I'm not sure what Conrad was like when he was living with Jasmine or any of his other friends. The idea I got was that he was just loud and crazy, but after having him in my place for a few days, I felt comfortable enough to get a second key cut.
Most days he would sleep really late on the couch, get up, eat some cereal, and at some point in the afternoon put on his coat and scarf and head downtown somewhere to stand outside, freezing his nuts off, trying to collect change.
And you have to remember that Garrison Valley is not a huge city. If he stood in the same place two days in a row, he would see the same faces two days in a row. The first day they would either ignore him or give him some change, but on the second day they would look at him like he was a snake. So he had to keep wandering around the city looking for new places that had pedestrian traffic on freezing cold January afternoons.
He was definitely a high energy guy. I got the idea after a few days that although he was fun after two drinks, more than three was a bad idea. Whatever he was collecting in change everyday, he was spending on wine. He would usually arrive back at the apartment with a bottle of cheap Chilean red, and give me and handful of whatever change he had left over, ostensibly to cover the cost of his food.
But when he had a good day and showed up with more booze, he could get a little kooky. One night he showed up with a two-liter carton of this sweet fruity wine, and not finding a glass big enough, poured the wine into a big spaghetti sauce jar that I had washed out for recycling. He filled it up, and since the wine tasted like alcoholic juice, he drank it quick.
Conrad poured me some as well, but since I was trying to cut down and keep everything a little more real, I only accepted a a half-full coffee mug of the purple stuff. Even so, he finished his before I finished mine, and pretty soon he was dance boxing in the middle of the living room, saying we should go downtown and "fuck shit up."
He could get pretty weird, but I generally slowed him down by acting tired and looking bored. It's the same way you'd turn off a girl that you liked for a little while, but then figured out that you didn't really like. She'd come around your place and you'd go to bed. Not like, you'd go to bed and invite her to come with you...you'd just say, "Shit, I'm tired," and then get in bed and go right to sleep. She'd sit there for a while and then leave. Maybe you'd hear her talking to your mom for a while in the living room, but sooner or later she'd go home, and you could get up and play Nintendo for a while.
Conrad was like that. You had to slow him down.
But he was into the idea of being in a band with me. He could sit and talk about songs he liked and wanted to play. He could talk about beats that he liked but couldn't quite play. He was good at that. He knew a lot of drummers that were better than him. He would sit while he was talking and slap his knees, trying to approximate beats, but the truth was, he was a better talker than he was a drummer.
I called Nick on January First and asked him if Conrad could use Jed's drums for a practice sessions. On the Third I called him again and asked if it was cool.
"Hey, Nick man. How's it going? You talk to Jed?" I was standing at the Seven-Eleven on Ninth Street, freezing my dick off at the pay phone because I was still on too thin a budget to afford a cell phone.
"Yeah, come on over man. Shit, Jed and his girlfriend are here most nights anyway. Come around after eight and you guys can jam."
"Yeah, man. You haven't met her? Oh man, Jed met this hot chick. You'll meet her."
I had to work a couple nights, but eventually I brought Conrad over to Nick's place, and sure enough, Jed was there. He didn't bring his hot girlfriend.
Conrad and I showed up at the front door. As per my habit, I didn't ring the bell, but just walked in. We stamped the snow off our shoes and looked into the living room. "Hey guys," I said. Nick and Jed were both there, chatting with Bertrand, the snotty dickhead that was living there back when I was still sleeping in the goddamn basement.
"Hey," said Nick. "Come on in."
We shook off the snow and stepped inside. "How's it going," I said, trying to play it casually. "This is Conrad."
"How the fuck's it going?" Conrad said.
"Pretty good," Jed said. "So Eric, you found a new drummer pretty fast."
"Yeah. Weird coincidence, huh?" I had both my bass and amp with me. I dragged them in, ready to haul them downstairs so Conrad and I could play. "Funny, huh?" I said. "We looked and looked when we were still a band, but as soon as we were broken up, BING! New drummer."
"Yeah, weird," Jed said. He was giving us a weird look.
"So," I said. "Everything cool?"
Jed shrugged. "Yeah, pretty cool," he said. "Go ahead and use my kit to jam, if you want. Do you have other players lined up?"
"No," I said. "This is all kind of a whim. We're just going to see if it goes anywhere."
We went downstairs. Jed's drum kit was down there, and as I'd hoped, his keyboard was there too, still sitting where it was the last time Riot Band practiced together. I pretended not to notice the keyboard and just paid attention to setting up my bass and amp. While Nick and Jed stood watching, Conrad started adjusting the drum kit to suit his size.
