Once everything had settled down into a smooth routine, the summer started to go by fast. Garrison Valley is a small city and it lacks the action of a bigger town, but it is quite beautiful during the summer. The valley is full of trees, and the town has a sweet leafy smell. There are a lot of parks, and the kids, although they always complain about how bored they are, spend a lot of time outside with soccer balls and footballs. Everyone gets a tan.
On my days off I was making the rounds of the used books stores, trying to find interesting ways to fill my free time. I kept buying two or three dollar novels and reading them at the coffee shops downtown. I avoided The Bean Machine. That particular coffee shop was a usual haunt of Jasmine, and I had a feeling that any encounter with her would become a bad scene.
Other than that, I kept busy by playing guitar with Ryan, working my night shifts at Sally's Convenience Store, and getting my ass kicked at video games by Hairball Jordan.
The job at Sally's got easier. It didn't take long to learn everything, and I was able to start acting more professionally with the customers. I worked most often with either James or Lise, and I enjoyed my shifts with each of them. The others goons I worked with were mostly unremarkable. The old guy, Paul, talked all the time about daytime soap operas. Raul smelled powerfully of dill. Emily went on and on about her plans to be a Philosophy major. She sounded like a total flake. I took an introductory Philosophy course in my first semester and it kicked my ass, and I knew she didn't know what the hell she was talking about.
But James and Lise were both solid. James and I talked about music most of the time. He was into a lot of good bands and read a lot of music magazines, so he had a lot of cool stories to tell about the rock lifestyle. And Lise? Well, Lise was a strange kitten.
Besides being a high school dropout, Lise was a former runaway (she went home after six months on the street in Calgary; an Alberta winter will send anyone home). She was living with her older brother in a downtown bungalow, while her parents sat in a posh west end home, slinging back margaritas and wondering why their kids were so f--ked up.
From the sounds of it, Lise's older brother cut lawns for a living, but what actually paid the rent was a twice-annual road trip to Vancouver to collect a massive sack of pot for resale. Needless to say, he was careful not to speed or make other driving violations that might result in a traffic stop by the Mounties during those trips.
You might remember me mentioning the leather strap that Lise wore on her wrist? That was to cover up suicide scars, I was pretty sure. She didn't come out and say it, but I could figure it out, based on off-hand comments. But who cares, right? We've all had rough times. Best not to judge people by their worst hour. Hell, I basically viewed myself as a hunk of shit at the best of times.
I knew she sounded like trouble. We spend several shifts together and we would chat about our lives. As she revealed details, one thing after another made her sound like a walking disaster. All the same, she didn't give off crazy vibes the way Jasmine did. Hell, with Jasmine there was the feeling that she might blow at any moment. But Lise seemed cool. Too young, but cool. I tried to think of her as just a friend. Just a sexy, underage friend.
Ryan and I would hang out together outside the store when he had his night shifts at the gas station. When Lise announced that there was going to be a party at her brother's house, there were invites for all of the rock and roll guys in her crowd: Ryan, James and me.
It seemed all right to us. Ryan and I agreed to go. James said he would bring Kyle, his drummer friend. Ryan and I batted back and forth whether to include Nick, but we eventually decided against it. Nick was shaping up to be a useful enough member of the Riot Band circle, but I didn't see the need to invite him to every social outing we made.
So the four of us, Ryan, Kyle, James and I, guitarist, drummer and two bass players respectively, showed up with forty-eight beers at a shady little house on Eighth Avenue. We split a cab there and got out in front of this rough place with its shades drawn. There was no light at all coming out of the place. But there was the rumble of bass and guitar, and we could tell it was the right place.
We went up and Ryan rang the bell. The door opened and after a minute a freaky looking dude with a shaved head and devil goatee looked out at us through the screen door. Who the f--k are you? he asked sharply.
We're here for the party, Ryan said.
We're with Lise, I added.
The guy disappeared for a moment, and in a few seconds Lise showed up and opened the screen door. Hey guys, she said. Come on in.
We all passed through the darkened living room. It was a complete shit-hole. The front windows were covered over with black plastic so no one could see in or out. The only light came from a fish tank that was set up in the corner. There was no water in it. It was full of rocks. It looked filthy.
Growing mushrooms? whispered Kyle as we passed the little science project. There was a couch heaped with clothes, and stacks of detritus around the furniture. Lise and the goateed devil lead us through the room to a kitchen, and then down a staircase. There was a rich odor of marijuana smoke wafting up, as well as the dead air that comes through guitar amps when players are just standing there holding their instruments instead of playing.
The basement was a big room with fake wood paneling along the walls. There was worn carpeting over the floor and a few doors at one end. Couches lined the walls, and most of the seats were full of guys and girls, all around high school or university age. I took a look around the walls. There were posters and silk wall-hangings everywhere. There was Iron Maiden, Metallica, Def Leppard. The posters were all Jack Nicholson movies: The Shining, Easy Rider, and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.
There was a band. The players looked young, but hard-assed. High school kids. Two guitarists, a bass player and drummer, with big, worn looking amps and battered equipment. We made the introductions, and it turned out that one of the guitarists was Lise's younger brother. The goateed devil guy was her older brother, who went by the name Smokey. It was a big happy family party.
