The next afternoon, after a trip to the storage facility to retrieve my beat to sh-t Warwick four-string, I'm sitting inside a bus shelter waiting for Brea, anxiety high and patience low. I check my watch, frown, light up a smoke - not my first of the day - and scribble a few idle thoughts down on the small notepad I always seem to have with me wherever I go.
Twenty minutes since she was supposed to meet me to go meet this chick bassist and not even a courtesy text. The temptation to just get up and go on without her is strong. Part of me knows better.
Every minute that passes, I feel myself getting angrier, to the point where I have to consciously tell myself to cool it. I don't know whether it's the lack of shows, all the drama that's been following the band around like a lost puppy or the sudden influx of flamers to my blog that's put me in a sh-tty mood today but whatever the reason, I don't like it.
Reception of my Systex article was met with many a response - none of them encouraging - and regret on my end for wasting half the morning reading a handful of them. Deep down, I wonder if there may be truth to these masochist thoughts, spitting in the face of logic and walking the fool's path in spite of prior experience begging not to.
Maybe I've got this all wrong. Can so many people all be wrong? Maybe, or is that just another lie I'm trying to tell myself?
A bus pulls alongside the curb, slows to a stop. The fifth since arriving there over half-an-hour ago. I put the notebook away in my jacket pocket, running the pen through its plastic coils as Brea emerges from the back doors, hood drawn up tight over her head, hands deep in the pockets, avoiding eye contact. "Finally," I say, standing, grabbing my case off the concrete. "Three-thirty, you said. What the hell kept you?"
She's sullen in her response. "What, you never been late before? Sh-t happens."
"Fine, but a heads-up would have been appreciated. What kept you?"
"Dealing with stuff. Let's go." As she storms past me, I notice the distinct redness in her eyes that I spotted yesterday. Now it seems to spread across half her face like a shadow, along with a spiked metal loop dangling from each corner of her lower lip that weren't there yesterday. Questions begin to pop up in my mind as I keep standing there under the shelter, watching her get a good distance ahead of me before I break into a quick pace to try and keep up.
I try to break the silence. "Did it hurt?"
She freezes for a moment. "What?"
"That," I say, pointing to her lip.
"What do you think?"
My own bad mood is getting worse. "I was only asking, no need to bite my head off. Wish I hadn't bothered now."
"Sorry," she says, not sounding like she means it, "rough day."
"Yeah, I'm getting that feeling. You didn't have to come with if you're so..." I force myself to watch my words. The last thing I need is her crying off to Billy about how I cussed her out.
"... if you're having a bad day. I can handle this myself. If you're here because Billy doesn't trust me, he can relax. Let alone his paranoid insistence, I've better things to do than try to steal control of the band - or anything else - from under his nose."
Brea speaks more softly, kind of like the other morning, sounding almost tired of life. "Well, he can learn to share." That raises more questions I decide are not worth asking, not now. "So let me get this straight," she says, changing the subject. "You're somehow hoping to convince bass girl to come play with us by ... what, exactly? Faking being an inept idiot like Tommy?"
"Please," I groan. "You'd have to stick one of those Pro Mark's of yours in one of my ears and keep pushing till it pops out the other before my playing goes that bad." I quickly tag on, "It still wasn't a dumb idea."
A grunt is her only form of response. Better quit while I'm ahead, I figure. Neither of us say anything else as we turn onto a quiet street, walking into a picturesque neighborhood you sometimes see on the cover of "Better Homes & Gardens." Cars line the curb as far as the eye can see, but there's no sign of another human being for blocks. It's as if everyone all at once got out of their cars, started walking and simply vanished. Creepy.
Even though I've got the address written down in my notebook, I can tell right away which house we're meant to be looking for. A large, homemade banner hangs from a balcony railing on a white-panelled two-storey house at the tail end of the cul-de-sac, a near-duplicate of the ad, right down to the lettering. The only difference is a large bass clef painted in the left hand corner, thorns coiling around it.
There's a strange, rhythmic buzzing coming from somewhere inside the house, it gets louder as we walk up to the front door. It takes about four knocks, each one increasing in volume until someone comes to answer. The large door swings open and I'm greeted by two things: a tall redhead wearing torn jeans and a tank-top that complements her well-toned curves, and a terrific racket coming through the closed door behind her. It sounds like what sounds like someone breaking glass with a wooden box while a guitar wails out a solo I cannot identify.