I was nervous before we started to play. While Conrad and I were supposed to be there just to jam, it was calculated on my part that Nick would watch, and that Jed would attend as well. As far as I was concerned, the whole thing was an audition, and if you don't know what I was auditioning for, then you haven't been paying attention. I was trying to lure both Nick and Jed back into the fold.
I never believed that Riot Band was done for. As far as I was concerned it was just on hold until I figured out a way to convince the others to play again.
Now here's the trick: this whole thing, this whole long mess starting from that fateful night in the parking lot at Gooch's when I stepped in and intervened to prevent Ryan from getting his ass kicked has been about my journey. Was that obvious? This whole long, mad affair, about me joining a band even before I knew how to play, learning, playing, fighting and fucking, meeting and losing girls, going through all this noisy obnoxious shit, was about me learning.
And I'd made a lot of mistakes. I'd been a horrible prick to people. I'd been arrogant and self-important, acting like I was something really fucking special when really, I was just a jerk who was still trying to learn how to get along with other people. Because one thing I hadn't learned up until this point was how to be a good friend and a good person.
I had a code of honor based on being "cool," but it was as malleable as putty, and I had a habit of shaping it to fit my mood. That was why it was acceptable for me to judge others, while still acting like a complete dick myself. Because my ethics and my honor were based on my whims. Whatever seemed acceptable at the time was good enough for me.
And it took my friends telling me to fuck off to realize that the way I'd behaved wasn't good enough. Jasmine smacking me across the face with a beer bottle hadn't gotten the point across because I was able to walk away and say, "Oh, she's crazy." But having Ryan and Jed both stop and say "Eric, you're being an asshole," got the message across loud and clear.
So bringing Conrad over to Nick's house was my way of saying, "Hey guys, I've learned something." Because if any one thing was an example of me being a complete and total asshole, it was the moment I sucker-punched Conrad. Yeah, he was a big freaky weirdo. But did he deserve to get decked? Not really. It was a shameful act of arrogant violence, a moment of me saying, "I deserve to be able to hit him, because I'm better than him."
Bringing him to Nick's house was my way of saying that I'm not better than anybody. I wanted to show Jed not only that Conrad and I could play well together, but also that I was different than I was before. I wanted to show him that I wasn't there to be a big cocky asshole. I just wanted to play.
Conrad banged his sticks together and we started thumping. It was messy shit. We'd only played together once, at Lise's New Year's party. I played a quick-fire bass line I'd picked up from one of the mix CDs that Jasmine had made for me way back when. It was a four note progression of G, D, A and E, from the song "City of Angels" by The Distillers. It wasn't a song I loved, but I had a reason to play it. The whole thing was calculated.
It was a song I knew we could play on and on. I started out thumping out the line and Conrad joined in, providing a simple beat. And after banging it out together for a while I started singing, yelping out the words that I'd memorized for the occasion.
I knew how this was going to go. Conrad and I were playing a simple, catchy progression, and Jed was standing there watching, only two paces away from the keyboard that he had been aching to play in Riot Band. I knew he would want to join in. We played the song through, and I was on the verge of starting over when Jed finally came over to the keyboard, switched it on and started playing along to the four-chord number.
We jammed it a while longer, and then I looked over at Conrad and started nodding to him slowly, indicating that he should slow it down. I changed the chords and started shouting out, "I'm so messed up, I want you here..."
Jed started playing an ear-piercing attack of feedback, screeching on the board, while screaming back at me, "In my room, I want you...near..."
And then, without needing to say anything more we were reborn as a sinister unborn mutant noise rock version of The Stooges, shrieking out our discordant hate-fuck version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." It was the art-rock sonic assault that I knew Jed had been dying to make all the time that he'd been shackled to the drum kit. With Conrad thumping out the beats, he was free to play whatever whacked-out shit he wanted. And I knew I had my band back.
With Nick standing back, occasionally covering his ears but smiling all the while, Jed, Conrad and I plowed through a thirty minute unplanned jam, knocking the living hell out of seven unsuspecting songs, three of which hadn't even been written yet.
When it was over, I nodded to Jed. "So?" I said. "Do you want to be in our band?"
He smiled. "That depends," he said. "Are we going to get a guitarist?"
"We might as well," I said, smiling. "Do you know anyone that might be available?"
"I might," he said. "But he might take some convincing."
2010, Nolan Whyte