delicious, as if the chef had put his heart and soul in the dish.
As I sat there licking my fingers, I heard feedback from an amplifier. Jordan and I instantly turned in the direction of the disturbance, as repeated exposure to loud sounds had left our nerves raw.
A very tall guy in his thirties, with deep blue eyes, scraggly stubble on his cheeks and shoulder length, dark brown hair was sitting on a stool in one corner of the grill, with a Tobacco Burst Les Paul in his lap.
"Alright people, this one's a tribute to Jimi." He said. Some of the bikers cheered. Jordan and I watched, rapt with attention. David shrugged and chewed on his cheesesticks. He told the adorable waitress to add nachos with cheese and beef mince to our order, and resumed his usual blank, aloof stare. The guy started playing. "There's a red house, over yonder"
His technique was spot on. All the hammer ons and bends were always exactly on mark, as if the strings WANTED to make amazing sounds. There were no drums accompanying him, but despite that, his sense of rhythm was impeccable. I watched, stupefied, as he squeezed every drop of goodness from each note of the solo.
"..I know her, sister will." With that, he ended the song with a spectacular, improvised lick.
Everybody in the restaurant cheered and clapped, except for David.
"That was amazing." Jordan said.
"QFT." I said.
"Meh. An impressive display, but the lyrics were cheesy. Music is more than just mindless canoodling." David said.
"Without the canoodling, music wouldn't be worth listening to. It'd be impotent. Castrated. Sterile." Jordan said.
I watched, as the guy put his Les Paul in its bag, and picked his little Marshall amp up. He waved to the bartender who waved back. With that, he chuckled and left.
"Shit, I should have talked to him." I said, after a few minutes. "He could have taught me a few tricks."
"It's too late for that now." Jordan said. The waitress arrived, bringing a plate with her. "Oh, yeah. Nachos."
*** "It's been two freaking hours and I haven't felt a single fish pull on the line." I said, exasperated. We had rented fishing poles from a shop in town, and had since been sitting on the beach, waiting for a tug.
"Patience." Jordan said. "Clear your mind. Meditate."
"F--k, I just felt something pull." David said, jumping up.
"Reel it in!" I yelled.
"It'sstrong!" David said, struggling. We ran up to where he stood and pulled back on the pole as he reeled it in.
Three minutes later, we noticed a faint shape in the shallows at the end of the line. We pulled it onto the sand. It was a small ray, struggling and lashing about.
"We should throw it back." Jordan said. "We don't have the means to cook it." David unhooked it and tossed it back into the water. We picked up the poles and put them in the trunk of the Gran Torino. It was dusk. The wind grew chilly. We to our room to grab some more cheesemac, which was basic sustenance. After that we returned to the beach and sat down on the same dune, watching the sunset as we sipped on our beers.
"What the hell happened to the other guys?" David asked.
Jordan shrugged. "Let me see." He whipped out his phone, and began texting. Around five minutes later, his phone beeped. He checked the text. "Son of a bitch." He said. "They're off carousing with a bunch of girls somewhere on the coast of Virginia."
"Nu uh." David said.
"Justin sent me pictures." I didn't bother looking, but David seemed shocked by the revelation.
"They ditched us. The motherf--kers ditched us! Shit, I really hope we get lucky tomorrow, I don't want them to have more fun than us." David said.
"Hell yeah." Jordan said. He thought for a while. "Dude. We should get ourselves invited to a party. Let's go hunting for large groups, and befriend the alphas."
"That's kinda hard." David said.
"Not really." I said.
"What d'you mean?" Jordan asked.
I sighed, and stated the obvious. "We're Duke students. All we have to do is find some Dukies."
They both looked up, dumbstruck.
"Dammit, why didn't we think of that before?" David said. "Well, there's no guarantee we're gonna find Dukies here."
"We could check the Duke University network on Facebook. Status updates and the like." I said.
So, that night, we scoured Facebook for any sign of Dukies who were heading to the coast, and within ten miles of our location, using the motel's Wi-Fi network on my iPhone.
"Hard luck." I said. "We'll just have to see what happens." *** The next morning was very uneventful. David and I broke into another argument, and Jordan had to threaten us again. By late afternoon we were cranky as hell. "There's nothing left for us to do!" David said. "Mmmmhmmmm." Jordan replied.
I got up and dusted the sand from my shorts. "Look, I have to go to town. There's something I've been itching to do since yesterday."
"You're gonna go looking for that guitar dude?" Jordan asked. He looked at David, and said "Let's go with him. We have to return the fishing poles. A good idea would be to rent surfboards instead."
"If we split up, how's Rob gonna get back?"
"Rob, d'you mind taking the Harley?" Jordan asked.
"And give you guys my Gran Torino? Hell no." I said. It wasn't MY Gran Torino, but they didn't need to know that.
"Awwwww come on!" Jordan implored.
I sighed. "Alright, seems logical." I tossed them the keys. "I'll skin you two alive if there's a single hint of damage. And then I'll wear your pelts as trophies. And I won't even bother burying the vis..."
"Yeah, we get it. You love the car. We'll treat it like our own first born child." David said.
