"Hello Gina," I say, as the beautiful guitar playing vixen from Machine Within A Machine slides out the bar stool next to me and sits down. "Can I buy you a beer?"
"Sure," she says. "Are you here to see The Clutch Dogs?"
"Naa," I say, gesturing for the bartender to come over. "I am The Clutch Dogs."
"Oh, are you playing tonight?" She looks up at the stage, where Jason Guitar-star is still monkeying around with his distortion and chorus pedals. "Oh yeah," she says. "There's your guitarist. Where's Bobby?"
"Professor Metronome?" I laugh. "He's probably in his ivory tower writing his literary masterpieces with a quill pen."
She shrugs and shakes her head with a cute little grin, indicating that she doesn't get my joke.
"Bobby has retired from music to pursue his writing career. Maybe you've seen his book 'Zombie Pelicans from Rygon Seven'? I think it was on the best seller list."
"You're joking, right?"
I nod. "Oh yes." We share a laugh and when she gets her beer we cheers and clink bottles. It's satisfying to have her sitting next to me and talking, after our first cold-shoulderish meetings. She looks at what I'm writing.
"Making set lists?" she asks, and I nod. "You know, I haven't heard you guys play yet, except for that one song you did with us. What kind of stuff have you got here?" She slides a bit closer to read over my shoulder and I catch a whiff of her perfume, which has a hint of vanilla. The scent seems surprisingly and seductively mild to go with the rough looking rock-style clothing she wraps herself in. Tonight she has a short sleeved black shirt on, with fishnet sleeves running down to her wrists and hooking over her thumbs. Cargo pants and leather boots complete the ensemble. The dark-red lipstick and Egyptian style eyeliner along with the black and purple hair leave her suitably gothy, and exactly to my tastes.
"It's mostly original numbers," I say. I think I can feel a trickle of sweat run down from one armpit. I didn't expect to start heating up until I had the stage lights on me, but Gina is speeding up that particular schedule.
"Are you the songwriter?" she asks.
"Yeah. Well, there are a few covers, but I wrote the originals."
She sips her beer and sighs. "Yeah, I don't get to do much writing for Machine. I write my solos, but that's about it. Hopefully I get to do more down the road. Oh!" she suddenly exclaims. "You're married."
I look down at my left hand and realize for the first time that I had not removed my wedding ring since divorce proceedings started between my abominable Sheila and me.
I scratch my head. "Yeah, um. Well, kind of. Not really. We're going through a divorce right now actually." I grasp at the ring to pull it off, but since I haven't removed it in years, it doesn't budge. After gasping and yanking and making an idiot of myself for about thirty seconds, I look at Gina smile a foolish smile. "I guess I'll get that off later with some butter or something."
"I think it's sweet that you still wear it," Gina says. "You must still love her."
"Ahem. Yeah, I guess on some technical level I still do. Like 'on paper' I still love her. You know how you say 'on paper' the Leafs have the best team in the league, and then they take it up the ass all year long? It's like that. I still love her 'on paper.'"
"You sound bitter."
I shrug. "Maybe a little. Ever meet anyone with a broken heart who wasn't bitter?"
She raises her eyebrows. "Oh, she broke your heart, did she?"
I grin. "I'd tell you but I'm too bitter."
Gina laughs. "Nice."
"So what are you doing here?" I ask. "You didn't come for the show did you?"
"No," she says. "I didn't know this band was you. I'm meeting a friend and we're going to have a drink and then head somewhere else."
"You should stick around. I think our show should be worth a good laugh. We've only had a few practices with this drummer, and now he's as high as the Hubble Telescope. And Jason up there?well, you never know what will happen when Jason gets on stage."
"Like what?" she asks.
"Like me two-handing him with a bass guitar. No, I'm kidding. He's okay, but? oh, how can I put this? I wish I had spent more time auditioning him. I wish I had found someone more at your level."
Gina smiles. "I'm nothing special. I just try my best."
"Maybe. Let me know if you ever need to find new people to play with though."
"Oh, are you trying to recruit me now?"
I try and smile coyly, but I probably just look creepy. I was cute as a younger man, but in my late thirties most of my cute expressions just look sinister and disturbing. I finish the last set list and look back towards Jason, who looks like he's ready to go. "I should probably shut my mouth," I tell her. "The other Machine Within A Machine guys will probably take a hit out on me if they hear I'm trying to chat you up." I get up to go talk to Jason and Mark. "Anyway, stick around. I think we'll be starting around ten."
"Okay. I'll see what my friend thinks about listening to some stoned drumming."