The redheaded girl looks at the two of us, draws her hair back in a ponytail and greets us with a simple, "Yeah?" folding her arms across her chest.
All I can do is stare at her and say, "Hi." At the edge of my peripheral, I spot Brea rolling her eyes. The redhead stares at me, unimpressed. I try again: "I uh, called you yesterday about your ad?" I motion to my case in hand, and a look of understanding comes over her face.
"Oh yeah, so you're the Mallory guy, huh?" She holds out a hand, black fingernails leaping out against from peaches and cream colored skin like ellipses on a blank page. "Lindsay Wagner." She actually pronounces it like the composer, putting emphasis on the "V": Vagner instead of Wagner. I smiled at that.
"Actually it's Josh but call me Mallory anyways if you want, most people do - that or Jay." I don't know if she registers this or not, she seems preoccupied, eyeing my case.
"See you got your instrument with you. Good. We're halfway there. Some of these idiots forget to bring it with them if you can believe that." Given our suffering session with Tommy the Poseur the day before, I'm ready to believe anything. Lindsay notices that I'm not alone. Her eyebrow slowly climbs her forehead while she looks Brea over. Brea registers no emotional interest in any of this. "Well. Brought your girlfriend along with you, huh?" she asks. "Cute. Well, the more, the merrier."
"She's not my girlfriend," I say quickly. "She's the drummer for our band, sort of."
Brea looks at me through narrowed eyes as if to say "What do you mean, 'sort of?'" and introduces herself. Lindsay still looks amused as she invites us both in, directing us down a set of unfinished stairs to a carpeted basement clad with posters and flags from every heavy metal band since the inception of modern music. A heavy-duty stereo sits against the wall, blasting early Iron Maiden at an incredible volume while a blurred figure sits behind a weathered drum kit, keeping up with the beat. Brea holds her hands over her ears as Lindsay points to a simple amp setup, reaching out and flicking a switch on the stereo before disappearing around a corner.
The music dies at once. The drummer continues playing for a moment until it dawns on him that Bruce Dickinson and company have been dismissed. He stops swinging, pinches one of the cymbals to stop its ringing and looks up, sweat rolling down his face in streams.
"Hey!" he says, "What the hell, Linds? I almost had that down pat!" That's when he notices he's no longer alone. Our eyes meet. Recognition hits. It's the spike-headed liquor loving stranger from our table at Funky's the other night. Only his hair is a limp, shaggy, sweaty mess this time.
"Holy crap! I know you! Blogger boy!"
"Yeah, yeah, how's it going? K, right?" He nods, suggesting that Kevin is also an option for form of address. He says a hello to Brea, who nods and lifts a hand in greeting. "You had quite a beat going there, I'm impressed."
"I'm getting there. I never really was one for things with strings growing up. So you're the lesson, huh? I thought you were already in a band?"
"It doesn't mean a guy still can't learn." Brea smirks to herself and drops down on a couch sitting beneath a privacy window. "You guys one, too?" I nod towards the hall where Lindsay's disappeared down.
Kevin steals a large gasp of air and wipes sweat back across his hair with both hands. "What, a band you mean? Eh, not exactly. We used to but half the talent dropped out before we could even record a demo. Can't do much with just drum and bass and nobody else we know has got either the desire or talent to stick around and I'm not exactly willing to keep placing ads only to be jerked around by losers. I learned that from my brother."
"Hey, you never know. A live drum and bass would sound a hell of a lot better than half the hip-hop crap out there these days." Kevin chuckles and dips his head, indicating a touché.
Lindsay returns with her bass, a smooth blue five-string, and all thought is expunged. She plugs into a large Marshall amp and checks for tuning. When she sees the Warwick in my hands, she makes a sour face. "Ouch. Maybe it would have been better if you'd forgotten it after all." I can see Brea covering her mouth, in between giggles.
I lift my hands in the air. "What do you expect from pawn shops? I gotta have something to play. It's better than nothing."
"I guess. Why don't you show me what you already know to start off with?"
I agree and begin to play, feeling stupid since I already know I can. Within a few minutes, it becomes clear that Lindsay knows I don't need lessons, her face showing a mixture of anger and something else I can't quite identify; something antithetical to anger.