We walked back to the parking lot. I turned on the ignition of the Harley feeling a mixture of awe and a dash of fear. However, the signature revving sound mellowed any apprehensions I had. I made some noise with the bike, as David and Jordan watched, laughing. Then, I put it into gear, and began to accelerate. "WOOHOO!" I yelled, in falsetto, as the bike grew faster and faster.
The Gran Torino soon overtook me and sped away. "Well, if they screw with the car, I can destroy the Harley for revenge." I thought.
Within a span of five minutes, I reached the Armadillo grill. I walked inside and asked the bartender about the guy.
"He's called Bugsy, and he owns the town's Music Loft. He plays here sometimes."
"This town has a Music Loft?" I asked. Music Loft is a well-known franchise, and I had seen three of them on the way, in different cities. Durham has its own Music Loft.
"Of course it does."
"Could you give me directions?" I asked.
"Sure." He said, smiling.
Two minutes later, I was standing outside the music loft. "He's just a guy who owns a shop. There's no need to be apprehensive." I said to myself. With that, I walked in.
It was not as intriguing as Rainn's shop, but it was decent for a guitar store. The instruments here were all well known, mass produced ones: Squier strats, epiphones tiny marshall amps and all, with a few vintage pieces thrown in, which I could tell apart by looking at the handwritten price tags. There was a staircase to the upper loft of the shop. I could hear a guitar being played from there.
"Um. Excuse me? Is anybody here?" I asked. The playing stopped. I heard the sound of heavy boots on a carpeted wooden floor. Bugsy appeared on the railing.
"Yeah. Are you interested in buying something?"
"Not really, butI heard you play at the Armadillo Grill yesterday, and was wondering if I could talk to you about music and all." I said.
He appeared somewhat irritated. "Come on up." With that, he disappeared. I walked up, and went towards where he was sitting. There was a stool there, and I sat down on it. He held the same Les Paul in his lap, sitting on another stool.
"So, what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?" He asked, with a stoic expression.
"Oh, there's so much. I can't decide." I said.
"D'you want me to evaluate your technique?"
"Um. Okay." I said. He handed me the Les Paul. It felt odd, as I was used to strat shaped guitars.
"Play something." He said.
I hesitated, and then started playing the intro solo to fade to black. Once that was done, I proceeded to the outro solo, which I had figured out just a week before. When that was done, I started playing the solo to Smoke On The Water. Following that, I started played "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", and finally, the intro and solo of Stairway to Heaven.
"Rhythm's decent." He said. "But your solos are all half-assed, without exception. You bend the strings with your fingers, and stick your thumb out too much on your picking hand. Your choice of songs sounds pretentious as hell. What are you trying to prove?"
"Never, ever cover a song people and their GRANNIES have heard, unless you can make them squirm with pleasure. Nobody likes to hear their favorite artists trashed by an amateur." He lit a cigarette. "How long have you been playing?"
"Around three months..." I said. His comments had shattered my ego. "What a dick." I thought.
"Really? Oh, well, you're decent for somebody who just started playing, but that doesn't mean you don't suck. Are you largely self-taught?"
"Somewhat, but a friend of mine taught me the basics." I said. Shithead. He had to screw with the one compliment he had graced my playing with and turn it into an insult.
"Alright. Now, let's talk about your taste in music. I'm not gonna go into much detail. Just go on and give me a list of band names."
"Um. Aerosmith, RHCP, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Guns n Roses, System of a Down..."
"Stop right there. That's enough." He said. "Have you ever bothered listening to any Virtuosos? Ever heard of Joe Satriani?" He asked.
"Not really. I've heard Surfing with the Alien."
"What about Steve Vai? Carlos Santana? Hendrix?"
"I've heard some of Jimi Hendrix's songs, but not the other two. I've heard OF them." I said, sounding foolish.
"Tsk tsk. Well, then, how long are you going to be around here?"
"The next ten days." I said.
"Hmmm. Okay, if you want, I can teach you something that will be pretty hard for you to learn by yourself. But you're gonna have to come here every day for that. Besides that, I require an infinitesimal payment."
I was taken aback. "Payment?"
"300 bucks." He said.
"I don't have that much money." I said, disappointed. My wallet had around 800 bucks in it. There was no way I could give him the cash without crippling myself financially. I already hated the guy, but I knew there was a lot I could learn from him. "Could I somehow work it off?" I asked.
"Hmmm.You could clean this entire shop. Each and every inch of it. All in the span of today. If you do that, I'm gonna bring down the cost to half." He said, smirking. "You're gonna have to prove you really want these masterclasses."
"I'll accept." I said. This guy was getting scarier by the minute. A part of me wanted to bash the guitar on his head, while another part of me respected him. I guess the reason I agreed was because I wanted to show this motherf--ker what I really had the potential to do. "150 is a lot less than 300." I thought.
"The instruments on display must be wiped clean. The carpet must be vacuumed. Not a single speck should be visible on the shelves and desks. Everything has to be exactly where it was kept before, after you're done, and in proper order."
I hesitated. "Fine." I said.
"Oh, and what's your name?"
"Rob. Rob Levine." I said.
"Well, then, Rob, get your hands off my guitar, and get to work. You'll find what you need downstairs in the closet towards the back." He smiled a smile that said "It's gonna be fun watching this wretch torture himself."
I grunted, as I walked down the stairs. "I'll show him" I muttered.