"Cool." I take my notebook and head up to the stage. She said 'a friend' not 'my boyfriend,' and the difference gives me a tiny fragment of hope. Not that I have real hopes of anything happening with Gina, but the idea makes me feel warm inside. Walking towards Jason I close my eyes and try and remember an olfactory fragment of her scent, and think sweetly about burying my face into her neck.
"Here," I say, holding out a set list to Jason. He takes it and looks it over. "Does that look okay?"
"Sure," he says. "Have you got any tape?"
"No. Just put it on the stage in front of you and do your best not to trample it when you use all of your pedals. By the way, I've been meaning to ask: you barely use those things. Why do you bother stringing them out in front of you like that?"
"Because I paid for them, so I'm damn well going to have them here. Besides, they make me look like a serious player, don't you think?"
"No. Especially if someone notices you never use any of them. I used to know a guy who would play shows sitting on a stool, surrounded by twelve different guitars. We thought he was going to use a different guitar for every second song, but through his whole show he would only ever use two. Gig after gig though, he would haul out all these guitars."
"So we eventually pegged him for a poseur who just wanted to show off his guitar collection. If you want my advice, leave the ones you don't use at home."
He shakes his head and doesn't say anything, so I go to see how Mark is doing. I thought he was squatting back behind his kit, but he's nowhere to be seen. "Jason," I call to the guitar-star. "Where's Mark?"
"I don't know. The bathroom?"
"Fuck," I grumble and lay a set list across his snare drum. I turn back towards the bar, searching the crowd for Mark, but the first thing I notice is Gina talking to a tall young man, sharply dressed in a leather jacket with his hair slicked up into a demi-mohawk. Not a punk mohawk, but the trendy kind of mohawk that kids wear on American Idol. He's a good looking guy and he and Gina are standing close together talking. I see her put a hand on his cheek, and they look as though they are sharing a special, intimate moment. I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach, but try and focus. I've got a stoned and a.w.o.l. drummer to find, and we have to perform in half an hour.
I hop down off the stage and start slipping through the thickening crowd, hoping that Jason is right and I'll find Mark in the can. As I pass within an arm's reach of Gina and her male friend, I watch carefully out of the corner of my eye to see if she looks my way, but this newly arrived fellow has her full attention. The feeling sucks, to suddenly know that you have no chance with a girl, but it's a feeling that I should be used to by now.
When you're young and single, every pretty girl seems like a good option, and it seems that you could fall in love with every pretty face that walks by. Later when you get into a serious relationship and especially when you get married, you stop reacting to beautiful girls as though they are options. You still look, and you still enjoy their beauty, but unless you're a dirty, dirty dog, you don't think about getting together with them in anything more than a fantasy. Then, if it should happen that your marriage falls apart into a long, horrible battleground of sniping, undercutting and backstabbing followed by separation and divorce, you will begin to look at girls again, and the idea that you could get together with them returns. Unfortunately the little heartbreaks of learning that girls you like aren't available come back as well. But that's life: little heartbreaks scattered around the big ones.
I get to the back and find Mark at a table with half a dozen young people. "Taz!" he yells at me. "It's Taz! Come on over!"
I walk up to the table. "I'm Taz now?"
"Short for Terry like, aye mate?" Mark slaps my back. "These are me friends," he says as a way of introducing me to the motley gang sitting at the table. "This here's the leader of the band like. He's the singer."
"God, you're so old," says a redheaded girl in a hooded green jacket.
"Thanks, Ginger," I say. "I appreciate your honesty." Inside my head I continue talking. By the way Ginger: fuck you.
"No, I don't mean like, there's something wrong with you or anything-"
"Oh no," I say. "Nothing that mummification couldn't cure. Mark, we're on in half an hour or so. You'll be ready?"
He slides in close to me. "Actually Taz, I pretty stoned like, ken? I'm feeling pretty nervous, like fucked up kinda. Are you there with me, mate?"
"Don't sweat it man. Have you had anything to drink?"
"I got a pint."
"Take it easy on the booze. Once we start playing, you won't feel nervous, it'll just come easy. You're pretty baked, so don't drink too much and get all fucked up. Just be cool, okay?"
He nods, looking excited. "Cool, mate, cool. Clutch Dogs." He holds up his hand for me to grip.
I grab it and smile at him. "Just be cool man. We'll be all right. I'm going outside for a cigarette. Are you going to be here?"
"Yeah mate, I'll be here."
"Cool." I slip back out through the crowd, shaking my head at the sheer bloody rudeness of the redhead chick. Jason is talking to Gina and the guy. I decide I want nothing to do with that conversation, and walk out the front door.
To be continued?
2006 Nolan Whyte