I stayed in for most of the next week. My retail job only paid a retail wage, and I couldn't afford to hit the bars night after night, even if I considered it part of my career as a music writer to go see bands. The day would come when I would be professional enough at this to claim expenses as a writer on my tax returns, but I didn't think there would ever be a way to claim thirty bucks worth of beer every night as a tax deduction.
The profile of Seam/Fault/Flaw went up on my own site. I emailed Charlie about it and got a note back saying that they'd linked to it on their own website, and that they'd spread the word about it. It got a few hits. Page views were precious for me. So far my work wasn't getting much attention, and every little bit helped.
Mostly I spent the week wondering how soon I could reach out to Carrie Anne again. She may have let me in on the fact that her relationship with Charlie was an open one, but like it or not, that did not count as a clear invitation. Things had ended badly between us two years before. Things sounded better now, but I didn't want to mess anything up by coming on too strong, and acting like she had given me a green light to re-enter her life full time.
I got paid on Friday, and on Saturday afternoon I walked over to the liquor store on Spadina and picked up six tall cans of Moosehead lager. Then, with the beer in a paper bag, I went back to my building at went up to the top floor and knocked on Terry Wilson's door. I didn't know if he would be home. If he wasn't, I could have a beer by myself in my own apartment.
There was a scuffling sound from inside Terry's apartment, and after a long wait he opened the door. It was one in the afternoon, but it seemed I'd woken him up. He looked like dead gray shit.
"F--k," he said when he saw me, peeking out of squinting eyes. "Was I expecting you?"
"No, sorry," I said. "You said to drop by some time. I brought beer."
"Oh." He was wearing in a faded blue t-shirt with a hole in the belly, sweat pants, and bare feet. "Well, come on in."
The apartment was just as messy as before. Terry pulled open his curtains and let in the afternoon sunlight, which made the squalor even apparent. "You can stick those in the fridge if you want," he said.
"You having one?" I asked.
"Later," he said, shuffling over to the kitchen. "I need coffee first. You want anything? I'm going to have some toast or something."
"No thanks." I pulled out a can for myself and stuck the rest in the fridge. There wasn't much in the way of fresh food in there. Just mess, mostly. Condiments. An open pack of baloney.
He got his coffee maker going and sat down at his little kitchen table. There was an ashtray and rolling papers there, with a package of DRUM tobacco and paper matches. He started rolling himself a cigarette. "You don't mind if I smoke, do you?"
"Your castle, man," I said, and sat down at the table with him. I cracked open the beer and watched his hands as he manipulated the thin paper and the loose shreds of tobacco. His fingers looked thin and wire-hard. His knobby knuckles were marked with paint. I looked at his arms. He was a skinny guy. There wasn't much that looked healthy about him.
"I'm back on this shit again," he said, licking the paper to seal it, making a slender, economical cigarette. "I bet if you made a chart of the last five years, I would probably smoke six months of the year, but it's always stop, start, stop, start. You ever smoke?"
"For a while. I don't think I was ever all the way addicted."
"Right. I can usually quit for a little while. I was good about quitting if I had to go on tour. You would think that you'd smoke more on tour, but I was able to discipline myself. If you're singing every night, you need to preserve your throat any way you can. You need to protect your immune system, too. People always get sick on tour. Bad food, no sleep. The body breaks down."
"I should be recording this," I said, reaching into my pocket for my voice recorder. "Do you mind?"
"If you want," he said, striking a match and lighting up. "I was just talking. Nothing serious. Was this going to be a hang-out session, or did you actually want to do, like, a serious interview?"
"Whatever you want, man," I said. "I was hoping to get some audio so I could write something up, like we talked about. But I don't have to turn it on right away. You want to wait until after you've had breakfast?"
"It doesn't matter," he said. "Maybe, yeah, wait a while. Let's get to know each other a bit first."
I slipped the recorder back in my pocket. "Sure."
His cheeks sunk in as he sucked on the thin cigarette. He was unshaven, with silver stubble. He looked as messy as his apartment.
"So. You talk to that girl?" he asked me, remembering our first meeting.
"Yeah," I said. "I saw her last weekend. She told me she's in an open relationship."
"What's that mean, she's allowed to sleep around?"
"I guess so." I took a long drink from the can of beer.
"So you're in," he said.
"I don't think it's that easy," I said. "I don't think her new guy is going to be cool with me and her hooking up."
"So? You're going to ask his permission? 'Hey pal, do you mind if I f--k your girlfriend?' Just get in there."
"It might be more complicated than that."
He nodded and tapped his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray, which was already full. "It always is, Nate. It always is."
"They actually need that kind of permission in their arrangement, you know? What did she call it-- veto power. And the dude is really nervous around me. He just jabbers. I can't imagine it's something he would allow."
"Of course. You're on the 'Do Not F--k' list." Terry grinned. "You're 'DNF.'"
"That's what I'll call my next band," I said. "Anyway, we don't need to talk about that stuff. Believe me, It's been on my mind. I could use a break from it. Do you want to talk about what you're up to?"
