The next week was a blur, as I got ready to move back to Garrison Valley. Nick and Ryan had come through with living arrangements for the rest of the summer, and I couldn't wait to get back to the city (if you can really call Garrison Valley a city).
The hardest thing about the whole thing was trying to pry a bit of money out of my parents. I was down to about a hundred bucks in my bank account, which meant I was as good as useless for paying my own way. I tried some solid hinting for a few days before actually coming straight out and asking if they could front me some cash.
My dad is a farmer, and that means a lot of things. It means the weather is always the most important thing you can talk about. It means you actually have a reason to own a gun. It means if the harvest is good you start looking for a new truck, and if harvest is bad you start looking for government checks. And it means you're tighter with money than a bee with honey. Meaning, you don't like to share.
After a couple days of hinting I approached him. He was in the garage behind the house, rebuilding a carburetor on his workbench. Skirting the subject hadn't worked worth a shit, so I came right out with it.
So, do you think you guys can help me out with some cash to get started in the city?
He didn't look up from what he was doing. Why don't you work here for a while and save some money? Then you can move back on your own dime.
Not much work around here except throwing bales of hay, I said. That doesn't really suit me. I'd rather just get a job in town.
He straightened up and wiped his dirty hands on a rag. And how long do you expect that to take?
I'm not sure. But I should be able to live cheap in the meantime. I'm not looking for a lot of money from you and mom.
Right, he said with a sarcastic grin. And how much exactly did you have in mind?
I shrugged. I figure a couple grand would get me through until I was getting a regular paycheck.
Dad leaned back against the bench and nodded. Right. And did you intend to pay us back?
I could if you want me to. If you want interest and some schedule or something, I'll do it. Really, I just want to get going. I'm not really enjoying myself very much here.
Yeah. He sighed. Look Eric, I know there isn't much around here for you to do. And I know we don't exactly hang out and spent time together, but it is nice to have you around here. And I especially know your mother would appreciate it if you decided to stick around for a while.
I nodded. Well, that will make me feel guilty about leaving. But I'm still leaving. All I'm doing here is sitting in my room, or lifting weights in the basement. That was fine when I was fifteen, but it's not really cutting it anymore. I'd like to go back to my friends in the city. And, if I start making enough money, I'd like to go back to school. That last part wasn't something I was thinking too hard about, but I figured it fit well into my argument.
Right. He wiped his hands again. We can give you a thousand bucks. That should get you through the first month. If you need more after that, we'll talk about it then. And it's a loan. No interest, but we want to see it back, sooner or later.
I stepped toward him and offered my hand, and he shook it firmly. Deal.
* * * *
Dad agreed to drive me to Garrison Valley on Saturday. For the rest of the week I kept my routine, lifting weights in the morning, and then riding out to play bass with Knelson at his shop in the afternoon. In the evenings I made the rounds, visiting people I knew I wouldn't see again soon. I went out with my cousin Robbie on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then dropped in one last time to watch wrestling with my high school buddies on Thursday night.
On Friday I made a final ride to Snow Lake to see Knelson. By this time the ride had become a grinding, but endurable, routine. After two weeks of the sixty kilometer round trip, my thighs and calves looked like they were carved out of wood, and the beer fat hanging around my gut was completely gone.
Knelson was sorry that I was leaving, but he was happy that I was going back to rejoin my band.
It's good, dude, he said. We were standing out back of his shop while he smoked his usual pre-jam marijuana cigarette. There's no point in sticking around out here, unless you're chained down. You ought to be out on tour, living on a bus, eating chips for breakfast, collecting panties and shit like that. That's the good life.
That sounds cool. I'll probably just hang around Garrison Valley, though.
Well, keep touring in mind. You probably won't get rich, but it's sure as shit a good time. He broke into a brief coughing fit. He grinned, finished up the joint and we headed inside.
We played for about two hours, just knocking through some of the songs he'd taught me. Nothing serious. It was all just for fun this time. When I was getting ready to leave, we exchanged email addresses. Crankshaft comes through Garrison Valley a few times a year, Knelson said. I'll let you know when we're coming.
Sure, I said. Maybe Riot Band can open for you.
He laughed. Opening for a covers act? Set your sights higher, dude.
We shook hands, high-fived and fist-bumped. I slung my bass across my back, climbed on my bike and started riding.
That night, Mom, Dad and I went out together for dinner. We drank a few pitchers of beer, and for the first time since I got back to Rose Creek, we actually loosened up and just talked. The stiff, awkward atmosphere of our usual family suppers disappeared and we were able to enjoy each other's company. Maybe it was because of the beer, but I think it was also because I was leaving. The pressure to be a normal family was off.
On Saturday morning Dad and I loaded up the truck and made the drive. I packed light again, not bothering to take a bunch of unnecessary crap. Since I didn't know what my permanent living arrangements would be, I didn't see the point in bringing anything except my clothes, bass and amp, sleeping bag and bedroll, and this time, my bike. Riding it around had been too much fun for me to leave it behind.
