The phone is ringing, I could hear her say.
I was asleep. We were both asleep, Jasmine and I, wrapped up in each other's arms on my couch.
The phone is ringing, she said again, and I could hear it too, on the outer edge of my dozing consciousness. I woke up, opened my eyes and looked around. The clock on the DVD player said 8:44. There was a long pause while my sleep-filled, beer-sloshed brain interpreted the information.
Holy shit! I screamed when realization suddenly broke through the fog in my cortex. I leapt off the couch and ran across the room to grab the receiver off the phone.
I picked it up and shouted into the mouthpiece: Hello? Hello?
It was Ryan. As soon as he heard my voice he launched into an unbelievable chorus of cursing and swearing, using every dirty word I'd ever heard and making up a bunch of new ones as well. Every single epithet explained what an incredible fool and asshole I was, and through the whole thing I couldn't even venture to disagree with him on a single count. My heart was pounding, but all I could do was wait for Ryan to breathe so I could ask him where they were.
There was a pause, and I could hear the phone changing hands.
Hello? I repeated like a moron. Hello?
Hello, Eric? It's Jed.
Jed, man, I blurted. I'm so sorry. Where are you guys?
He actually laughed. We're at the bar, dumb-ass. Man, we've been calling and calling. We're supposed to go on soon. You won't believe it man, but this place is getting full. I don't know, but I think we got some kinda word of mouth thing going. Not about us so much, just about a rock show at this dive. Maybe it's timing or something. I don't know. But the place is packing up. You've gotta get down here.
I'm on my way, I said. I'll get a cab. I'll be right there.
Yeah, hurry up man. You made us carry all your shit. You owe us big time.
I do. I really do. How soon are we supposed to go on?
Um, it said nine in the ads, but we'll have to hold on until you get here, won't we? We wouldn't be able to suck nearly as much without you.
I could hear the phone changing hands again, and then Ryan screaming, Get your stupid ass down here! And then the line went dead.
Holding the dead receiver in my hand, I looked over at Jasmine on the couch. She was sitting up, blinking sleepy eyes at me. I told you we should get going.
You fell asleep too, didn't you? I said. It doesn't matter. Time to go. Right now.
We got moving. I brushed my teeth, slicked down my hair with some gel, and in a few minutes we were on the road.
I shouldn't have let you lie down on the couch, she said as we walked out. I should've known you would fall asleep.
Relax, okay? I said, following her down the stairs. You sound like you're pissed off at me.
I'm not pissed off at you, she said. But I better not get a hard time for you being late to your gig.
Jasmine was really on edge, and that set me on edge-- even though I was already on edge about being late for the second time that day. The trick is, she was probably on edge out of worry that I was on edge because of her. Does that make any sense? Maybe.
Is that what irony is? Is it sad that I'm not sure? I don't know, but I felt like hell anyway. I was stuck between still-drunk and hung over, meaning I was clumsy and stupid but not enjoying myself anymore.
Jasmine used her cell to call a cab company. They said it would be a twenty minute wait (small city), so we said to hell with it and started walking to where we could catch a bus. She lit herself a cigarette. I asked for one and she lit me up as well, and we smoked as we walked.
This really isn't so bad, I said. I mean, it's not like everybody expects the band to play exactly at the minute the poster says. It's not like people are going to walk out because it's five after nine and no show, right? No way.
Yeah, but you should at least be there, she said. Why did you have to get so drunk anyway? I mean, you knew you had a show. Why would you screw your friends like that? Would you do that to me, too? I guess I should be careful what I trust you with. She looked over her shoulder at me with narrow, angry eyes.
What the hell are you going on about? Jeez, I'm so sorry I let you down, I said, speaking in a sarcastic voice. I didn't realize my being on time to this show meant so much to you.
Why should it mean anything to me? All I'm saying is that it would be nice to know it meant something to you.
I didn't even know what that meant, so I didn't respond. I sucked on the stinking cigarette and ignored her. What the hell, anyway? As far as I was concerned, she had no right to be talking to me like that. I didn't want to hear any more of it, and if she had kept going I probably would have lost my cool on her. But we both just went silent. The bus came quickly and we were on our way downtown, seated tightly next to each other on the bus bench, but not making eye contact and not saying a word.
The bus moved sluggishly down the streets. I checked my watch. It was nine-thirty and we were just getting close to the bar. My stomach was in knots. I was late for the gig, and I would have to perform soon with no warm-up. My band was pissed off at me, and now the girl I thought was crazy about me seems on the verge of having a breakup fight over something that doesn't even affect her. I mean, it's bad enough that I cause my own problems, but was this chick seriously deranged?
We climbed off the bus at our stop. Jasmine still didn't say anything. She just took out another smoke. We walked the short distance to the bar in silence, and when we got to the entrance she stopped. You coming? I asked, holding the door open.
