I woke up in total blackness. I felt all dried out, and there was a twisting feeling in my gut. It wasn't nausea from the beer and pot overdose though--it was shame, pure and simple.
I was on a soft bed, and I reached around to feel the edge. Once my feet were on the floor I started reaching around to find the walls and eventually, the way out. It was darker than hell, but I managed to find a light switch. I turned on the light.
The state of the little bedroom made me feel a little better about my own basement living quarters. There was a bed and a dresser, but beyond that the room was just a mess of clothes lying on the floor. There were a few books as well, and a battered old CD player with a little stack of burned CDs.
There were two Metallica posters on the fake wood-paneled walls: one had a giant flaming skull, and the other featured rows of gravestones and the inscription Master of Puppets. I figured this must be Lise's room. I took a closer look at the piles of clothing. There were pairs of small cotton panties mixed in with the jeans and black mini-Ts. Definitely Lise's room. But if I had slept in her bed, where did she sleep?
I crept out of the room. Except for the light coming out of the bedroom, the basement was completely dark. It seemed like every window in the place was blacked over. How could anyone live like this? There were a few guys still down there, scattered around on the couches, passed out in awkward positions like they'd been hit with knockout gas. I flicked out the bedroom light switch and made my way to the stairs.
In the kitchen I found Smokey, Lise's older brother, cooking something on the stove. It took a moment for me to recognize the smell, and then I realized he was cooking hash oil. He looked over at me looming in the basement doorway and gave me a devil smile.
Good morning, sunshine, he said.
Morning. Cooking breakfast?
This is going to be some good shit, he said, smiling as he stirred the mess of grey-black shit in his frying pan. You feeling okay?
I nodded. Um, yeah. Not bad. Um, whose bedroom did I sleep in?
He looked at me seriously. I think you mean to say In whose bedroom did I sleep?' Because you know never to finish a sentence with a preposition, don't you?
The smell was starting to make me feel queasy. Yeah, I guess.
That was my sixteen year old sister's room that you slept in. She slept up here on the couch.
Oh. I stood there. He stirred his oil, letting the moisture evaporate. I cleared my throat. Is, uh, Lise here somewhere?
She went to work. He looked at me with judgmental eyes, but eventually cracked a smile. You want some cereal?
I sat down and ate a bowl of generic frosty flakes, while Smokey finished up his project. The kitchen was silent except for me munching and him scraping and stirring. By the time I was done eating, he was done cooking. He heated a couple hot knives on the stove element and sampled his product, sucking a blast of smoke in through a funnel and holding it for a stretch. He had a wine-taster's expression while he held it in, and then exhaled a cloud of smoke. He looked at me.
Come here and try this, he said. It was a command, not an offer. I didn't want to smoke any, but something in my gut told me not to refuse this aggressive drug dealer that looked like Satan.
He set me up with the funnel and I took a hit of the nasty shit. Honest truth: I hate oil. I like the weed well enough, but oil makes me retarded in thirty seconds flat. No thank you. But Smokey freaked me out a little, so I sucked it in and felt it burn my insides out.
It took me a couple minutes to stop coughing. Smokey laughed and stroked his devil beard. He said some stuff too, but I couldn't hear him. When I was finally able to stand up straight, he held up a fat joint in front of me. The paper was stained, and I knew it was smeared with the oil on the inside. If I smoked it I would be as good as brain dead.
Sit down, man, he said. Let's spark this thing.
I don't think so, I said. My voice was cracked from coughing. I think I'm gonna head out.
Sit down, he said, nodding toward the kitchen chair. Come on. Don't be an asshole.
I don't know why his words made me sit down. Maybe I just didn't want him to think I was an asshole. Somehow, he had intimidated me. Maybe because he didn't care how big I was. He had a look in his eye. Sometimes you can tell a fighter when you see one, but sometimes you can look at a guy and know that fighting is nothing. Fighting is just the beginning, and if you try anything, you're going down a bad, bad road.
We both took a seat and he lit the joint. He took a deep drag and passed it to me. It went back and forth, and I felt my brain getting smaller and smaller and much further away. Smokey was making some jokes. I struggled to understand what he was saying. The oil in the joint was fucking me up. All I could understand was him telling me in a not-so-subtle way, not to get any funny ideas about Lise.
I left his house in an absolute fog. I walked down the street with the sun shining down on me, but all I wanted to do was drop to my knees, puke, and curl up right there on the concrete. Instead, I slowly picked my way along sidewalk, thinking out each step with my crippled brain.
There's no point in going into detail about the trip home. There was no joy in it. I was stoned off my ass, and nothing was easy or funny. I tried to take the bus but I had to get off because the motion made me want to puke, and walking was an unending nightmare. It took hours, and every single moment was a monumental challenge. When I finally got home I curled up in bed and tried to sleep it all away.
