Jake's Restaurant was in its normal state when we got there: practically dead. There was some old time country music playing quietly on the speakers and some rough old customers nursing beers or jack-cokes. No women. The place was a morgue. I'm no businessman, but it didn't take an MBA to see that the place would go broke if things didn't change. No wonder Keith wanted to get bands in there.
Keith was behind the bar, and he smiled as soon as he saw us walk in the place. Ryan, Nick and I each shook his hand, and we sat down at the bar and ordered some coffees. Keith poured for us, but he got right to the point.
I want to get you guys back in here again, he said. I've convinced my boss to put some money forward for track lighting and to fix up the sound system. And when your drummer comes back you guys can start playing some shows. We'll get this place packed, just like last time.
I stirred some cream into my coffee. Sounds good, man, I said. But I hope you understand that the last show was a bit of a fluke. Those people didn't show up because they know who we are. They just showed up because word got around about a crazy party. They came, I don't know, out of curiosity.
Sure, he said. I understand that. But a lot of people came, and people had fun. They bought a lot of booze and it was a big night. If we do the same thing again we probably won't get the same crowd, but if we keep trying maybe we'll get some word of mouth going and get some new regulars. Hell, we could even do a weekly jam night to get some fresh blood in. You guys could host. I'd pay you to do it.
Ryan looked over at me. I'm not sure if I dig that plan, he said. Bands that host those jams need to know a ton of covers.
Yeah, I'm not sure about the jam thing either, I said, but I would be interested in playing some shows. I'm just worried that a few people will show up at first, and then it will die out. We'll end up looking bad, and you'll be back where you started.
Keith stood back with his arms folded across his chest. I'm willing to take the risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket. If I can manage to get a couple grand out of my boss to fix this place up, then I'll get bands in here as often as I can to make the money back. I definitely want you guys to be a part of it, but you don't need to feel like all the pressure is on you.
I looked at Ryan and Nick. Do you think Jed will go for it?
I don't see why not, Nick said. He loves to play shows. And if there's money involved I can't imagine him saying no.
The word money made us stop, and Ryan, Nick and I turned together to look at Keith. He looked silently back at us.
There will be money involved, won't there? I asked.
He shrugged. Of course. Same deal as last time, right?
I don't know, Nick said. We got four hundred last time for a completely packed house. That was based on a percentage of bar sales, right? We all acknowledge that we'll probably see smaller crowds for regular shows. I think it would be a good idea to have a minimum.
Keith furrowed his brow. Like what?
Nick thought for a moment. Three hundred?
I didn't say anything, but suddenly I was glad we had Nick along with us.
Keith slowly shook his head. I can't afford to take any losses. I would have to have a rocking night to afford three hundred.
Ryan and I looked at each other. Two...hundred? asked Ryan.
Keith started to shake his head. Well, I don't know about that...
I thought you said nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I said. This place is dead the way it is. Give us a shot with the two hundred minimum, and if we're not earning it, you can fire us.
We agreed on the same profit percentage as before with a two hundred dollar minimum, shook hands, and called it a deal. We would try a weekly Thursday night show, starting in the second week of September. * * * *
So you can imagine that I was in a great mood when I got home that night. Since we hadn't been playing shows or working toward a definite goal, all summer long I'd felt like we were a band in name only. But now we had purpose, and we had a lot of work ahead of us to write enough songs to keep our sets fresh in the fall.
And I got more good news. When Nick and I got back to his house (I still couldn't think of it as my house), I check my e-mail on Nick's computer and I saw I had one from Knelson, my bass teacher from earlier in the summer. It was short and sweet:
hey eric my band crankshaft is palying a bar in garison valley called grill house on wendsday sorry for short notice hope see you there ask ill get you in free knelson
He wasn't much of a letter-writer, but I was happier than hell to hear from him. Nick was downstairs in the kitchen, and I went down and asked him if he wanted to check out the show.
The Grill House? he asked when I told him the gig's location. He spat the words out like venom. Have you been there?
No, I said. Why? What's wrong with it?
It's an old country shit-hole place on the edge of town. I was there once to see a band and I remember saying I would never go again. It's nasty, man. Just old bastards and cougars and fights. You're not going to see a chick there under thirty, dude.
Maybe, I said, but the band is really good.
What kind of music do they play?
Classic rock covers and shit like that, but they're really tight, man.
Nick smiled. Sorry, Eric. No way are you getting me to come out to that shitty bar for a show like that.
