So there I was, with some things going right and some things going wrong. Things with my band were going well: Ryan and I were writing good new songs, and even though Jed was away for the whole summer, at least we had a plan in place. We were going to be playing a weekly set at Jake's Restaurant starting in September. Jake's was nothing special, but it was still a great opportunity for a beginning band like ours.
So things were good with the band, but everything else in my life was a basic shambles. I was sleeping on a foam mat on the concrete floor in Nick's basement. I couldn't make up my mind whether or not to return to university in the fall, and I probably couldn't afford it if I wanted to. And if I didn't go back to school I would have to start looking for a real job, because my cashier gig at Sally's Convenience Store wouldn't take me very far in life.
And then there were the women. There was Lise, my co-worker at Sally's, who was super-cool and damn near perfect for me except for being underage and having a scary, overprotective drug dealer brother. And then there was Jasmine, who was bad news from top to bottom, but was navigating her way back into my life. And I was letting her do it. Why? Because I'm stupid.
I had a rare dayshift at Sally's on Wednesday. The ugly little convenience store had a different vibe during the day, since there weren't so many drunks and screwballs coming through the door-- mostly just moms and high school kids. It lacked the tension of the night shifts, but you had to work a lot harder because Will, the manager, was there watching you.
On my last coffee break I walked to the phone booth in the parking lot and called Jasmine's cell. I still knew the number by heart from the months we'd dated. It rang twice and she answered.
Jas, I said. It's Eric.
Oh, hey Eric, she said. Are we still on for tonight?
Sure, I said. You want to meet at the bar, or what do you want to do?
Come around and pick me up, would you? she said. The Grill House is at this end of town. Stop by and we can walk over.
I told her I'd swing by around eight and we said goodbye.
Down at the other end of the parking lot was the Gas-And-Go where Ryan worked. It was about time for him to start his shift, so I strolled down there to see if he'd arrived. The middle-aged Pakistani guy that worked with him smiled when he saw me, and pointed to the corner of the spaghetti restaurant. I waved thanks to him and went around the side of the building.
Ryan was there, leaning against the grey brick wall, smoking a cigarette.
Hey, my guitarist said with a grin. He was already wearing his oil-stained blue coveralls. I thought today was a party day for you.
Work all day, party all night, I said. What are you doing?
I'm standing here smoking, obviously, he said. And then I'm going to spend the next eight hours standing around this parking lot. It's a wonderful life I lead.
Sure, I said. But this is only temporary. Remember, by this time next year we'll be living on yachts and having helicopters fly us to our gigs. And we'll have water beds, except instead of water, they'll be full of whiskey. There will be a little straw, and whenever we need some, we'll just, you know, slurp, slurp, and then put the straw away. Whiskey-beds.
He laughed. You're in a good mood. You high?
No, I said. I'm just pumped about this gig tonight.
Right, the cover band, he said, dragging on his smoke. What are they called again? Ass-shaft?
Crankshaft. Too bad you can't make it, man. Their bass player is a super-cool guy.
Yeah, you keep telling me. You're going by yourself?
I scratched the back of my head. Um, no, I said. I found someone to come along.
I knew Ryan was going to give me a hard time, but hell, I deserved it. I'm taking Jasmine.
He laughed and shook his head. Eric man, are you serious? You've got to be high. Don't you remember the bottle incident? Or that crap at the Ballroom show? You must be kidding me.
Yeah, yeah, I said. I know. But you can relax. We're not dating again or anything like that. We're just going to see a band together, as friends. I'm not stupid enough to get back together with her.
No, no, Ryan said, shaking his head. I know what's going on. You like that jail-bait chick Lise, but you can't nail her, so you're going to try and get some play with Jasmine. You're letting blue balls cloud your judgment. Dude, you are going to regret this like crazy.
I shrugged. What can I do? She says she wants to be friends. I don't want to be rude.
You joke, man, Ryan said, flicking away the spent butt. You'll see what I mean. Chicks like that have no idea what friend' means. I don't want to have to find a new bass player after she chops you up.
We walked over to the gas station, and Ryan looked me in the eye. Let me be serious for a minute, Eric, he said. If you want to get back together with Jasmine, that's up to you. But if you actually just want to be friends, make sure you KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. Hmm? Don't do anything you don't want to do. Right? You know what I'm talking about?
Yeah, man. I got it. Don't worry. I'll keep it in my pants.
He put his hands up and backed away, as though he were some neutral party with no say in the matter. It's up to you, man. I'm just saying.
Not to worry. I checked my watch. I've got to get back to work. I'll give you a call tomorrow.
He pointed at me. Keep your eyes open.
Ryan's words resonated, and I started to give serious thought about whether or not Jasmine was going to try and drag me into bed tonight. For sure, she had dressed sexy when she came around to try and make up with me. And despite the violence and venom, I knew she still liked me. I was already walking a fine line just by going out to the bar with her. I didn't want to leap right into a disaster by getting drunk and falling into bed with her.
A possible solution presented itself when I was straightening the magazine racks. The porn magazines were lined up along the top row, and it occurred to me that I could take one home, jerk off two or three times, and not have any juice in me when I went to meet Jasmine. That might eliminate any pent-up horniness and keep me from getting in trouble.
