Ryan and I practiced again after class on Wednesday. It went more smoothly than the first time, and I just followed his directions and played whatever he wanted me to play. It had occurred to me that I would probably learn fastest by simply following directions in the beginning, and then trying to figure out the fine details later on. Like Yoda says in Empire: There is no why. Don't ask questions. Just play.
We went over the first song he had taught me earlier in the week, and when we were both bored of it he pulled out another of his original creations. I don't have a name for this one yet, he said. It's got some words, but I'm still working them out. He started playing.
It should be abundantly clear by now that I'm not a musicologist, nor a critic or theorist. I listen to music on the radio and generally don't give it much thought, but even I thought his new song was overly simplistic. The bass part that he wanted me to play had only three notes: two for the verse and another for the chorus. At first I liked it because it was easy enough to play right away, but it just didn't sound very interesting.
It's pretty plain, isn't it? I asked when we had run through it for the second time. Don't you think it needs a little more...something?
Yeah, well, like I said, I'm still working on it. He set his guitar down and reached for his smokes. The other thing you've got to remember is that the songs sound pretty pussy right now because I'm turned down real low and you're not using an amp. It would sound totally different if we were cranked up real loud.
Fair enough. That reminds me though, what are we going to do about a bass amp? I can barely hear anything when I play.
I've been thinking about that, he said and lit up. He got that look that I'd already come to recognize as his business meeting look. I've provided a bass, he said, so your investment so far has been nil, right? I think you should buy yourself an amp.
Right. And how much would that cost?
If you just get a little practice amp it could be less than a hundred. If you want something that we could use at small shows it could go up and up. Four, five hundred. It depends how serious you think we're going to get.
I set the bass on the couch next to me and leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. Yeah, and that's my other worry, I said. I'm not so sure if I want to lay down a bunch of money if this is going to be half-assed. Like, if we're going to keep doing this then I'm willing, but I don't want to end up having just an amp and no bass because this doesn't go anywhere.
Ryan smiled. I thought about that. He took a drag on his cigarette and exhaled. The smoke hung in the air. With the mess, the half-drawn curtains, the smoke and the yellowed paint on the walls, the apartment seemed very seedy. It suited the image of the young rocker pretty well.
We make a simple agreement, he said. You buy the amp. As long as we're playing together, you can use the bass. If we stop playing or split up or anything like that, we agree to buy one another out. Like, if you want to keep playing, you give me a hundred bucks for the bass and it's yours. Or if you don't think you'll keep playing then I'll buy the amp from you. So either way, we're covered.
I thought it over and couldn't see a problem with the plan. We played our two songs a few times and then tried to just jam, but I didn't know what to do. Anything I tried to play sounded wrong against what he was playing, so after a few minutes we gave it up.
When I got ready to leave Ryan again tried to make me take the bass with me. I still didn't know what I would do with it, or even where I would put it, but he was so earnest that I finally agreed to take it.
Is there a case for it? I asked. I'd hate to get snow on it.
No case, but it should be fine, he said. It's not snowing today anyway.
I shrugged and started putting my shoes on. As I squatted in the entryway tying my laces, the door opened and hit me in the small of the back. I tipped forward and got out of the way. Looking up, I saw the face of a young Asian woman looking in through the open doorway.
Oh, hey Minako, said Ryan. Eric, this is my roommate Minako. Minako, this is Eric.
She smiled a tiny shy smile and nodded her head. Hey, I said.
She slipped past me, and after briefly wiping her boots on the doormat, she walked through the apartment and disappeared into a room down the hall, closing the door behind her.
I didn't realize you had a roommate, I said as I finished tying my shoes.
Yeah. She's from Japan. Her English isn't that good, but she's pretty cool. She's majoring in film and video, or something like that.
Cool, I said, standing up. She can shoot our videos. Or our live DVD or some shit like that.
He laughed. Right. Sounds good.
* * * *
I walked home with the bass tucked awkwardly under one arm. I felt foolish carrying it around without a case, but at the same time it felt good to have people giving me a second look. I liked the idea of people looking at me and thinking, There goes a musician. In Rose Creek, people would look at me and think, There goes that troublemaker. I got in a few fights as a kid and beat up my opponents pretty badly. It gave me a reputation I didn't like: bully. Thug. Having people see me as something else would be a nice change.
Back at the apartment, Dustin and Nick were at work on the stove, smoking hash. The element was on and Nick had an old blackened butter knife jammed into the coil to heat up. He had another knife in his hand, with a dab of black hash on the blade.