My temporary landing pad was going to be Nick's house. He and Hairball Jordan were living there through the summer, but his grad student roomie was in Vancouver until September. Dad drove up in front and had a look at the old house.
Not bad, he said. Looks like it's been taken care of. The yard could use some work.
They rent, Dad, I said. The landlord is responsible for the yard.
Hmph. Well, let's get you unloaded.
We carried my gear up to the front door, and Nick was there to let us in. Ryan was there too. He was surprised to see my dad standing there holding my sleeping bag and bass amp, but he recovered quickly and offered to take the stuff.
Come into the kitchen, Nick said. Coffee's made, and we got some cinnamon buns from the bakery at the Co-op.
Dad took a cup of coffee, but declined the pastry, and we all sat down. The awkward vibe was present, the way it often is when young men try and act like grown-ups in front of their friend's parent. I caught Dad looking at the cracks in the linoleum of the kitchen floor.
How's work? I asked Ryan, trying to give him a chance to look like an adult.
Nothing special. The smell of gass is too weird. It bugs you for a while, but then you get to like it.
Where you working? Dad asked him.
At a Gas-And-Go station.
Dad looked at me. Is that the kind of job you have in mind?
I knew there was an insult, both to Ryan and me in his question, but I ignored it. I'll take what I can get to start off, I said. Then I'll see what my options are.
He nodded. He took a sip of coffee and stood up. I'd better hit the road. Thanks for the coffee.
You're welcome, sir, Nick said. Dad used the bathroom and then left us there on our own.
Well, that was awkward as hell, Ryan said as soon as we heard Dad's truck rumble down the street. I was going to give you a beer as soon as you walked in. When I saw your Dad I figured I should put it away.
Yeah, Nick said. Lucky there was still coffee from this morning. But never mind that crap. He looked at me with a big grin. You ready to play a gig tonight?
What? What the hell are you talking about?
Ryan pulled a bottle of beer from the fridge, twisted the cap off and handed it to me. Like he said, man. A gig. Not like, a whole set or anything, but we'll be on stage.
I took the beer. You guys better explain this. Why didn't you say anything before I came down?
We just found out for sure last night, Nick said. He took a beer from Ryan and sat down. Do you know that guy Dustin? You might know him from school. Tall guy. He wears a goatee to hide the fact that he has no chin.
I laughed and shook my head. Do I know Dustin? You mean the same Dustin that had me living in a closet for the last semester and a half? Yeah, I knew Dustin. And the last time I saw him I basically told him that I hate his guts.
Nick looked blankly at me. Oh, he said. Well, he's put together some kind of showcase festival at the Garrison Valley Ballroom tonight. There are a bunch of bands playing. No money acts. Just student bands. I think he's giving part of the proceeds to the city food bank. The type of thing where you get a dollar off your ticket if you bring a can of tuna.
I took a swig. So what are we doing? We don't have Jed here. We're only two-thirds of a band.
We'll be going on first, Ryan said. Like, the openers for the openers. We'll get up and play some songs. Forget the drums. It'll be like an acoustic set. Except we'll still be plugged in.
I don't know guys, I said. We were playing a full bar a month ago. Now we're the openers for the openers? It seems... I don't know... stupid.
I don't think we should cop attitude just because Jack's was full that night, Ryan said. It's not like anybody knew who we were. Besides, this could be fun. We'll get some experience. And we'll get in free. We'll get to party a bit. We'll play, and then get hammered and hit on chicks.
I laughed. To hell with chicks, man. I'm gonna become a monk or something. I'm snake-bitten with chicks this year.
Ryan smiled. Have a hard time back home?
You might say that. I danced once with some girl and I ended up having to punch a guy out. Forget it. No chicks for me.
Nick and Ryan looked at each other and smiled.
Ryan and I sat in the living room and played for a few hours that afternoon, working out a four song set. I showed him a few new things I'd written, but we both thought it best to use songs we knew well, and we ended up picking four of his. I was cool with it. I just wanted it to be simple and straightforward.
We had dinner, and before getting ready to go, I asked Nick if I could take my stuff upstairs to the empty bedroom.
Um, actually Eric, Nick said, there isn't a free bedroom upstairs.
What? I thought your buddy was out of town all summer.
Nick scratched the back of his neck. Um, yeah. But he locked his door. I don't have a key.
Great, I said. So where am I supposed to sleep?
Um... the basement?
I slapped a hand over my forehead. Oh, bloody, bloody hell, I sighed, and I sat down on the living room couch. Not this shit again. The basement. On what, the concrete floor? And I'm going to pay rent for this shit?
Not full rent, Nick said. I'm sorry, dude. If you want to buy a cot or something, that's cool. But for now, I think it's the basement.
Hell, with it, I said. Let's go to this show. We'll figure it out later.
2009, Nolan Whyte