And actually, it was a good party. We set ourselves down on the carpeted floor and had our beers and we got to know the people. Lise lived there with Smokey and his girlfriend Jane. Their younger guitarist brother, Joel, still lived with their parents in the slick suburbs on the edge of town.
The band was Joel's and the guys all went to school with him. Joel was as hung up on Metallica as his sister was. The band played one song after another, and they were all early Metallica numbers. I didn't know them, but the guys told me: Ride The Lightning, Whiplash, Search and Destroy, and a bunch of really fast songs played at plodding speed. The band had the attitude and knew all the notes, but they didn't quite have the chops to maintain Metallica's furious pace.
We had beers as we sat there, and Smokey passed around a pipe. We drank and smoked pretty hard, and by the time the band took off their instruments I was smashed. I'd had seven beers and that should have been enough, right? But on top of that was a lot of pot, and I have my limits.
I was keeping my eye on Lise, trying not to get too wasted. Why? I don't know. Because I was her guest, I suppose. She was not really drinking, and she was only taking periodic hits off the pipe. I wanted to avoid getting more pissed than her, but I ended up keeping pace with her brother Smokey instead.
Here's a piece of free advice: do not try to keep up with a pot dealer, even when the pot is free.
So when Ryan explained that he, Kyle, James and I were also musicians that could take a turn playing some tunes, I was not in condition to speak eloquently on the matter. I was trashed. And here's the thing: Lise was wearing a short jean skirt and black tight. They weren't crazy sexy tights, just normal tights, but I couldn't stop peeking over at her legs. I kept thinking, no, too young, but I kept looking anyway. Stupid! I didn't know what I was doing. Yes, I did.
Ryan gave me a hand getting up, and we picked up the young guys' instruments. All of us were a bit messed up, but I might venture to guess I was worse off than the others. Why did I get so wasted so fast? Maybe because every time there was a pause in the music or in the conversation I would look over at Lise and stare at her legs, and then I would catch myself and look away, and have a long drink on my beer. Followed by a bowl of fresh B.C. weed. Good god damn.
So we stood up and of course, Ryan and I were from one band and Kyle and James were from another, so we didn't know what to play. Because I played no guitar at all I got the bass. James could play both, so he got a guitar. And we all stood there looking at each other.
No Fun? Ryan asked me. He looked at the other two guys. From The Stooges? You know it? Mostly just A and D.
The other guys shrugged and nodded. Sure.
He looked at me. He knew I was messed up. You can sing, right dude? he asked.
I nodded. Thank goodness he chose a simple enough song.
Kyle started a simple drum beat and Ryan and I started playing, riffing along. James picked it up quickly and we rolled along. I felt like I might tip over backwards, but I managed to stay upright and start singing.
I knew she was watching me. I also knew her two brothers were watching me. What the hell did I smoke all that pot for? Hell, I don't even like pot that much. I felt like my brain was going to expand like compressed gas, blow my skull apart and float away in all directions. That's not a good thing when you're trying to remember lyrics.
The song is usually three or four minutes. How long did we play? Hours? It felt like hours? I think maybe four hours. But probably four minutes. Maybe three. I have no idea. But I was screaming my head off, channeling Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop, and I don't know who else. It was nightmare shit for me to live through.
We managed to bring the song to a crescendo and a close, and you can bet your ass I didn't give Ryan time to suggest another song. I pulled the bass off and looked around. It took me an extra second to figure out where the bathroom was, even though I'd gone there to piss three times already. I went straight for it, although it was kind of a curvy line that got me there. I couldn't even walk straight at that point.
I'm glad to this day that no one was in the bathroom, forcing me to wait. I got in, flicked the light on and closed the door, but I didn't have time to make it to the toilet. Instead, the first wave of puke that issued forth from my tormented guts found the sink in front of me.
A second burst of puke ended up in the sink, and then, hoping I had a few seconds while my system reloaded, I made a stagger-step over to the toilet and dropped to my knees before unleashing another stream of stomach-chowder into the porcelain echo chamber.
I spent a long time there on my knees, waiting for the puke-stream to sputter out. When it finally stopped I flushed and straightened up. Then I began the onerous task of cleaning the sink. I turned on the faucet with a single finger I started swirling the evidence away.
The process took forever, and the inevitable knock on the door came. It was Ryan. Dude, you okay?
Yeah, I said. Everything's cool. I finished with the sink, made a quick sweep of the area to make sure that I hadn't left any splatter, and then took a moment to compose myself. I wiped cold water over my face. I was so trashed that I could barely hold eye contact with myself in the mirror. I'd forgotten about the dangers of mixing.
I came back out. The jam session was over. There was music playing from a stereo somewhere. A few people had cleared out. I stumbled across the room and crashed into a seated position in a vacant couch spot. There was a full beer that was mine. I picked it up and held it, afraid to take a sip.
The party went on and I stayed silent. The pipe passed me by. Eventually people began to clear out. I had no idea if I would be able to make it home. I was aware that Ryan was still around, but I was somehow detached from him. I was floating in brain-dead space.
A voice appeared next to my ear and whispered: If you want to lie down, there's a bed in that room.
I didn't question the voice. I got up and went into the room. There was a bed. I lay down, and after a few seconds of pondering the shame of the situation, I fell asleep.
2009, Nolan Whyte