"Sure," he said. He hung the cigarette out of the corner of his mouth and got up to pour himself a cup of the fresh coffee. "I'm broke, that's what I'm up to. I'm going nuts right now. That's why I started smoking again. And that doesn't make any sense because smoking is so expensive, but the stress of being broke is always too much for me. If you have to choose between a pack of smokes and, I don't know, a loaf of bread or something, you'll always make sure you've got smokes first. Stupid, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah, it is," I said. "But that's the addiction, right?"
He found bread in a cupboard and loaded the pop-up toaster. "You have a guitar downstairs, right? Doreen said you had some gear."
"Um, yeah." I remembered the young girl who had introduced me to Terry, and how she had checked out my guitars.
"You should bring it up sometime. I need someone to jam with. It's the best free entertainment."
"You don't have anybody around you can play with? I thought you'd been in all these bands."
"Oh, sure," he said, sitting back down. He took a last drag and ashed out his smoke. "I've been in a ton of bands. But I don't keep track of people. I'm shitty at networking. And nobody calls anymore! When I bump into people and ask why I never hear from them, they ask me why I'm not on Facebook. I'm sick of it, man. I'm not a computer guy, and I'm pretty sure that's why my career is so dead."
I looked around the apartment. There was an really old PC on a table in one corner. "Is that what you're using?" I asked.
"Yeah. It's on its last legs. I typed my book on it. I can use it for e-mail. I've tried Facebook on it, but it's too slow, you know? And that's stuff isn't for me anyway. I don't even know why I'm talking about this stuff. I sound like an idiot every time I try to talk about computers."
"I sympathize," I said. "It's like me. I want to write about music, but I barely spend any time actually writing. Most of the time I'm dicking around with these social media platforms, trying to figure out like, search engine optimization, and all that kind of stuff."
Terry looked at me like I had two heads.
"Anyway," I said, "I know what you mean. And yeah, sure, I can bring my guitar up here some time. But I've got to warn you, I'm pretty rusty. And I wasn't that good before."
"That's okay. I've got a guy to play with sometimes. You might meet him. His name is Paul." Terry's toast popped, and he kept talking as he put it on a plate and buttered it. "He's an art guy that wishes he was a musician, which is convenient, since I'm a music guy trying to break into art. So he's helping me set up my first show, and I'm helping him with some music shit."
"That sounds good, but I thought you were retiring from music."
"Sure," he said. "I'm retired from trying to front bands. But I still have to use what I've got."
He ate his toast and drank his coffee, and then we moved to the living room chairs. Terry opened a beer and I brought the recorder back out, and we talked. Or rather, I listened while Terry talked. It was different from Charlie's excited ranting in the coffee shop the week before; it was easy to sit and listen to Terry. He told me about his time with the seminal Canadian rock band Tremors of Intent before they got big, and about the many other bands he'd put together, and the different levels of success they'd found.
It was no surprise he'd been able to write a book about his adventures. He was a natural storyteller.
After a few beers and a lot of talk, Terry made me go downstairs and get my acoustic. I brought it up and we started playing, and my lack of ability was glaring.
"You were right," he said. "You really suck."
"That's all right," he said. "I can help you. You just need to get good at a couple chords and work with them. And then you slowly add, right? It's just practice."
"Yeah, that's my issue," I said.
"No problem. Come on, let me show you some shit."
We played for a couple hours, until my fingertips were so destroyed that I couldn't touch the strings any more. We left off. I was ready to go, and Terry asked me if I wanted to go out and grab a pint.
"Aren't you broke?" I asked.
"I could squeeze the pennies for a pint," he said. "I'm sick of sitting in here all the time. Seriously, I've been just sitting in this apartment for weeks, trying to keep my money situation under control. I've been so bored. And it's been good to finally talk to someone for a while."
I was afraid that if we went out I'd end up paying for all the drinks, but I agreed to go. I felt sorry for him. As cool as his life had been, he was in many ways just a sad, lonely old man.
We took a break to eat and get properly dressed, and at five o'clock we walked around to The Village Idiot, a pub across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario, which wasn't far from our building.
We sat down at a small table and ordered pints from the server. Then I noticed a girl at a table by the back wall, sitting by herself. It was the snotty blonde girl who'd been at El Mocambo with Carrie Anne and her friends the week before.
She was sitting with a pint of what looked like Guinness, reading a book. I considered going over and saying hello, but since I didn't like her, there didn't seem much point. I didn't even know her name. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to make friends with her, since she was Carrie Anne's friend, but I figured to hell with it.
Terry and I chatted on through the pint. My eyes kept flicking over to the girl. At one point she got up to go to the bathroom and I spotted something about her, and I decided I had to approach her. "Terry, would you mind hanging out for a while? I'd like to go talk to that girl."
He looked over, but since she was in the bathroom all he saw was her empty table. "Sure," he said, and drained his glass. "I'm done anyway." He took out his wallet and counted out exact change for his drink. "Do you mind covering the tip? Awesome. And hey, good luck, okay? Much better than pining for your ex."
He left and I waited for the girl to come back out. When she sat down at her table, I picked up my glass and went over.
She looked up and recognized me. "Oh, hey," she said. "Um, was your name Nate?"
I smiled. "Yep. I just wanted to come over and call bullshit on you."
|I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Find him @nolanwhyte.|