I smoked up with my degenerate roommates when I got home, and then retired to my closet with the bass and my new instructional book. With a head full of hash I fumbled around, trying to learn the notes. Eventually I went into some half-retarded one man jam session. I tried out different bass lines, sometimes taking cues from the examples provided in the book, and sometimes just trying to make cool sounds. I laughed out loud a few times as I sat in the tiny space with the bass almost straight up in my lap, playing away with an idiot grin on my face.
It was all good fun, but I stayed up too late. It was a struggle to get out of bed at seven-thirty the next morning to make coffee and head to class.
First up was Economics. The class was boring at the best of times, and that morning I had some serious focus issues. While Doctor Klein was at the front explaining why Milton Friedman was basically a Nobel Prize-winning mass murderer, I was drawing pictures in the back pages of my notebook of Ryan, Jed and me, playing our instruments and wearing grotesquely over-indulgent stage costumes. It was part KISS, part battle armor, and part acid trip gone horribly wrong. For additional flavor I added Boba Fett on saxophone and Soundwave on keyboards.
Down the side of the page I started a list of possible band names, which was something we hadn't talked about yet. I don't know why it hadn't come up; I thought it was usually the first thing that was discussed, in some stereotypical cart-before-the-horse tradition. Cool name first, band later. Maybe Ryan had some awesome or tragically stupid name that his heart was set on, and he was waiting for just the right moment to mention it. Jed seemed like the kind of guy who would have fifty names ready to go. I hadn't given it any thought so far.
My own concept for the band, from that first night Ryan had shown me the bass, had been a simple, straightforward group that would get up on stage and play, without corny special effects or lame costumes. We would wear the same clothes that we wore on the street. We wouldn't put on an act. We would just play. Noble, right? And our name would have to fit that style: unpretentious. Simple. Working class.
But, in the strung-out, overtired mood I was in, I started making up names to match the ridiculous picture I had drawn: Insane Blood Demons. Blazing Guns of Satan. El Capitano Retardo. Towers Open Fire. The Inter-Dimensional Goat Herd. It got a little silly, but it passed the time until the end of class.
That afternoon, in a still crusty but more highly caffeinated mood, I ran into Nick. We were both on the way to English class, and we took our time while the other students headed into the vacant classroom.
Give any more thought to playing the house party? he asked, as we stood around in the hall.
Yeah, I'll do it, I said, stifling a yawn. I'm sure Ryan will do it. I think it's just Jed who doesn't want to. I can't blame him, though. We really don't have any proper material. But if we can get four or five decent songs ready, I'm sure he'll do it.
Nick nodded. He had his sunglasses perched on top of his head, and as usual, he was dressed in black. I was starting to think he was a bit of a hipster as well. I need to know soon either way, he said. I want to make up some posters. You guys don't have a name, do you?
No, I said. I was thinking about that this morning.
Come up with anything?
No. I checked my watch. What about the other band. What are they called?
I laughed. Really? That's awful.
Nick shrugged. Yeah, but most band names suck. Ever hear a good name?
Bob Dylan, I said with a grin. That's a good name. Or maybe The Bob Dylans. Is anyone using that?
He looked at me for a long second. I'll look into it, he said in a deadpan voice. We went into the classroom and sat down.
* * * *
After class I dragged my tired ass over to The Bean Machine. I got a huge cup of coffee, and sat down at a table to study. I filled in some blanks in my German assignments, read over some dialogues, and started to drift off. Eventually I gave up and closed the books, and soon I was drawing in my notebook again, sketching another band. Predator was on bass, Alien (from Alien) was on guitar, and a horned squid-beast was on drums. I was adding suction cups to the drummer's tentacles when I felt someone looming over me, peaking over my shoulder. Long hair tickled my neck.
Very nice, a girl said.
I turned and looked. She was blonde. Thin. Pretty. She had dark eye shadow and a pale complexion, with a blue hooded jacket and a green army-style bag slung over her shoulder. I knew her. Her name was...
Jasmine, I said, half guessing. From the party the other night.
Well done, she said, moving around and taking the chair across the table from me. I wasn't sure if we would bump into each other again. Eric, right?
I nodded. The last I saw of you, you were shouting at some guys in the front yard, I said.
Yeah, my proudest moment, she said. That party got psycho at the end. Some guy was being a real dick-hole, but to be honest, I couldn't even tell you what it was all about. I was a mess. What are you working on there? Album cover?
I looked down at the picture of the alien band. Nah. YouTube has destroyed my attention span, and I can't focus on studying. I always sit and draw little pictures when I'm drifting off. I closed the notebook. It's just silly shit.
She opened her bag and pulled out a black hardcover sketchbook. I do the same thing, she said. She passed the book over to me, and I flipped through it. It was full of black ink drawings, faces, monsters, repeated patterns, figures, words, everything. It was like a black and white compendium of some disturbed subconscious.
I stopped at a page with some nude figures, male and female, all tangled together. Cool, I said.
Thanks. So, what's going on with your band? she said, directing the conversation toward the only thing she knew about me.
Pretty good, I said. I think we've found a drummer who will work out.
That's good, she said, and then added sympathetically, You guys were pretty weak without one.
Yeah. I smiled and nodded, pausing too long. I lacked the energy to say anything else or ask questions in response to maintain flow in the conversation. I thought small talk of this type would come easier to me if there were drinks on the table. Then I thought I was relying too much on alcohol. I flipped a few pages of the sketchbook.
