I woke up in my own bed. I knew it was my bed, because I could feel the hardness of the basement's concrete floor through the cheap foam mattress. There was the warmth of a sleeping body next to me.
It was dark, but the lines of light coming in from below the door at the top of the stairs showed it was daylight. I turned and squinted into the darkness to identify the person sharing my bed. Obviously it was Jasmine.
What the hell happened? I could only remember fragments, like flashes of events. I remembered watching the band. Dancing. Pushing with some guys. A cab ride where I kept grabbing Jasmine's thigh. Ugh, what a mess. Did we have sex? I was still fully dressed, so it seemed unlikely. Then again, I might have put my clothes back on because of the chill in the basement. I slipped a finger down the waist of my jeans to see if I was still wearing my underwear. Affirmative. It was still there.
My head was banging and my mouth felt like a dog had shit in it. I lay back with my eyes closed and tried to adjust to being awake again, but nothing would make the pain in my head stop. It was like a pulse of energy, some nefarious wave of evil power, warping out from a black source at the base of my skull, keeping rhythm with the beating of my rotten heart.
Damn, I thought. That sounds like bad lyrics. I needed to get up and find a pen. I would write a hangover song. I tried to think of words to rhyme with rotten heart, but a sound distracted me.
Jasmine rolled halfway towards me. You're awake? she asked.
Yeah, I said in a cracked, gravelly voice. Clint Eastwood on a bad day. Did uhh... did we do it?
She sat up. Even in the dark I knew she was giving me a nasty look. You've got to be kidding me.
I lay still while she got up and found the hanging cord for the light, a bare 100 watt bulb hanging right over the bed. She yanked the cord and the light come on, blasting my eyes with a laser of white agony that shot straight through my eyes to burn the back of my skull. I grasped at the pillow and rolled over to cover my face, trying to find relief and gnashing my teeth in pain.
You were so pissed last night, she said. I could hear her moving around, probably getting dressed. You made a complete fool of yourself. And you think we had sex? You puked. You could barely walk. My friends must have thought you were a goddamn redneck idiot. Why the hell would we have sex after that bullshit display?
I thought you wanted to hook up, I moaned.
What made you think that? I told you: I just want to be friends.
Holding the pillow over my face, I struggled to sit up. You were serious? I said. I lowered the pillow enough to blink out at her. Then what are you doing here in my bed?
Jasmine froze and stared at me goggle-eyed, apparently unable to process my stupidity. Are you joking? she said. I had to pay for a cab to get your drunk ass home last night. Of course I slept here. What do you think I was going to do, walk all the way back to my place at three in the morning?
I slumped back down. After the way you came to my work, I was sure you wanted to get back together. Or at least hook up.
And you wanted to? she asked in a vicious voice.
No, I said. I don't know. Maybe. I wasn't sure. I didn't want to, but then we were having beers and I thought, I don't know...
She sat down and started tying her shoelaces. God, Eric, you think you're such hot shit, don't you? Like, it would be impossible for me to just be friends with you. You figured I must want to get back together, right? Like I didn't learn my lesson the first time.
She stood up. I'll see you around. And you should probably get up and clean the puke off your doorstep before your roommates find it.
I listened as she stomped up the steps and out through the door. I could hear her footsteps as she passed through the kitchen to the foyer, and then the creak and slam as she opened and shut the front door. She was gone.
What could I do? I lay there like a dummy for a while feeling stupid, and then I got up and went upstairs.
Nick was in the kitchen. He looked at me like a cop looking at a well-known thief. Was that Jasmine? he asked.
I nodded. Yeah.
Man, you look like shit.
Yeah. I eyed the cup Nick was holding. Is that coffee?
It's instant. There's still some water in the kettle. Help yourself.
He watched as I scooped three teaspoons of the powder into a mug. I poured in the water, had a sip and gagged, almost throwing up in the sink. I looked at the muddy liquid in the cup. I added another teaspoon of the dark brown powder and stirred the coffee again.
Nick started laughing. First time using instant? he said. Man, that's enough for eight cups.
I had another tentative sip. It was absolutely the worst thing I'd ever had, but I stuck with it, suffering through another few sips. This is the way I like it, I said and tried another sip. Gah, that's disgusting.
Your next dump is going to smell like coffee if you drink that, Nick said. He pointed at my legs. What's all over your pants?
I looked down. My pant legs from the knees down were spattered with an orange-brown crust. Vomit, I said. That reminds me, have you gone out the front door yet?
He looked suspicious. No. Why?
No reason. I found a cooking pot in the cupboard and filled it with hot water. I choked down a few more sips of coffee and went outside to rinse away my puke.