When I finish this, she said.
All right, I said. I'm going in.
She didn't answer, so in I went.
And my jaw dropped.
Jake's Restaurant was a small, narrow, unattractive bar made with fake wood panel and outdated carpet. The regulars were old drunks and rub-a-dubs missing teeth, drinking up their social insurance checks. It was a good place to go for a cheap all-day breakfast, but hardly a nightspot. And it was not typically a place that a Garrison Valley University student would ever set foot in.
But it was packed. I felt like my guts suddenly dropped out of my asshole with the shock of having to perform in this room, completely unprepared. It occurred to me that the drama with Jasmine had distracted me from giving even a single thought to the actual gig that lay ahead. I hadn't thought of the songs and I hadn't thought about how to play them on bass.
I spotted Nick talking to some people on the stage at the back of the room. Seeing a familiar face brought me back to reality, and I plunged into the crowd.
It was elbow-room only as I squeezed my way along the bar. The crowd was mostly GVU students. It was a warm April night, and people were starting to dress with an eye on summer. I saw a few of the bar's old regulars sitting in little clutches, gawking and drooling at the nearness of so much hot college-girl flesh.
There were a few people that I knew as I went along, but I didn't stop to talk to anyone. I just wanted to find Nick and the guys. I could see Nick at the back, sitting on the raised area that we were using as the stage. The drums, microphone stands, amps, and all the rest of our gear were there and ready to go. In the back corner propped up against the wall stood the hard-body case for Ryan's Les Paul and the soft vinyl gig bag for my no-name bass. Ready to go.
Finally! Nick screamed when he saw me, pushing aside the people crowded around him. Eric, man, what the hell happened?
I shook my head. I feel like such an idiot, dude. I fell asleep on the couch.
Man, you passed out?
I didn't pass out. I fell asleep.
Nick shook his head. Ryan said you were boozing up at The Market this afternoon. If you got pissed and then slept through a gig, then dude, evidence says you passed out.
Never mind, I said. Where are Jed and Ryan anyway?
Here they come, he said, nodding toward Ryan and Jed, who were coming out of the back room behind the bar. I could see Keith, the bar manager, with them. I'll be goddamned, but I have to tell you, Jed and Ryan looked like they were in a band together. They weren't dressed in anything crazy. It was just something in their swagger.
They came out from behind the bar and spotted me standing onstage with our so-called manager. Ryan got a pissed off look on his face and Jed laughed.
I stepped toward them and put my fists up, as though I was going to swing right into them, and we all came together then backed away like we were too cool to fight.
Ah, you bitches, I said, laughing at their surprised looks, as though they thought I might really start throwing punches. Sorry I'm late.
Ryan grinned a bit, and then stepped forward to slap me on the arm. Shit, what the hell, dude? he said in a half-angry, half-joking voice. What the f--k happened? We didn't know where you were, man!
I shrugged and repeated more sorries. Jed looked serious though, more serious than usual. Are you ready to play? he asked.
The guitars were sitting right there. We could have just climbed right up and started the set with no delay. But my head wasn't in the right spot for it. What I really needed was some kind of warm up, even a few minutes of fooling around on the bass playing warm-up shit, just to loosen up my hands, get the feel for playing. That was what I really needed.
Do we have time for a warm up? I asked.
We have time for shots, Ryan said. For all his righteous anger, he looked like he'd had a few already.
Taking the easy way out, I agreed. The three of us pushed up and found a free spot at the bar. Keith, who had seemed so grumpy and unwilling to host the event, slid up in front of us with a smile on his face.
Hello boys, he said, and then, when his eyes came to rest on me, he laughed. Ah! He arrives! Well, nicely done! I didn't think anyone would actually come to see you guys, but you brought a crowd. You must have a lot of fans.
Yeah, I said. These people are all our fans. I raised my eyebrows to Jed and Ryan. We all knew that most of these people had no idea who was even supposed to be playing this gig.
Keith poured us shots of Crown Royal and set up Molson chasers. I didn't bother to ask him how the bar sales were going. If he was comping us shots of Crown, he was obviously doing just fine at the cash register.
Do we even have a set list? I asked, as we held up the shots.
Don't worry, Ryan said. We have room to improvise.
I looked back and forth between them. I have no idea what we're about to do, I said. Boys, are we f--ked?
You sound like you need a drink, Jed said. Bottom's up.
We knocked back the shots, and took long pulls from the bottles of beer to settle the burn in our guts.
We're not f--ked, Jed said. He looked me sharply in the eye. You remember all the songs, don't you?
I took a second pull off the beer. We'll see, I said. Together, the three of us turned and started pushing our way through the crowd to the stage.
2009 Nolan Whyte