I decided I was done with these people. Carrie Anne was clearly happy with her new guy, and I was getting an unwelcoming vibe off her and her friends. Did they bring me here just to humiliate me? It all seemed cruel and meaningless.
The blonde girl who'd been giving me a hard time suddenly lost interest and turned to Carrie Anne. "Are you doing something with Keith Specter?"
"We might be doing something in the spring," Carrie Anne replied. They were through with me.
"Let me know if there's anything I can do. I'd love to get in on that."
"Okay. I'm not really sure what we're doing yet."
I backed out of the conversation and went through to the bar area. My beer was empty after the first set. I might have been finished talking to those people, but I wasn't about to walk out on the gig after paying ten dollars to get in. I was going to see the rest of the show. I got in line at the bar for another beer.
Charlie and his drummer, whose name was Dave, were standing around when I emerged from the crush of people at the bar. Dave looked blank. Charlie had the same intense, hyperactive smile that he had during our chat in the coffee shop the day before. "What do you think of the band?" he said.
I shrugged. I wasn't interested in talking to him. "They're good," I said. "They're tight. They sound pro."
"Yeah, but what about that cover?" he said with a licentious grin. The Rotary Phones had played Patti Smith's "Rock and Roll N*****" in their first set, stunning the crowd into silence. "Is that ballsy or crazy?"
Dave yawned and sipped his drink.
"Hell with it," I said. "They're trying to stir shit up, I suppose. Trying to be provocative."
"Are you going to write about it?"
I shrugged again.
"You should, man," he said. He grabbed my shoulder and pointed through the crowd. "There's their singer. You should talk to him about it. It's current, and it's controversial, right?"
"Settle down, okay?" I said. "Let me worry about shit like that."
He smiled. "Okay, Nate, no worries. Coming?" He nodded toward the stage area.
I held up my beer. "I'll hang."
Charlie and Dave wandered away and true to my word, I just hung around. I saw Carrie Anne's blonde friend wander to the bar and order a drink. It was pink. She saw me watching her and she looked away without acknowledgment. What a friendly f--king group.
When The Rotary Phones got up on stage I came around to watch, but I didn't approach Carrie Anne and her group. Instead I stood back and focused on the band. I thought that if they ever got huge, people would just call them The Phones. Super-fans would be called ding-a-lings. They could have a monster-sized tour called the Bigger Ring. The Rolling Stones vs. Rotary Phones jokes were easy and endless, but I had a hard time enjoying the set. The sense of being an outsider was too profound. This was exactly why I'd wanted to bring a wing man.
When the band wrapped up I got ready to leave. I wondered if I should bother saying goodbye, but I decided not to bother. I'd made up my mind. I was fooling myself trying to hang around with my ex, especially since she was dating someone else. What was I going to do, hang around just so I could watch her fall in love with some other guy?
I was moving to the exit when I heard her call my name. I turned, and there was Carrie Anne rushing to catch up with me. "Hey!" she said. "Are you leaving?"
"Yeah, I've got to get going."
"Oh," she said. "We never really got a chance to catch up."
I smiled. "Some other time," I said.
"Well, I'm just heading over to the S'leven. Will you walk with me?"
"Sure." We walked out into the November chill. The convenience store was just up the block and across the intersection.
"So," she began. It was an awkward moment. "What have you been up to? You know, since..."
"I was in Winnipeg," I said. "Hanging around, trying to get something going, but it didn't seem so interesting there, you know? I missed Toronto, and my mom and I were driving each other crazy, so I figured I might as well come back here."
"At least you got to catch up with your high school friends, right?"
"Not really," I said. "They were mostly gone. I saw a few of them, but it's never the same, right? You wonder what you used to talk about. Now I come back here and all my university friends are gone too."
"That must be hard," she said.
"It's all right," I said, not wanting to sound pathetic. "I feel like I'm doing something here at least. I'm having a good time, and working on stuff I feel good about."
"Yeah, that's cool," she said. "Charlie writes too. Poetry and stuff like that. You guys should... I don't know."
"Yeah, I don't know. Is Charlie all right? He seems a little... I don't know. Intense. He talks so much, it's like there's something wrong with him."
"He's like that when he's nervous."
"Hmm. I guess I make him pretty nervous then."
We crossed the street and went into the convenience store. Carrie Anne walked around, looking at the candy and the snacks. I wondered if she actually wanted anything here at all. She eventually settled on some strawberry licorice. She paid and we went back out into the cold. She tore open the package and handed me a strip.
"We're in an open relationship," she said. "Charlie and me."
"Oh," I said. I let this new information sink in. "Well. That's something. What's that like?"
"Pretty good," she said. "It eliminates some common relationship problems." "What does an open relationship mean for you guys?"
"Just like, if there's someone that you're interested in, you have the option to, you know, do stuff with them if you want to. It's all about open communication. And trust."
"Not so far," she said. "We have boundaries, and we have to respect each other. And we each have veto power, like if you don't want the other person to hook up with someone you don't like, you can talk about that, and the other person respects it. It's just like, if you meet someone and you really want to make out with them, you can, right? It's about freedom within the relationship. We don't want to feel all tied down."
