Do you call this bad luck, or what? Some ugly ape grabs you because you're dancing with his girl, and you don't even like her to begin with. It's a stupid situation in which to find yourself. It's no-win, because you have the option of backing down and looking like a chicken-shit, or you can stand up to the guy and end up stuck with a girl you don't want.
There's a bunch of ways for it to play out, and they all end with someone either looking like an asshole or someone getting hurt.
I was standing there on the dance floor at Vern's Bar and Grill with my hands on the waist of Kelly, an okay-looking girl that was a grade behind me in high school. She was practically dry-humping my leg, and some dude with a head like a melon pushed in between us, looking up into my face with his jaw stuck forward like a tough guy.
Damnit, Benny! Kelly shouted at him. What do you think you're doing?
Benny looked her in the eye. What the hell are you doing? he asked her. We're not broken up. So what's this shit?
She pushed him out of the way and put her hands on my chest. I told you! It's over!
He looked at her, and then he looked up at me. I was way taller than him, but he was one of those brick-shithouse types: as wide at the shoulders as he was tall, like Tie Domi or the Tasmanian Devil. And who the f--k do you think you are? he said, staring at me. You think you're cool or something because you played a f--king song on stage?
I had no interest in this chick Kelly. She was, if anything, a momentary amusement, but I had no intention of letting this dipshit try and intimidate me.
Shut your mouth, junior, I said. Make it home alive tonight.
Benny sneered and gave me a straight punch to the gut.
I staggered backward and grabbed my stomach where he'd slugged me. That's the problem when you're dealing with guys much shorter than you: if they get in close it's easy for them to throw a sucker-punch.
The other problem was that I wasn't really in shape anymore, and the punch hurt more than it would have a year ago when I still had proper abs. But I sucked in my breath and straightened up.
A circle immediately cleared on the dance floor, leaving an open space for me and Benny. I could hear shouting through the music, and I knew that everyone was suddenly watching us instead of the band. Benny came toward me.
I stuck out my left, ready to either give him a jab to the nose or grab hold and smash him with my right. It's tricky fighting short guys, especially really strong ones. If they get inside your reach the fight always ends up on the ground, where short limbs are an advantage instead of a liability.
He came straight ahead in a bulldog rush and I was able to grab his arm and sidestep him, sending him careening forward into the crowd. The guys watching pushed him right back at me, and he came forward again, this time rushing low, hoping to catch me around the waist and drive me over backwards. To counter, I splayed my legs back, bringing my full weight directly down on top of him.
We sank slowly. He tried to buck me off of his back, but I was too heavy and I held on tight. He struggled, but we ended up on the floor, both looking kind of stupid. You good? I asked him. You gonna be smart if I let you up?
He responded by growling and snarling like a stupid, hate-filled dog and fought harder to get out from under me. I had a grip on his legs, and he was squashed flat, so there was nothing he could do. He struggled for a few more seconds, and then gave up and asked me to let him go.
You'll be good?
I got off him, but as soon as he was free he pulled his arm back and cocked a huge punch. He really let me see it coming, so I sidestepped it and grabbed his extended arm, yanking him off balance. He stumbled, straightened up and looked at me, and I nailed him right between the eyes with a big fist.
Benny tipped over backwards and fell flat on his back. He lay there and the crowd shifted all around us. People stepped in to hold me back, as though I might jump on him and pound his head into the floor. It was all so stupid.
Kelly had disappeared. I left the scene behind and headed for the bar. Two bouncers stopped me on the way and threatened to kick me out. What the hell for? I said. He came at me. Everybody saw. Kick him out.
Just watch it. You've been warned, one of them said, and they moved on. Assholes. F--king farm boys out making extra money on Friday nights.
I bought a beer and walked around the edge of the room to the table where the band, Crankshaft, would sit when they got off stage. I took a seat and waited.
Robby came over all excited over the fight and asked me what happened. I told him it was stupid kid's stuff. Somehow after all the drama I went through with chicks back in Garrison Valley, I felt like a grizzled veteran, too experienced to be drawn into the childish drama of small town life. Frankly, I'd seen enough.
I just want to say thanks to Knelson when the band gets off stage, I told Robby, and then I want to get going. Is that cool with you?
He looked over at Britney, who was still grinding with the other chick on the dance floor. There was a grotesque eroticism to the two girls mashing their breasts and stomachs against each other, not unlike watching an elephant humping a rhinoceros. I don't know, Robby replied. We'll see what kind of headway I make getting those two in the same sack. If they go for it, you'll either need to ride home in the back of the truck, or find another ride.