That plan was dashed as soon as the closing cashier arrived, however. It was Lise, and although I was happy to see her, her arrival put a quick end to my plan. Any purchase I made would have to be from my work partner, and if they caught me on the security camera stealing a magazine, it would mean the end of my employment at Sally's Convenience Store. And I didn't feel like buying a bunch of porn from Lise. It just didn't feel right.
The boss left for the day, leaving Lise and I alone until the end of my own shift an hour later. It was to my added misfortune that she looked especially good that day, although it might have been psychological on my part. What Ryan said had clearly gotten inside my head and was screwing with my brain. I had to avoid sex, so suddenly it was all I could think about. The magazines, the jerk-off plan, the hot little goth-metal girl standing next to me... everything was working against me, making me more and more horny.
Lise leaned back against the counter. I avoided looking at the way her little breasts jutted up toward me. So, she said, looking for a way to start a conversation, you're going to see a band tonight?
I nodded. I was looking at an issue of Rolling Stone, reading an article about Lemmy from Motorhead. She was just standing there next to me, being underage and sexy.
What kind of music do they play?
Classic rock covers. Nothing really special, but they're really good at it.
Are you going to get dressed up?
No, I said. It's just a bar. Apparently it's not even a very nice bar. I'll just wear some jeans and stuff.
Right, Lise said. My brother Smokey used to live in Vancouver. I went out there to visit him one summer when I was like, thirteen. He had this girlfriend, and they were always going to see these industrial bands, like KMFDM and Skinny Puppy and guys like that. It's not really the kind of music I like, but she used to dress up in these awesome outfits to go to the shows. Really tight black outfits and vinyl and stuff. She had this one thing, it was like a corset, like a purple vinyl corset that was super-tight, and it pushed her boobs right up to here, you know?
She gestured with her hands to illustrate boobs being pushed up really high. I politely glanced and looked back at the magazine.
Anyway, Lise went on, I never got to go to any of those shows, but I really wanted to go, just so I could dress in those crazy costumes, you know? I'd love to go all the way with an outfit like that some time, with all the dark mascara and red lipstick, and the corset and boots and the vinyl and the fishnet stockings. The whole thing, you know?
I could feel my face getting red and blood rushing through me. I wasn't able to make sense of the article I was trying to read. Not with the image of a vinyl-clad Lise strutting around in my mind's eye.
It'll never happen in this town, though, she said with a sigh. I would never wear an outfit like that in Garrison Valley. It would freak out the rednecks too much.
Yeah, I said. People here wouldn't be able to handle it.
By the time my shift ended I had such outrageous wood that I was almost walking with a limp. Through no fault of her own, everything Lise said or did seemed to tease me into a worse state. As soon as I could I said a polite good night and got the hell out of there.
* * * *
There wasn't much to do except leap into the lion's jaws, so I went home, ate and showered, and headed right back out the door. I didn't want to spend too much time sitting around driving myself crazy. I figured the earlier I got to Jasmine's then the earlier we could get to the bar, and the earlier I could start pouring beers down my throat. Somehow (you can chalk it up to youthful stupidity) I thought getting really hammered would solve all of the evenings dilemmas.
What the hell? Jasmine said as she let me in to her apartment. You said eight. It's barely seven. I'm nowhere near ready to go.
Sorry, I said. I'm a little crossed up tonight. We'll head over early and have a few beers while we wait for the band.
I had to wait while she got dressed and did her makeup. Unfortunately there wasn't much for me to do. Barnes, her old roommate, had taken everything with him when he moved out, including the couch, the TV, and pretty much every other stick of furniture. Conrad, her big ape of a new roommate, had apparently brought nothing. I sat down on the floor and read the introduction to one of Jasmine's art textbooks that was lying around.
Conrad wasn't there, and I was glad. I didn't like the guy, and I knew I would probably start acting weird if he was around.
I could see Jasmine going back and forth between her bedroom and the bathroom, sometimes not quite dressed. I had a view of a black bra at one point. I knew she wanted me to see her like that. I'd had a similar look at Ryan's roommate Minako a while back, but I had the feeling Minako didn't care if I saw her. With Jasmine, every little view was calculated.
Jasmine came out of her bedroom all dressed and ready. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw her, because she looked fantastic. I just wanted to get out of there so we could start drinking. I was starting to forget that this night was supposed to be about seeing Crankshaft play. It was turning into a game of survival, where sex-with-the-ex meant certain doom.
The Grill House was walking distance from Jasmine's place, and we trundled over, trying to make conversation on the way. It was awkward as hell. I didn't know what to talk about, so I tried to get her to talk. She went on about her summer photography class for a while, but suddenly she asked me if I was seeing anyone.
I laughed nervously. No, I said. No, I'm not seeing anyone. And why do you ask?
No reason, she said. I just like to know what's going on.
We got to The Grill House and walked right in. It wasn't a big place. A bar ran up the left side, and there was a small stage on the right, with a no man's land of tables in between. I could see a pool table at the back, and there was a tiny dance floor in front of the stage. There were a few people there, but not many. The lights were still up, and although there was a stack of musical equipment on stage, nothing was set up yet.
It would be a while before the band got on stage. Jasmine and I sat down at a table. We had a long night ahead of us.
2010, Nolan Whyte