The end of the university school year in Garrison Valley had left me completely burnt out, but I wasn't thrilled that the only place I had to go was back to my folks' house in Rose Creek. The town was about as dead end and depressing as you were bound to find in the Canadian West. It bald-ass flat, windy and dry, and the people were about as interesting as dried shit.
I had the bottle of Royal Reserve in my backpack on the seat next to me. There weren't many people riding the bus this far out towards Nowhere, and I didn't feel bad about taking small hits off the bottle. Straight rye whiskey wasn't my usual kick, but I felt like, why the hell not? I felt too bad-ass for shitty little Rose Creek now. I would drink rye on the bus in the middle of day if I felt like it.
The bus dropped me off at the side of the highway on the edge of town. I picked up my backpack, duffel, bass and amp and carried them to the nearby gas station. Inside was a payphone. I called home and got my mom. She said would be out shortly to get me, so I went outside and waited.
People came and went. and a lot of them knew me and nodded or said hello. A few asked how I'd been and if I was back for a visit, for the summer, or for good. I shrugged and smiled at the questions. We'll see, I said.
My mother showed up after about twenty minutes, driving her little Ford sedan. She got out and gave me a big hug, then pulled back and frowned. Have you been drinking?
I had a drink on the bus, I said. It's a long ride.
She made a face. Well, come on, she said. I've got a big lunch waiting for you.
We drove back to the house. Inside we ate chicken sandwiches and potato salad with pickles and cheese and everything else mom could fit onto my plate. Dad wasn't there. He worked on a big corporate farm, and never made it home for lunch.
I threw my stuff into my old bedroom, which looked strangely clean and empty, like a small hotel room. I'd removed a lot of my personal affects before leaving for Garrison Valley the summer before. The room had become a neutral space. I didn't bother to unpack anything.
Leaving the room behind, I went to the bathroom and stripped down for a shower. I paused in front of the mirror and took a good look at myself. The house was full of pictures, some as recent as a year ago when I'd graduated high school. In the pictures I still had the dopey, puffy-faced look of a young kid, but I'd been in top-notch shape.
Now I had a slight gut. I'd lost a lot of muscle tone, too. I'd gotten skinnier and fatter at the same time, from never exercising and eating nothing but crap food and beer. It was depressing.
I had a shower and a nap, settled in, and after a big happy (read: stilted, overly formal) supper with mom and dad, I called up my cousin Robby. He was a few years older than me and had stuck around town, taking a basement apartment in an old couple's house.
Damn, he said when he heard my voice, and then he laughed. Damn Eric, what the hell are you doing here? You're just back for a visit, right? Don't tell me you're back for the whole summer?
The summer, maybe more, I said. What's going on tonight?
Nothing. It's a work night. What do you mean, maybe more?
I mean I don't have any specific plans, I said. What do you mean, nothing?
Ah, we can go for a beer at Vern's if you want. But seriously, aren't you going back in the fall? Did you flunk out?
No. I haven't gotten my final grades yet, but I think I did fine. I just...I don't know what I'm doing next.
Come on over.
I said goodbye to my parents and headed out. It was a short walk through town, up the quiet little roads. I went past the post office, the grocery store, the hardware store. They were all closed. Everything closes in Rose Creek at six o'clock. Except for the odd pick-up truck rolling around, the town was quiet.
The house that Robby lived in was dark, but there was light coming from the basement windows. I tapped on a window and waited. He slid the window open. Coming, he said, and two minutes later he came out of the back door. He looked the same as when I'd left: Canucks cap pulled low, goatee, jeans and a NASCAR T-shirt.
He gave me a fist bump and a quick hug, and we climbed into his Dodge. Like always, the back was full of miscellaneous equipment and tools, and the truck was dirtier than rain could wash. Vern's sound okay to you?
I shrugged. Sure. There's nothing else.
He started driving. Vern's was a bar in Castleton, the next town over. Rose Creek didn't have a bar. Only the diner in the gas station.
We did some catching up on the way. Nothing much had changed on his end. He was still working at a maintenance shed for farm equipment. He'd dated an Indian girl from Saskatoon for a while, but she broke it off. She told him he was too much of a redneck.
She was probably right, I said.
Yeah, he said. Probably.
We got to Vern's and found a table. As I expected, there was country music playing, which I hadn't really been subjected to since leaving in the fall. I didn't really recognize the singer, maybe Tim McGraw or Brad Paisley. Hell, they all sounded the same to me.
I hate this music, I said to Robby as the waitress came around. We ordered two bottles of Pilsner.
You never cared about music before, Robby said. What's the big deal now?
I shrugged. I started listening to some different stuff. A bunch of different stuff.
Shit, you're not a rap kid now, are you? Hip hop?
Naa. Rock, metal, that kinda stuff.
Right on, man, he said. That's great. You remember when I tried to get you to listen to Anthrax a few years ago? Man, you weren't interested at all.
I grinned. Yeah. I wasn't ready then. I've heard some Anthrax now. I'm The Man' and Bring The Noise' and stuff like that. Good fun. I looked around to see if anyone I knew was nearby, and I leaned in closer to Robby. In Garrison Valley I was in a band.