I nodded. Obviously that sucked, but I couldn't tell the guy not to pursue his big-lady threesome agenda just because I wanted a ride home. My only worry was that I would have to walk, since I wasn't in much of a mood to wander around trying to bum rides.
Robby went back to work on the two girls, and I drank my beer and watched the band.
Nobody else came around to the table. I guess Kelly was taking care of Benny, or had taken off after another guy for all I know, but she didn't show her face anywhere near me. It was a lonely room.
The band finished late. They played an awesome set, finally closing with Sweet Home Alabama.' It was an odd pick for a closing number in Western Canada, but it seemed to strike the right chord for the mix of country and rock fans in the place.
The stage lights dimmed and the house music came on, and in a few seconds the band was all but forgotten. Everyone was drunk and looking for someone to fuck or fight, and the members of Crankshaft had become just a bunch of ordinary people again.
Knelson hopped off stage, stored both of his bass guitars in their cases, and came over to where I was sitting. Hey man, he said. How's it going?
Not bad. Could you see the fight?
Fight? No. I can't see anything with the stage lights on. What happened?
Not much. Either some chick was playing head games with her dude, or he can't tell when he's been dumped. Forget it anyway. I just wanted to say thanks for getting me up there. That was a lot of fun.
No problem. So, are you here for the summer, or just for a visit?
I think I'm going to take off soon. I've already had enough.
He nodded. Fair enough. Well, if you want to, stop by my store sometime before you leave. We can jam. He wrote down the address and phone number of a second-hand store in a nearby town on a scrap of paper and gave it to me. I thanked him, shook his hand and finished my beer. I wanted to go the hell home.
On the dance floor Robby was being smooshed between his two, um, full-figured ladies. I sighed. It looked like I would be waiting a while, so I went and got another beer.
* * * * *
I started giving serious thought to what I would do next. My savings were practically gone and I had no source of income, which significantly limited my options. I had a few exploratory conversations with Mom over whether they could help me with some money while I looked for a job in a bigger city, kind of posing it as a what if? type of thing. Let's just say she didn't come right out to offer me cash. I knew they were on the tight side of things.
Garrison Valley was definitely looking more attractive. I emailed Ryan to see how things were going, and he responded and said he was bored out of his mind, working nights at a gas station and occasionally hanging out with Nick for beers. Compared to Rose Creek, it didn't sound too bad.
I knew Ryan had no extra space in his apartment, so I emailed Nick to ask what he thought about me crashing in his big-ass house for a few days. The outline of my plan involved going back to town and crashing on someone's couch until I found a job and a place to stay. As for going back to school, I figured I would leave that decision until fall.
On Monday I still hadn't heard from Nick. I was bored out of my mind, so I called up Knelson, and he told me to come by his shop and he would show me some stuff on the bass. Unfortunately I had no car. Mom and Dad were both at work, so I slung my bass across my back and got my bike out of the garage.
I gave the chain a quick spray with WD-40 and then rode the thirty kilometers down the highway to Snow Lake, the little town where Knelson lived. It was embarrassing to ride down the highway like that. I felt like Napoleon Dynamite or something, and I hoped no one I knew saw me.
Knelson's shop was basically a junk store, full of everything from used power tools, to toys, to clothes, to books and CDs. There were even some tapes in there. I left the bike locked to a lamp post outside and walked in. A bald guy with a big smile on his face came out from behind the counter and shook my hand.
Hey, Eric, he said. Glad you could make it.
Um...Hi. Is Knelson here?
He laughed. Yeah, it's me, dude! He rubbed a hand over his shiny skull. I wear a wig for shows. It makes me looks younger, you know? And it's great for when we play Twisted Sister.
That's cool. I started rubbing my sore legs, and he looked at the window at my bike.
Jeez, did you ride here? Holy shit! From Rose Creek?
I need the exercise, I said. It's time to get back in shape.
There was plenty of space in the store, and we set up on a couple of chairs next to the sales counter. Knelson had a four-string Rickenbacker bass, and I brought out my Gibson. He had me show him some of Riot Band's songs, and I played Revolution Baby' and a few of Ryan's songs for him.
Okay, he said, nodding. That's all cool. Do you ever play anything with a different rhythm?
He smiled. It's all the same beat. It's all this strict four-four stuff. You can do other things, you know? He started playing the bass line to Stir It Up.' There are lots of different ways to build a song.
I nodded. This was what I'd been missing: between Ryan and Jed, I had two guys who weren't bass players teaching me to play bass. Now I had a guy, sitting here willing to teach me, just for something to do.
Okay man, I said with a smile. Let's play some songs and we'll see how much I can learn.
2009, Nolan Whyte