I called and invited Ryan but he was scheduled to work on Tuesday. I couldn't ask Lise to go with me--she would get carded at the door. So I figured I would have to go alone.
The next afternoon I went to work the closing shift at the convenience store. Lise was there finishing her afternoon shift, so while we stood around stocking the shelves I was able to apologize for crashing in her bed the other night at the house party.
That's okay, she said with a laugh. I could see you weren't going anywhere, and the couch upstairs is pretty comfy anyway. You passed out as soon as you touched the bed. You didn't even wake up when I came in to change for work in the morning.
You came in? I didn't hear you.
Yeah, she said. I turned the light on and everything. I changed and got ready for work. You didn't even stop snoring. She smiled at me and went back to her task.
That night while I tended the store, I thought about what she'd said. It was funny how she was careful to point out that she'd changed her clothes while I was in the room. It was one thing that she was willing to get undressed right in front of me knowing I might wake up, but it also seemed like she wanted me to know about it afterwards. It was some kind of psychological teaser. Weird.
Admittedly, the idea of watching her change was not repulsive. Neither was the idea of being in her bed. But her brother Smokey had me freaked right out. And the age thing... I tried to forget about it and focus on doing my job. And my job was to serve customers, including the drunks and the freaks and the occasional psycho ex-girlfriend.
I was handing a toothless guy his change when a spotted Jasmine coming in the door. Sally's Convenience Store was at the other end of town from where she lived, so I hadn't expected to see her there. I tensed up when I saw her. The toothless guy grabbed his bag of candy and soda and shuffled toward the exit. I look around. There were no other customers. No witnesses if she shot or stabbed me.
As usual, she looked like a sexy bag of sex. There was just something about her that got inside me, not matter how crazy I thought she was. It was a hot summer night, and she was wearing short jean cutoffs that gave me plenty of tanned leg to look at. And as always, her T-shirt was tighter than hell to show off what she had up top. She'd also streaked her bleached blonde hair with red, which heightened the summer sun-goddess look. But her good looks didn't take away the nervous feeling she gave me.
She stopped and rested an elbow on the counter where I was standing, leaning forward a bit and pushing out a hip to show off her curves.
I stood back a bit, expecting trouble. The last time we'd met she'd called me a coward, and the time before she'd hit me with a beer bottle. It was hard to guess where she might be going this time.
Hi, I said. Just in the neighborhood?
A friend told me they saw you working here, she said. I thought I'd stop by and say hello.
Right. And is Conrad with you? I asked, wondering where her big loony new boyfriend was.
No, she said. Why would he be?
I thought you two were together now.
She grinned as though I'd said something disgustingly hilarious. Oh, god no, she said. No, we're not dating. He's living in my apartment now though. Barnes had some money trouble, so he moved back in with his mom. Conrad took his room.
You sound jealous.
I snorted. Why would I be? We're not together anymore. And frankly, that's okay with me. I don't really go for the abusive types.
She looked down. Yeah, she said. Um, I actually came to apologize from what I said at the Ballroom a couple weeks ago. I guess I was pretty hard on you. But like I said before, I just wish you'd been more open with me. I thought we really had a connection, you know?
Yeah, I said. Well, I'm sorry I didn't explain myself better, but I really hadn't worked out my plans. Even so, I don't think there was any need to get violent.
Right. She bit her lip. Sorry.
I shrugged. Let's just forget about it, okay? It's all done with now anyway.
Yeah. She looked up at me. I miss you though.
I sighed. I could see where this was going and I didn't like it. I didn't want to get mixed up with this chick again. If I'd been smart, I would have told her to get the hell out, but I've never been that smart. And I've never been good at being mean, even when it was the obvious and correct thing to do. So all I said was Yeah.
Her eyes brightened a little. What do you think about hanging out some time? Maybe...just as friends?
I nodded. I had that feeling you get when you decide to do something you know you're going to regret later. Maybe, I said, and then took the plunge that would cause me so much trouble. Actually, I said, I'm going to see a band on Wednesday and I can't find anyone to go. Do you want to come along?
She smiled. Sure.
Okay. I'll call you on your cell Wednesday afternoon.
Sounds great, she said. Other customers had come into the store, and Jasmine turned to leave. She paused for a moment though and turned back, again biting her lip.
I really am sorry about the bottle, she said. I just...I guess I flip out a little sometimes.
Forget it, I said. Friends, okay? Don't worry about it.
She nodded and left. The apology was nice, but it didn't make the nervous feeling go away.
2009, Nolan Whyte