Hey boys, I said, kicking off my shoes. Studying?
Holy shit, look at this guy, said Dustin, barely able to open his reddened eyes. He's a rock star. I thought you were just um, I didn't think you were really joining a band. Holy shit, look at this guy, he repeated, elbowing Nick.
Careful, said Nick. He was focused on the knives. He had the top cut off a plastic bottle, which in his mouth to act as a funnel for the smoke. With the blade in the element almost starting to glow, he used a dishtowel to grab the knife handle and quickly pushed the hot blade against the dab of hash on the other knife. There was a puff of smoke, which Nick sucked up through the bottle top. When all the smoke was gone he dropped the funnel, set one knife of the enamel stovetop, and jammed the other back into the element coil. Then he backed away and leaned against the wall, his lungs full of the acrid, intoxicating smoke.
It f--king reeks in here, I said, taking off my jacket. Open some windows or something.
Nick blew out a cloud. Can't, man. The neighbors.
Well, it's time to finish up anyway. I need to make supper.
We're almost done, Dustin said, adding another dab to the cool knife.
I bypassed the scene and went down the hall to my walk-in closet. It wasn't a scene I cared much for. I had nothing against some minor drug use here and there, but I wasn't a big fan of Nick moving in and basically turning my home into a hotbox. That was what Nick was all about: he was basically human pollution. He wasn't really a bad guy, but the instant he arrived, our apartment became dirtier. He didn't shave, wash his clothes or shower often enough. I guess his girlfriend Angie was into body odor, because she worshipped him like a god, despite his stink.
The walk-in closet that served as my bedroom was, as you can imagine, cramped. It was about three feet deep, and six feet long. The entire floor was covered by a foam sleeping roll and blankets, and the shelves above were heaped with my clothes and school books. I hadn't brought a lot of personal belongings when I moved to Garrison Valley to go to university, although if I had, I probably wouldn't have been pressured into moving into the closet.
I flicked on the light and sat down on the makeshift bed. With the bass in my lap I leaned against the wall, but the space was so narrow that I had to hold the neck of the bass almost upright. It was ridiculous, but I played for a while like that, running over the two songs that Ryan and I played, and then just thumping around on the strings trying to find notes that sounded good in sequence. It wasn't exactly fun, but I figured that was the way to learn.
* * * *
When Friday night rolled around Dustin invited me to come out to the bar with him and Kara, his girlfriend. Up until two weeks ago I usually went to Gooch's on Fridays with Sash, but since she had exiled me to Dumpsville I had nothing else going on. I made sure they weren't going to Gooch's and agreed to tag along.
We got in a cab and crossed town to a bar called Shattered. There were really only two clubs that drew the university dance crowd, and Shattered was the cleaner, brighter, and more expensive. It was definitely not my favorite place, but Sash was always at Gooch's, and I wanted to avoid her. At least, until I was ready to show her she'd made a big mistake.
The inside of Shattered reminded me of an 80's movie. There was plenty of neon lighting in pink and blue. The whole place had a dim powder blue glow which was accentuated by the smoke machine that pumped out its chalky crap over the dance floor, but we arrived too early for smoke. The place was getting full, but the dance floor was still empty. Runaway from U2 was playing over the sound system.
The bar was built on three tiers. The uppermost had some pool tables and booths. The main tier was where the entrance, bars, and most of the tables were, and the lower tier had the DJ booth and dance floor.
We got drinks, and Dustin and Kara started chatting with some people I didn't know. I didn't feel like standing around with the gang of them, so I wandered up the stairs to the upper level to get a view of the place. In one of the booths was a guy named Nick from my English class, and he spotted me and waved. I didn't really know him but I went over to say hello.
How's it going? he shouted over the music. You're Eric, right? Wanna sit down?
Sure, I said, and slid in next to him. He was sitting with another guy and two girls. They all seemed pretty normal, pretty unremarkable. Nick seemed cool, in an outsider way. He had on a black denim jacket, black clothes and dyed black hair. He seemed to have a style, anyway. I was usually too lazy to think about a look for myself. T-shirt. Jeans. Ready to go.
We chatted about the class we shared for a few minutes, quickly covering the professor, the assignments and the cuter girls in the class.
So you're an English major? he asked.
No, I said. I'm still undecided. Maybe English, maybe History. Maybe something else. I... aw, shit.
What? He looked around, trying to see where I was looking.
Over by the pool table, chalking up a cue was the guy who had been making out with Sash at Gooch's the weekend before. The guy with the handlebar moustache. 2009 Nolan Whyte