I wake up ugly and hung over. The phone is ringing. I creep across the bed and fumble with the receiver. Yeah. Hello.
Hi there, this is the front desk. Your check out time was eleven o'clock. It's now eleven fifteen. Can we expect you soon?
Um, yeah. No problem. Five more minutes. I hang up and look around. I'm on a bed in a crappy hotel room. The wallpaper is drab and vaguely vomit-colored. On the other bed Jason is spooning an underwear-clad Mark. For the first time on the trip I really, really wish that I had brought a camera.
Guys, I say as loudly as my dry, croaking throat can manage. Guys, wake up.
Hmmm? Mark notices the arm wrapped around him. Git tae fuck! He rolls away from Jason and off the bed, landing with a thump on the floor. Jason raises his head. He has a hard time blinking his eyes open.
"Time to go, Guitar-Star. We missed our check out time." I push the blankets off. I fell asleep in my clothes and they are wet with sweat. "Gross," I mutter.
The phone rings again. I grab the receiver. "Okay, we're coming."
"What? Terry, it's Gina."
"Shit, you should have called us earlier. We missed our check-out time."
"Oh god, Terry, is this the first time you've stayed in a hotel?"
I sigh. Okay, that was a stupid thing for me to say. "Are you guys ready?" I ask her.
"We'll come around in about ten minutes. Will you guys be in the parking lot?"
"Yeah. We'll go from there to get coffee and shit."
"No," she says. "Shit before you leave the hotel."
"What?" My brain is working very slowly. "Oh, I get it. Funny. All right, see you in ten."
I hang up. Mark is buckling his belt. Jason is sitting on the side of the bed.
"I'm hurting," he says. "I'm a hurting unit. Rough. I feel rough. Did we drink enough last night? Christ, what a blur. We fought them last night, didn't we? I put Dave in a headlock. And you," he says to Mark. "You're something else, aren't you? I think that was probably the craziest thing I've ever seen. Jumping on stage to attack the band. When we get big we'll have to hire a lot of security so our opening acts don't climb on stage to attack us."
I get up and walk to the bathroom. Jason keeps talking: "But we had plenty to drink. And the crowd was on our side. That's it, isn't it? That's the thing, most people are idiots, but people can tell who's an asshole and who isn't. Or at least they can tell the right kind of asshole. Take a guy like Terry. Hey, Terry," he calls to me.
"What?" I'm pissing, but with the door open I can hear every word he says.
"You're an asshole, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess sometimes I am."
"Exactly," he continues. "Terry's a complete asshole, but he's the right kind of asshole, and people can tell if you're the right kind of asshole or just a piece of shit like, um. God, we had a lot to drink didn't we? What's his name?"
"Wayne," says Mark.
I flush, wash my hands and rub water into my face. The cut on my nose looks raw, like chewed meat. I wish I could go a day without cutting it open again. I dry my hands and walk back into the room.
"I think I might be sick," says Jason. "We should stop somewhere and get a big breakfast. Like a really huge breakfast, like, double cheeseburgers. Not fast food stuff, but greasy spoon road-side restaurant burgers the size of your head. If we could get burgers like that in a strip bar, that would be best. Burgers and naked women. That's what would make me feel better right now."
"It's wrong to view women as objects," I say with a straight face. "But that aside, I like where you're coming from this morning, Guitar-Star. Being hung over seems to agree with you. We'll have to get you hung over more often."
Mark, also looking wasted, gives me a more serious look. "So what's the score now, Taz? Are we going on, like, or are we finished?"
Jason looks at him and the silly, joking expression leaves his face. He looks at me expectantly.
"Okay guys," I say. "Here it is. We've got two choices. First, we can go home. Second, we can keep going, with a few minor changes to the arrangements."
"What changes?" Mark asks.
"Machine Within A Machine has split up. Dave and Wayne are taking their van and driving back to Toronto. Gina and Matt are willing to carry on the tour, but we would have to take them in our van."
"That would be tight, mate."
"Just the two of them are going to play?" asks Jason.
"I'm going to fill in on bass," I tell them. I shrug. "It's either that or we head home."
"Well," says Jason. "That makes it easy, doesn't it?"
Mark nods. "Aye."
We grab our gear and bags and head down the stairs to the lobby. The woman behind the desk takes our keys. She's a heavy woman in her fifties with colored hair and pronounced bags under her eyes.
"We'll need our money from the show last night," I tell her.
She pauses and gives me a long look. "I don't know anything about that," she says. "If you didn't settle up with the bar last night, you'll have to deal with them. We run the hotel separately."
