The first time I met Ryan Endstrom he was getting beaten up in the parking lot of Gooch's, which is a bar where Garrison Valley University kids go to get pissed and hook up. I had a knot in my stomach from watching my newly minted ex-girlfriend making out with some art-douche, and I stepped outside to get some air.
This was in January, half-way through my first year of school, and it was cold, probably minus twenty. People don't go outside to fight in January in Canada; they fight in the bar. In March and April, on the first warm weekends of spring, the parking lots of Canadian bars look like mixed martial arts tournaments, but at minus twenty I was surprised to see two guys grabbing each other by the jackets.
Of course, it was none of my business. If two guys want to kick each other's heads in, that's up to them. They both seemed willing enough. But I was happy enough to drift over and watch, just to get my mind off what was going on inside the bar between Sash, my ex, and some short guy with an ironic handlebar moustache.
The two guys didn't notice me. They were arguing between some parked cars, shouting in each other's faces about the usual shit. "You think you're so cool?" and "Who the fuck do you think you are?" I didn't know what they were fighting about. One guy shouted "Get the fuck off me," and shoved the other guy back against the side of a truck, and then the fists started to go back and forth.
The guy who got shoved was bigger and he was definitely angrier, and pretty soon he had the other guy down on the ground. I walked around the cars to see. He had the dude on his ass and was punching him on the head.
The dude who was down rolled over to protect himself, and the bigger guy stood up and gave him a hard kick. It was on the leg, not in the gut, but it looked like it hurt enough. The kicker started shouting, "Get up, you asshole, I'm going kick your fucking ass," and he kicked him again, and that's when I decided to say something.
"Okay," I said, not shouting, but stepping close to them and talking loud enough to get his attention. "Okay, you won the fight. He's down. Time to leave him alone."
He straightened up, looking all red-faced and pissed off, and he gave me a furious look. "Why don't you fuck off?" he screamed. "Mind your own fucking business."
"Swear words don't scare me, man," I told him. "You won. It's over. Congratulations. Time to go."
He took a step towards me. "You want to fucking die?" he screamed, but I could see he was out of breath. I'm a big guy, solid six-foot-three, and I just stood there with a little smile on my face waiting for him to make a move. He waited a moment, turned to the guy on the ground, and screamed at him, telling him they were through, don't even ever talk to me again, blah, blah, blah, and then he turned and walked back into the bar.
The dude on the ground groaned. I helped him up. "Man, you got your ass kicked," I said.
"Yeah, thanks for the update," he said. He leaned against the car and rubbed his ass. "He kicked me in that nerve. What's it called, the sciatic nerve? Damn, that hurts." He looked around. "Where did he go?"
"Back into the bar. You going after him?"
He was a blond guy with shaggy hair, like a skinny surfer. Definitely not a fighter. He reached inside his jacket and brought a bent pack of cigarettes. "No. I better leave him alone. Shit, he broke my smokes." He started picking through the cigarettes looking for a whole one. "Are you going back in?"
"No," I said. "My ex is in there making out with some dude. I don't feel like watching that. Who is that guy anyway?"
He found a salvageable cigarette and put it in his mouth, then flicked the rest out onto the asphalt. "I'm in a band with him. Well, I guess I used to be in a band with him. That's over now. You want to grab a beer? I guess I owe you one."
"Yeah, I guess so." I looked around. Gooch's stood across from the campus, but except for apartment blocks and a few shops, there wasn't much in the area. "There aren't any other bars around here, are there?"
"No." He lit the cigarette. "I've got some beers in my fridge. Come on." He started to walk and let out a long groan as he put weight on his kicked leg. "Damn, I think he broke my ass."
We walked along the snow-covered sidewalk. Across the road was the Garrison Valley University campus. It was well lit at night, but on a Saturday night it looked dead and empty. It wasn't a bad school, but as one of Canada's smallest independent universities, it excelled at nothing but mediocrity. What would you expect though? Garrison Valley is a small city. Most people wouldn't expect it had a university at all.
"My name is Ryan," he said.
"You ever been in a band?"
"No," I said. "I don't play any instruments."
"Well, let me give you a piece of advice," he said. "If you ever join a band, whatever you do, don't let a girl come between you and the other guys. It's bad news." As though he needed to explain further, he felt his jaw, moving it back and forth.
"Is that what happened? Did you guys both go after the same chick?"
"Kind of," he said. "I asked his girlfriend if she wanted to stay over at my place some night, and she told him, and I guess he didn't like that. I can't blame him."
I laughed. "No, I don't think anyone could blame him. Why would you do that? Shit, that's just asking for trouble."