"Wow," I said. "Well, I don't really know what to say about that. It sounds... really emotionally mature."
"Thanks," she said. "I think it is. I think it eliminates jealousy, more than creating it."
"I guess it would," I said. "Provided you both take advantage. Do you mind if I ask whose idea it was?"
"Um, it was pretty mutual," she said as we walked back to the bar. "It came out of some long discussions about what we thought would make the perfect relationship, and we realized we were open to some of the same ideas."
"So do you guys tell each other everything? About what you do with other people?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes you don't want to hear too much about what the other person is doing. On the other hand, sometimes it can be exciting."
We arrived back in front of El Mocambo. "Will you come back in?" she asked. "I'd really like you to hang out with us. I miss talking to you."
"Yeah, we always talked well," I said. "Sure, what the hell. I'll hang for a while."
Inside, we found that Charlie and their friends had taken a few tables. We stopped at the bar and Carrie Anne got a beer. I took a glass of water. I didn't want to get too loaded this time. I needed to process what I'd been told.
Carrie Anne wedged herself in next to Charlie and I ended up a few seats away, next to Dave the drummer. I could see Carrie Anne, but with the loud music, any quiet chit-chat was out of the question. Besides, it still seemed that Charlie was the one most interested in talking to me, and making me the subject for the whole table.
"So Nate," he said in a loud voice, "what was the name of your band in university?"
"Panegyric," Carrie Anne answered for me.
"Panegyric," Charlie repeated, "what does that mean?"
"It's a funeral oration," I said. "Like Marc Antony in Julius Caesar."
"Oh, I see," he said with a laugh. "You were emo."
I smiled. "We were all over the place." I held my water glass and gently move it around to swirl the ice.
"Well, what kind of stuff did you play?" Charlie pressed. "Covers?"
"Yeah, like these guys? " added the blonde girl, who was sitting across from me.
"No, not like these guys," I said. "No racist covers. We didn't try to shock people with song choices. We tried to offend them by being noisy."
"You a metal guy?" Dave the drummer asked.
"Not so much anymore," I said. "I used to listen to all sorts of heavy shit like Lamb of God, Manson, Ministry, Manowar. Mastodon. Motorhead. Mostly bands that start with M."
"Manowar, I love that band," Dave said. "Did you guys play metal?"
"Hell no," I said. "We weren't technical enough to play good metal. Just shitty rock. We only had one really good player, and he carried the rest of us. I guess we were holding him back, but I think he wanted to control everything, so he needed to surround himself with weaker players that he could dominate."
"Sounds like this asshole," Dave said, nodding toward Charlie.
"F--k you, man!" Charlie said with a laugh, and he rubbed Dave's balding/shaved head.
"Is that what you still listen to?" asked the girl with the curly blonde hair.
"You listened to more than just metal," Carrie Anne said. "What about all that old rock stuff? And your Lou Reed?"
The blonde sneered. "You like Lou Reed?"
"Yes. I like Lou Reed. Do you like Lou Reed?"
"I like The Velvets," she said, "but I basically have no use for anything Lou Reed's done after 1970."
I sat back in my chair. "I have some discs that you should listen to."
She gave me a sarcastically sweet smile. "I've heard them."
The conversation drifted from there. I sat and watched Carrie Anne. She looked great. A whole universe of love, tenderness, energy and joy in a package of red lipstick, big frame glasses and straight-cut bangs. Our eyes would meet occasionally, and she would smile, making my heart melt.
I hated myself! I hated it so much that I allowed myself to be pushed and pulled like this. An hour earlier I'd written the whole situation off and I was prepared to walk away, but I'd allowed myself to be pulled back in, with almost no effort on her part. I was a sucker.
I decided to cut my losses and said good night to everyone. I needed time and air to think it all over: why had she let me in on the secret? Why would she tell me that her relationship with Charlie was open? In one sense, it made things even more awful for me. Carrie Anne was taken, but also free to sleep around with as many other dudes as she liked. I felt like whatever special part of her I might have known was being shared too widely to really be special anymore.
It was a blow to the stupid part of my male pride that I felt so possessive about someone that I no longer possessed, and who was never a "possession" anyway, but a person who agreed to be with me for a while until she got tired of my bullshit. If this had been a cowboy movie, I would have had to grudgingly shake Charlie's hand and say "Take good care of her," before riding off toward the dusty horizon. But under the open arrangement, I would have to say that line to every dude she clicked with. Potentially, any dude in any bar or coffee shop in Toronto.
But the other side of the whole situation was...
...if it was an open relationship, then there was the possibility that it was open to me. And that meant there was the chance I might be able to slip back into Carrie Anne's private company. And even if telling me wasn't an actual invitation, it did leave the door open for some fascinating possibilities.
I stopped in at the convenience store and got a large takeaway coffee for the walk home. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep with all of this running around in my brain anyway.
|I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Find him @nolanwhyte.|