So, she said, trying again to open a conversation, what's a problem that you have?
I stopped flipping pages and looked up at her. What?
I solve problems for people, she said, putting her foot up on her chair and resting an elbow on her knee. What's a problem that you have?
I grinned. It seemed very silly, but I could see she was being sincere, if not slightly teasing. If this was another way to draw me into conversation, it was one I hadn't heard before. What, any kind of problem?
Well, not like, cancer or something, she said, shifting again in her chair. Just something you need help figuring out. I'll help you. It's a skill I have.
Okay, I said. Sure, you can solve a problem for me. How about this. I'm in this band, right? So I should be listening to music. Any music, whatever, right? These guys say that they want to play a song, I should be able to listen to the song.
So, I don't have anything I can use to listen to music. I've got a shitty stereo back at my folk's place, but I'm not going home until summer.
She shrugged. Don't you have an MP3 player?
So let's go get you one. You have a computer, right? I shook my head and her jaw dropped in shock. You don't have a computer? God, how do you live?
I do my email and type up my assignments in the campus computer labs.
She shook her head and stood up, holding a hand out for me to come with her. You poor thing. Come on, we'll find something for you.
I shrugged and smiled, slamming the notebook shut. I put my books in my bag and got up. What the hell would you do? I went with her.
We took a bus across town to Garrison Valley's lame-ass mall and went into the electronics store. We looked around at a bunch of MP3 players, pricing them out. The problem was that if the player needed to be hooked up to a computer at any time, it would be useless to me.
You could come over to my place to load music on it, Jasmine said. I've got a ton of music. All sorts of crazy stuff.
Yeah, but I would need to charge it, too. I couldn't just drop in any time to charge my player.
She agreed. You'll just have to get a computer. Look, it's seriously time. There's no reason for a university student in this century to not have a computer.
Maybe. But I've got to keep a handle on my spending. I'll wait until summer when I'm making money to buy a computer.
She looked around at the displays. You might as well forget getting one of these. Wait until summer when you get a computer. In the meantime, I've got a portable CD player that I don't use. You can borrow it if you want.
Yeah, maybe that's the best thing for now, I said. I moved away from the glass case of players and we slowly strolled out of the mall. Of course, it doesn't really help me for listening to specific songs unless someone has the CD. I can't just buy CDs all the time. That would be a ridiculous waste of money.
Yeah, and a huge waste of plastic as well, she said. I hate buying CDs. It's possible to get all the music you want, legal or otherwise, without having to buy a physical object. It's all just more junk for the landfill, you know? It seems like such a waste.
How eco-friendly, I murmured.
We rode the bus back down to the south end of the city and Jasmine led me to her apartment. It was a basement suite in a squat, ugly apartment block, and there was the lingering scent of cigarette smoke and old cooking smells soaked into the time-worn red carpeting and grayish walls of the hallway.
Inside her apartment, there was a big dude sitting on the couch watching TV. He looked too old to be a student, but there was no way he was her father. Eric, this is my roommate, Barnes, Jasmine said.
I was pegging the guy at about forty, but when Barnes stood up to shake my hand I realized he probably wasn't even twenty-five. He just looked old because he was bald and fat and shitty-looking. Hi, Eric, he said with a simpering smile.
Hey, I said and shook his hand. Jasmine was heading down the hall to her bedroom, so I left Barnes there and followed her.
We went into her room and she closed the door behind me. It was a cramped little space, and very dark. The walls were painted white, but she had hung black and red bed sheets from ceiling to floor. The sheets had all these drawings and paintings hung on them, all in the same style of the slightly deranged images out of her sketchbook. There were windows high up on one wall, but these were covered in black venetian blinds. She turned on a lamp. With a bit of illumination the room seemed like a warm little den.
Jasmine tossed her bag down on an uncovered mattress that lay on the floor. There were pillows and blankets, but apparently the sheets had ended up on the walls instead of the bed. There was no desk. Her laptop sat on a coffee table, and there was a thick pillow set in front of it. Okay, I thought. She's low maintenance.
You can take off you jacket and stuff, she said, pulling her hooded jacket off to reveal a maroon tank top. I'll find the CD player and we'll burn you a couple of discs so you have something to listen to.
She dug the CD player out of her closet, and in a few minutes she had me sitting in front of the laptop, scrolling through an endless list of songs. I saw some bands and artists I recognized, and I chose some songs: The Cure, Guns and Roses, Stone Temple Pilots. But mostly the list was populated with bands I had never heard of: The Black Angels, The Airborne Toxic Event, Gogol Bordello, The Vertical Struts, Mindless Self Indulgence, The Battles, Strapping Young Lad... the list went on and on. There were a lot of bad band names, but again I wondered if I could really think of anything better. I randomly selected tracks, occasionally asking Jasmine about this band or that band. Inevitably her answer was: They're awesome. Try them.
When I was ready, I turned around. Jasmine was sitting on the mattress, smoking a cigarette. I noticed she was now wearing a blue tank top. I didn't know her reason for changing, but it struck me as somehow shocking that she had changed her shirt while I was sitting in the room with her. She had been topless, only a few feet from me, and I didn't even know it. I felt a little tingle go up the back of my neck.
I think I've got enough here, I told her.
Well, there you go, she said. Your problem is solved. Let's get burning.
2009 Nolan Whyte