Kevin the Drummer can't sit idle for long and soon jumps in with a complex pattern that makes my extended solo pale in comparison. I quickly out-do him, my fingers moving faster, the pick striking the strings harder, producing a metallic popping Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers was known to favor. The dummy amp makes it sound like I'm playing through a tin can. This one-upmanship continues until Lindsay yells for us to knock it off. Kevin and I exchange glances as my heartbeat pulses in my ears. There is admiration, respect in his eyes. I hope I do a good job conveying the same.
"Alright," Lindsay says once the racket dies down, "just how full of sh-t are you?"
The question rattles me. "I'm sorry?"
"Lessons, my a-s." The words hiss as she crosses her arms. "Nobody who's in a band needs lessons from an unknown like me."
Warmth crawls up my face. "You overheard that, huh?" I ask, feeling stupider.
"It's a small basement. The walls are thin. You got some talent, don't get me wrong. The only question I have is why waste both our times if it's not lessons you're after?"
So often, I have wondered why every time you're in the crosshairs, the human mind loses all ability to form rational sentences? You go to speak and instead end up babbling "uh" and "um" over and over like some kind of incantation that may grant you eloquence at any moment. Sometimes it's better to just silently stand there, watch the seconds roll by on the clock and hope for a better outcome.
"We just fired our bassist," I say, "Long story. And when I was out putting up posters, I saw your ad on one of the poles and I remember thinking anyone talented enough to be offering bass lessons belongs in a band, so I don't know, I just thought..."
"You just thought what," Lindsay interrupts, "show up at my house and try to recruit me?" She looks bewildered, like I've just coughed up a marriage proposal. "I mean, I don't get it. You clearly got the skills, just play it yourself."
"It's not that simple. I'm already committed to my guitar, and I'm not interested in switching."
Lindsay shakes her head. "Man, I've had some weird things happen before, but this..." She trails off, throwing her hands up in the air. It's hard to tell whether she's angry or just stunned. Either doesn't bode well for me. I get the feeling my welcome is wearing out and fast.
"Right, I get the point." I unplug the Warwick and lay it in the case before winding up the patch cord. "I'll just gather my stuff and get lost and you can pretend this never happened."
"Whoa! Hang on a sec, Linds." Kevin the Drummer pops up from his stool, laying down his drumsticks. "Let's not jump the gun here. This might not be such a bad thing." Kevin has the attention of the entire room, even Brea, who hasn't been looking too interested in much since playing got underway.
"What are you talking about?" she asks. I'm wondering the same thing.
"Well think about it. He's got his hands full with a guitar, so to speak and God knows you've been frustrated with the lack of committed players whenever someone bothers to ask about lessons."
"So, why not give these guys a try? What's it gonna cost you besides a couple hours?"
Lindsay frowns. "I don't know. The whole thing's just so weird." Don't I know it.
"And besides," she adds, "what about Ravenclaw? If I go, where does that leave you?"
"Far as I'm concerned, it's dead in the water. Look where we've come so far." I assume that Ravenclaw is the work in progress Kevin referred to in passing earlier. "Hey, who knows?" he says with a grin. "Maybe their drummer's a loser too and they're also looking for someone to replace him."
Brea looks alive again, sitting up and letting out a scornful laugh. "Speak for yourself pal! That job's spoken for."
Kevin seems to find this very funny because his grin stretches wider. "I take it back. Whatever. I can go back to giving lessons of my own. I still say you should go for it."
Lindsay acknowledges his point but continues to sound reluctant, claiming it something she needs to think about more. To my mind, this translates as an attempt to say no without having to actually speak the word while trying to save face. I am motivated to speed up in my packing and departure.
"Hey, well, like I said, it's just a thought I had. If you decide you're interested, we meet for practice on Thursday. You got my number. Feel free to swing by and check us out." I give her the address and leave soon after, exchanging another respectful glance with Kevin while heading up the stairs.
Although we were barely in the house an hour, it's already starting to get dark outside, the moon a faint sliver cradling above the surrounding forest. Lights begin to snap on through the windows of a handful of houses with bright suddenness. The walk towards the bus stop feels longer than it did when we were first walking towards the house.
"Well," Brea says in a flat voice. "That was fun." She looks right at me without a trace of a smile. Nothing else needs to be said as we walk.