I shake my head. "No, Jeff, the manager, said that we could pick up our money at the front desk when we checked out this morning. He was very specific."
She gives me another long look and then picks up the phone. She dials out, waits, and then starts asking someone on the other end about it. In a moment she hangs up.
"Nope," she says with finality. "You'll have to deal with the bar. Here's your bill. Is that on a credit card?"
I shake my head. "No, it's not. Our room was supposed to come out of the money for the show. Well, originally it was supposed to be on the house, but then he changed his mind and said it was coming out of our pay. Which you're supposed to have."
She sighs a big sigh like she's talking to an imbecile. "And we've already established that I don't have it. And I don't know anything about your room being paid for. If you want to talk to them about it, go ahead, but either way, this room needs to be paid for."
"Okay. I'll go talk to the bar." I leave Jason and Matt waiting and head into The Inn-Towner's bar. It's not busy. I few old boys have dropped in for lunch and the big screen is showing horse racing. The guy behind the bar hadn't been there last night.
"I need to talk to Jeff," I tell him.
"He's not in." The guy consults a schedule under the bar and then tells me Jeff will be in at eight o'clock tonight.
"I'm with the band from last night. We need our money. Who else can I talk to?"
"Just Jeff. You'll have to wait."
"I can't wait; I need to drive to Winnipeg. Call him at home."
He laughs. "No way. You'll just have to wait."
Slowly, with angry calm I repeat: "I can't wait. I need to drive to Winnipeg."
He shrugs big muscular shoulders. "I guess you're screwed then, aren't you?"
"Damnit," I mutter and walk back out to the lobby. "Okay guys," I tell the boys. "They've cheated us. They won't pay us and Jeff isn't back in here until eight o'clock."
They stand still for a moment. Jason closes his eyes and puts his hands up in the air. "Jesus Christ, what the fuck," he says.
"Calm, down," I tell him. "That's the name of our lord you're taking in vain." He looks at me really hard, trying to figure out whether or not I'm joking.
"So what do we do?" asks Mark. "Our gig in Winnipeg isn't until tomorrow night. Do we wait here all day? We could drive there tomorrow."
"I don't know." I shake my head. "I don't know. I'm sick of making decisions. What do you guys think we should do?"
Jason stands with his hands in his pockets. "Let's pay for the room," he says. "The maybe we'll see what Gina and Matt say about sticking around until tonight."
"Aye. Sounds good," says Mark.
I nod and dig the money for the room out of the band's profits. The woman takes the cash and gives me change and a receipt. We pick up our stuff and carry it out to our van. Machine Within a Machine's van is parked in the lot. Gina and Matt are standing next to it with all of their gear sitting in a pile. We see them and wave.
Jason, Mark and I drop our stuff next to our own van and walk over to where they are waiting. I can see Wayne is sitting behind the wheel of the van and Dave is sitting next to him. They are both wearing sunglasses, trying to look hard and angry and defiant. I'm fairly certain they both feel miserable. I bet they both regret saying they would go home. I bet they both feel like quitters.
I walk up to Gina and Matt and shake each of their hands. Jason and Matt follow suit, and we have a very congenial moment, right there in front of Wayne and Dave.
Matt turns to the occupants of the quitter's van. "Okay guys," he says. "I guess we're set. I guess we'll see you back in T.O."
"Don't count on it," Wayne says. He starts the van. I feel the urge to make a smart comment to him, tell him that if he doesn't have the head or the heart to survive the road, but I keep quiet. This moment isn't about me or The Clutch Dogs. It's about Machine Within A Machine breaking up, with half the group abandoning the name and running home and the other half pledging to carry on, rebuild the band and make a go of it no matter how cramped, uncomfortable and difficult it may turn out to be. It strikes me as funny that the two guys driving home together are the ones whose fight destroyed the group. I can't imagine anything in the world more uncomfortable than the drive Wayne and Dave have ahead of them. And that drive is almost twenty hours long.
Matt, Gina, Mark, Jason and I each pick up pieces of Matt and Gina's gear to carry over to The Clutch Dogs' van. Wayne puts Machine Within A Machine's van in gear and they back up, turn and drive out of The Inn-Towner's parking lot, starting off down the highway heading east. And just like that, it's not Machine Within A Machine's van anymore; it's an ambulance carrying two casualties of the road back home to recover in their own beds and wonder why they failed. We watch them go. No one says a word. We load our van.
2007 Nolan Whyte