* * * *
Ryan called in the late afternoon. Neither of us had to work that day and we were supposed to jam. He was calling to make sure I our plans were still on.
He arrived at the house an hour later. So you slept in her bed? he asked, as we settled down in the kitchen. I was having some toast and tea, still trying to clear the fog from my brain. I poured Ryan a cup and he sat down across the kitchen table from me. So, um...what was her bed like?
Soft, I said, and shook my head. I don't remember anything. I'm pretty sure she never came in the room. Anyway, I was completely passed out.
Yeah, you got pretty wasted, he said. Frankly, I was surprised you were able to play bass. You kept staring at her, you know? Her brother was getting pissed off.
I sighed and sipped my tea.
You like her, do you?
No, I said. Like, she's cute and all that, but she's too young, you know? It would be too weird. It freaks people out. She's only sixteen right now. She turns seventeen before I turn twenty, but still.
Yeah. Ryan stirred his tea. I remember when I was in high school, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. My parents were crazy secure about their computer, so I couldn't use the net to get porn. When I wanted porn I would buy magazines from this truck stop up the highway. Anyway, I was getting the barely legal' stuff, right? Where the chicks are eighteen years old, and they have braces and pigtails in their hair, stuff like that.
I looked at him. I don't know where you're going with this story.
I'm getting to it, he said with a laugh. So my mom finds my stash, right? And she freaks, not just because I've got this porn, but because the chicks are all young-looking. She flips out, like she raised a child molester. And I was standing there trying to tell her, Mom, I'm seventeen. These chicks are eighteen. They're pretty much my age. Legally, they're all supposed to be older than me. How can I be perving on them if they're older than me?
I still don't see what this has to do with my situation.
Ryan shrugged. Just that, you know...people are sensitive about young chicks.
I think you've just been waiting for an opportunity to tell that story.
He sipped his tea. Maybe.
We went down stairs and got to work. Over the last few weeks we'd actually been doing really well coming up with new songs. We had seven written that we thought were fairly solid, although we knew that they would be improved by Jed's input when he came back from his summer work term in Calgary. They were all intended to be hard and fast. We wanted a set that would have no let up. Every song was intended to be a powerhouse. No filler.
We'd been playing for about an hour, sitting on our amps and running over song after song. We'd gotten into the habit of jamming through David Bowie's Heroes for long stretches, sometimes even fifteen or twenty minutes. We didn't sing. We just kept going through the riffs, looking for different ways to bring the song up and down, peak, back away, build up again, crescendo, over and over again. I'm not even sure what we thought we were learning. How to listen to each other, I guess.
Anyway, Nick arrived home and came immediately down to the basement. We brought the jam to an end as he thumped down the stairs.
Long time no see, brutha, Ryan said. Hell, I thought you died or something.
Classes, man, Nick said. He had his sunglasses perched on top of his head. What are you guys doing?
Jamming, I said. What's it look like?
Okay, don't get snarky. He stood up on his toes and smiled. I've got news.
Ryan was digging a cigarette out of his paper pack. What news?
Nick was almost bursting. Remember Keith, the manager at Jake's Restaurant? He called me a couple times this month. He wants to set something up for the fall.
Yeah, that sounds cool, I said. He mentioned having us back. I don't know why he's calling this early about it.
Well, that's the thing, Nick said. We've been chatting. And he's been chatting with the owner of the bar. Keith thinks it would be worthwhile to do some renovations, clean the place up, and put in some equipment to make it a better venue for bands.
That's cool, Ryan said. So we'll get to play?
Keith thinks we're the shit, Nick said. He thinks we're a guaranteed draw. He figures on having Riot Band play regular shows there to protect the investment, like, guarantee a profit. That's all the owner cares about.
All based on one successful gig? I said. So what happens when we start playing our shows and no one turns up?
Nick shrugged. Maybe we'll get fired. But we're being handed the slot. It's basically being created for us. Hell, Keith is talking about weekly shows. If things go really well, we could do one night solo, and another night with a guest band. Or host jam nights. And get this: we would get paid!
That does sound pretty good, Ryan said. It sounds pretty safe. It would certainly help us get our act together if we were playing regular gigs.
Maybe, I said. I don't know. I'm skeptical somehow. It would be pretty embarrassing if no one came out and we got fired. And even if we got some crowds, it might get stale pretty fast, playing the same stuff at the same place every week.
That depends what we do, Ryan says. We could keep adding new songs to keep it fresh. We could keep changing the show.
I suppose. But you and Jed will be in classes. You might not have much free time. I sighed. Maybe we should go see Keith. Talk this over.
Sure, Ryan said. He looked at Nick. We could go down there tonight.
2009, Nolan Whyte