Sometimes it's the moments of total silence where the voice of reason speaks the loudest. In my head, I'm beginning to paint out all the possible ways we can keep our songs without having to start all over or hire a second guitarist as I try to get used to the idea of my future as Dichotomy of Mind's reluctant bassist. In the movies, the reluctant one often ends up being the hero who finds the only way out of a no-win scenario that saves the entire party, even if it means sacrificing himself in the process.
Here is one of the many cold, hard truths about life: Nobody is ever "the reluctant hero" in real life, and things never play out like the movies.
It's late at night. I don't know the exact time. The clock is far across the room, its neon face turned towards the wall, casting a queer red shadow against the dark. I'm lying in my bed, staring up at the spackled ceiling, hands folded underneath my head.
In spite of physical exhaustion, sleep eludes me once more. All the thoughts and stresses of the past few weeks have finally quieted after racing through my mind for hours and for the moment have settled, like sediment on the ocean floor. The tired body groans in the soft confines of the mattress as I close my eyes, not for the first time by far, and try to wish myself into sleep. Doctors everywhere have said more than once that the human mind cannot force itself to go to sleep and while I know they're right, this bit of knowledge never seems to prevent me from trying, from hoping that despite all the odds stacked against me, perhaps this one time might prove me to be the exception. How many others trapped within the silent prison walls of insomnia tell themselves the same lie?
"The light blinds those in the darkness."
My eyes snap open at the sound of the voice. Thinking that someone is nearby, whispering me awake, I sit up and look out across the small bedroom, afraid of what might be, since I've lived alone for too long and rarely have visitors. All I find is darkness. With hesitation, I climb out of bed and tiptoe across the floor, opening the door ever so slowly, peering through the narrow slit into the apartment while my ever supportive mind paints a picture of shadows moving through the room, snatching valuables (what valuables? Ha-ha) off the shelf and stuffing them into bags and pockets.
Everything I can see through the veil of moonlight peeking through the sliver between my curtains is in its place as it should be. Even though I stopped believing in the boogeyman a long time ago, I still feel relief come over me. But where did this voice come from? I know I heard it... I think.
I grab a glass from one of the cupboards and fill it with water from the faucet in the kitchen sink, swallowing the cold liquid in four long swallows, wiping a stray dribble off my chin and putting the glass on the counter before trying to make another go of catching a few Z's.
I decide to leave the bedroom door open. Just in case.
The little screen on my phone is blinking when I step out of the shower the next morning. Wrapping a towel around my waist, I cross the room to the side table against the wall nearest the front door and look down at the little screen: "1 new voicemail." I reach out and stab at the voicemail button with a pointed finger. The electronic voice speaks to me in its usual no-nonsense tone. "Today. At. Seven. Twenty. Three. AM."
"Hey blogger boy, it's Kevin. The drummer from yesterday, you remember? Anyways, I got your number from Lindsay, we both got to talking after you and your girlfriend left and we had a thought. You got talent on that bass, man. You shouldn't be wasting your time with a guitar. So I was thinking... I dunno, you'll probably think I'm full of sh-t, but... I don't suppose we can convince you to find someone to take your spot and you come join us? Our band, that is."
There's a pause. It lasts a long time, to the point that I expect to hear the sound of the receiver hanging up any second. But then he continues with, "Well anyways, it's a thought. Think about it, huh? And call me back when you get a chance, my number's 604-312-8016. Thanks, uh, later!"
The end of message voice begins to speak, snapping me out of what feels like a strange dream. I don't know what I'm supposed to think or feel about this. My first thought is wondering why he's bothering to call so early. The life of a musician is not synonymous with early rising. The second thought: press the delete button. Quit my band to form a new one with a guy I barely know and a girl who for all intents and purposes probably thinks me a right creep, a band that I thought was dead in the water, weren't those his exact words? And what the hell kind of name is Ravenclaw anyways? Granted though, Dichotomy of Mind is hardly the gold standard when it comes to naming a band.
(It's not "your band" and you know it...) Good morning to you, little voice.
Let sleeping dogs lie, I think. I have enough problems to worry about, God knows there's more just around the corner. Murphy's Law makes sure of that. Let the little drummer boy sort his own problems out.
I change and make for Cage to open up and get the till ready for Art before the day's real work begins. There's a blank wall on a vacant warehouse opposite Powell Street that's been begging for some LocalFest artwork.