"I know." He sighed and flicked away the butt of the cigarette. "She's one of these chicks that's always touching you on the arm, and looking you in the eye when she's talking to you. I don't know, I thought she was into me or something. I haven't been laid in a while, you know? Sometimes you get kinda stupid. I had a few drinks and when he was in the can I made a suggestion."
"What did she do?"
"This is it," he said, pointing to one of the many three-storey apartment buildings around the campus, and we walked up the steps. "Yeah, she didn't like that," he said, carrying on with his story. "She smiled for like, two seconds, like she was trying to figure out what to say, right? Than she just says excuse me and walks off. She went right to find Davey, and he came right after me. We grabbed our coats to go outside and talk it over. Well, I guess that's about where you came in."
He led me up to a second floor apartment and let us in. It wasn't a bad place. It was messy, but that was typical of the student apartments I'd been in. There was a ratty couch and some old kitchen chairs around a long coffee table. There was a TV in one corner, but it was old and had stuff stacked up on it. In one corner there were some guitars leaning against the wall. I sat down on the couch.
The kitchen was attached to the living room and Ryan got a couple beers out of the fridge. "The shitty part is," he said, handing me a bottle, "Davey was actually teaching me guitar. I'm pretty new at it, you know, and I still suck. So now I've got no band and no teacher."
"Could be worse," I said, taking the cap off the beer. "I've been here since September, and basically the only person I've been hanging out with is my girlfriend. Then she dumps me last week, and now not only am I totally alone here, I can't even go to the bar without seeing her making out with some Eurotrash-moustache piece of shit."
"Hmm." He opened his beer and took a drink. "You look pretty bad-assed. You're a big guy. Why didn't you fuck him up? Throw him over the balcony or something?"
I shrugged and took a long drink. "No point, really," I said. "I mean, he didn't do anything wrong. He's just making out with some chick in the bar."
"Sure," Ryan said. "Unless she actually broke up with you because she was already seeing him behind your back. Did you think of that?"
"No. No way, man."
After that there was a long pause. I sat there thinking about Sash, and I guess Ryan was thinking about Davey and his broken-up band.
He spoke first. "Where did you meet her?" he asked.
"Yeah, it sucks trying to meet people," he said. "This is my second year, so I've got a crowd I hang with. You know what you should do? Learn an instrument and join a band. I swear dude, it's the best way to meet people."
"Maybe," I said and took another drink. I wasn't really paying attention.
Ryan went to the guitars in the corner. One was a big wooden acoustic. There was a small electric guitar, and a much bigger electric. He picked up the big fucker and sat down on a chair. "Do you know what this is?"
"I'm not retarded," I said. "It's a guitar."
"It's a bass," he said, and he started thumping on the thick strings with his thumb, making a low thrumming sound. "I went to a house party one night with a hundred bucks in my wallet, which was supposed to be grocery money for the whole month, right? Anyway, I ended up drinking a bunch of Jamaican rum that this guy had, that hundred-sixty proof stuff, and I got so wrecked that I completely blacked out. I woke up here the next morning and the money was gone. I figured someone rolled me for it, but when I came out to the living room, here was this bass on the couch. I bought it off some guy when I was drunk and I don't even remember."
He stopped talking and thumped out a line I recognized. It was "Smoke On The Water." He stopped playing and looked at me seriously. "I could teach you to play, man."
"Sure, whatever," I said. "You just said you're still learning. How could you teach me?"
"I'm still learning guitar, but bass is pretty easy. I'm telling you, we could put a band together. Practice for a few months, write some songs, and we could start playing around the university. It could be a lot of fun, you know? I'm telling you, it's good for meeting chicks."
I shook my head. "I don't even want to think about chicks right now. And besides, you don't know what kind of music I like, and I don't know what you like."
"We'll work it out. Here." He held the bass out for me. I gave him a skeptical shrug, but set my beer down on the table and took the big black thing, setting it in my lap and holding the neck. He picked up the acoustic guitar. "Hold it like this," he said, showing me how he held the neck. "Don't make a fist. Reach around with your fingers like this and pinch the first string down, five frets down... yeah, were the dot is. Now pick with your finger."
He showed me what to do, and I plucked the string, went one up, then two over, then back. Bam-bam, bing-bing, bang-bang, bing-bing. Then Ryan started singing: "Wild thing... you make my heart..."
I laughed out loud but kept playing, and he played along on the acoustic. It only went along for a minute, but it was a good laugh, and yeah, it seemed easy enough. We stopped, and I had a sip of beer. "Okay," I said at last. "Okay, I'll be in your band. Teach me to play."
2009 Nolan Whyte