He laughed. Cool, man! Why are you looking around like that? Is it a big secret or something?
I don't know. It sounds goofy saying it.
Well, don't be ashamed. It's cool. It's a good thing. The waitress set our beers down on the table. Cheers, man, he said. To coming home for a few days, and then going on tour with Anthrax.
We clinked and drank. We're not that good, I said.
He shrugged. Are you still playing? Or did you guys break up?
I don't know. We're...on hold, I guess.
He nodded. They have bands here on Fridays, you know. They're good sometimes. I know the bass player of the band that's coming here this week. He's from Hollingston. I played softball with him a few times. What do you play?
You should come with me, man. I'll introduce you to him. He's a cool guy. He's been all over.
Sure, I said. There's nothing else to do around here, is there?
* * * *
Did I mention that Rose Creek is a boring town? For the next few days I just hung around the house. I called up some of my old circle of friends. They were all still around, still doing the exact same things and having the same conversations as the year before. On Thursday night I hung out with the old gang and we watched wrestling like old times. It was fun, but it seemed dead too, like entering a time capsule. Like it or not, I'd changed over the last year and they hadn't. I was bored of them already.
And as for getting a job, I could see already that I was a round peg surrounded by square holes. I could get a farm job like my old man, or I could go a few hundred kilometers down the road and get work in the oil patch. Frankly, neither shit-kicker nor rig-pig appealed to me. I had a feeling my stay in Rose Creek would be short.
On Friday night Robby and I headed back down the highway to Vern's. He brought along Britney, his girlfriend of the moment. I knew her. We'd graduated together and in two years she'd already put on fifty pounds. She was jammed onto the seat between us. Her thigh was rubbing up against mine, whether either of us liked it or not. I never liked her. I thought her personality was shit, and now she was fat, too. Robby didn't seem to care. All that mattered to him was that a girl was fun, put out, and didn't mind him drinking all the time. Welcome to small town life.
This band is good, baby, Robby was saying to Britney. They'll get you worked up. You'll get hot!
They're not country, are they? I asked.
Britney gave me the stink-eye. You don't like country, Eric?
I shrugged. Not much.
Hmph. She turned and stared ahead down the highway. I tried to move my leg so her flank didn't press against me, but there was nowhere to go.
They're good, dude. And you're going to love Knelson, the bass player. He spells his name with a K!
We got to Vern's. There were a lot of trucks in the gravel parking lot, and it was busy inside. The crowd's age ranged from way below legal drinking age all the way up to desiccated corpses walking around in cowboy hats and bolo ties. We grabbed beers at the bar and stood around waiting for the band.
Crankshaft, the band, came on stage around nine o'clock. There were five of them, all in their forties, all decked out in full-on glam gear. The lead singer was a woman in a leather vest with black jeans and a vinyl biker's cap. The rest of the band was male, with pot-bellies and long hair. I picked out Knelson, the bass player. He had a massive, poofy blonde mullet and a Def Leppard shirt.
His bass was a big maroon beast. It was so strange looking that I slipped away from Robby and Britney to take a closer look. I worked my way through the crowd, and from the foot of the stage I could see it was a fretless five string. It looked very cool, and way, way out of my league.
Good evening, Castleton, said the singer. She had a smooth, husky voice that gave her away as a smoker. It's good to be back at Vern's Bar and Grill. We're Crankshaft, and we're gonna start you off with a little AC/DC.
There were some hoots from the crowd, and the band started up Shook Me All Night Long. They were experienced, capable players, and the crowd was rocking by the time the first song was over. The band didn't pause, and they worked their way through a long set of classic rock and country standards.
I'd been in the bar for shows like this a few times before leavingfor Garrison Valley, but I'd never paid much attention. The band was always like a too-loud television, making it hard to talk to the drunk girls with whom I was trying to score.
This time though, I wanted to tune out the crowd and watch the band. They were good. Their songs choices were mostly mehhh... bland crap that everyone has heard on the radio a million times, but they played them well. And like Robby said, Knelson was an amazing bass player. I knew I was crap, but I could still tell that I was watching a high level player.
When I played, it was always thump-thump-thump-thump. Four notes here, four notes there, back and forth. But he was gliding up and down the neck, adding a layer of sound to each song. It was simple and brilliant.
There was a chick dancing nearby me, trying to get my attention. I recognized her. She'd been a year behind me in high school. Like Britney, she'd put on a bit of weight. She still looked all right, but I couldn't be bothered about her. After getting burned by Sash and then head-f--ked by Jasmine, I didn't want to deal with any chick. I just drank my beer and watched Knelson and the band.
They finally called for a break. There was no special dressing room for the band. They weren't stars. They sat at a table by the stage, or wandered to the bar for drinks. I saw Robby gesturing to me, motioning for me to come with him over and meet the band. I followed, nodding to the girl who'd been dancing so enthusiastically for me. She gave me a coy smile back.
When I got over to Robby and the others, Knelson held out his hand and introduced himself.
Good to meet you, I said. Eric.
Robby tells me you play bass.
Yeah, but I suck.
He smiled. That's okay. You wanna get up and play a song with us tonight?
2009, Nolan Whyte