* * * *
I had breakfast and loaded my clothes and bed sheets into the washing machine, then called Ryan. He was working on some songs when I called him. He asked me if I wanted to come down to his place and jam, but I convinced him to meet me for coffee first. The cup of instant I'd made was undrinkable, and I was put off trying another.
We went to The Bean Machine, the caf near the Garrison Valley University campus, which was also close by Ryan's apartment. I arrived first, dragging along my bass and amp. I ordered and sandwich and coffee, and took a table near the windows.
Even in the middle of the summer there were students there reading and marking up notebooks. It got me to thinking about my non-decision to return to classes in the fall. It was something I missed already, and it had only been a few months since the last semester had ended. Sitting in the coffee shop with an open book appealed to me. The thought of busting my nuts to finish busy-work assignments was less appealing, but I still had to decide whether or not to go back.
Ryan came in and spotted me. He grinned as he came over. Even though I'd showered and shaved I looked horrible, and I knew he could see how hung over I was.
So, he said, sitting down, have fun last night?
Not really, I said. I had I bit too much to drink. Can you imagine that?
I'm shocked, he said. Did you and Jasmine end up together?
Kind of, I said. She did stay over at my place, but I puked on the doorstep and then passed out with my clothes on. So we didn't exactly get it on.
I nodded and sipped my coffee. I think I need to re-evaluate my priorities, I said. And I definitely need to re-think my approach to women.
Maybe some avoidance would be a good idea, Ryan said. It wouldn't kill you to back off the drinking. No offence, but whenever you're around a girl you like, you always end up getting loaded out your skull. It's not much of a strategy.
Yeah. The barista came around with my sandwich. I started to eat, but as I munched I told Ryan what Jasmine had told me that morning.
I don't care what she says though, I said. I know she still has feelings for me. Or she did before last night, anyway.
Time to move on, man, Ryan said. Call it a fresh start. Until school starts you've got nothing to worry about except writing songs and having fun. Forget the chicks and just take it easy. Read some books, listen to some tunes, and chill. Besides, you know you're going to meet loads of new girls when we go back to class.
Yeah, I said. Except that I'm not going back.
He grinned. You're going. What are you going to do, make a career out of Sally's Convenience Store? Or do you think Riot Band is going to pay the bills?
I laughed. Yeah, fat chance.
You need to figure it out, dude. Ryan ran his fingers through his curly hair. Think about it. You're an intelligent guy, but you clearly have no idea what you want. You could screw around working suck-ass jobs and get nowhere, or you could hang around campus for a few years drinking beers and playing in a band, and end up with a degree. He sat back, satisfied with his little speech. It seems pretty clear to me.
I washed down the last of the sandwich with the last of my coffee. Damn, I said, when did you become a life councilor?
He smiled. Let's forget it for now, okay? I've been learning this old song and I really want to teach it to you.
What is it? Something we could use at a show?
No, I don't think it would fit with the rest of our songs, he said. I've just been jamming it, and it's a lot of fun. I don't know. You might dig it. Are you ready to go?
I picked up my stuff and we walked back to his apartment. I kept asking him what the song was, but he refused to tell me.
If you know the name, you'll think it's cheesy and stupid. I just want to teach you the music, and we'll see if you recognize it.
At Ryan's apartment we found Minako, his roommate, sitting in the living room with seven other young Japanese people. They had bags of chips and plenty of beers open. They gave a cheer when they saw the guitar bag I was carrying, and started talking amongst themselves.
Minako, always very cool and reserved, played her usual role and seemed to act as though we were fashionable accessories, her rock and roll roommates.
Come, you drink beer with us! said one fellow, giving up his seat on the couch and gesturing for us to sit down.
No, thanks anyway, Ryan said and we headed down the hall to his bedroom.
Could be fun, I said, as we plugged in the guitars. There are some chicks chicks. And they've got lots of beer.
Sure, lots of beer for them, Ryan says. What happens when you sit down and drink eight of their beers? Not so many to go around then, huh? Forget it man. Let's just play. And forget about trying to hook up. It's just trouble man.
I sat down on the floor and cradled the bass in my lap. Relax, man. I don't want to f--k 'em all. I'm just saying.
Never mind. Just listen to this. He started to play, made a mistake, paused, and started again. Daddle-daddle-da, di-di-da, diddle-diddle-da, di-di-da, dum-dum, diddle-da...
Sounds familiar, I said.
It's cool, isn't it? He kept playing. Recognize it?
Yeah, I think so, I said, but I can't name it.
It's Bob Dylan, he said. Like A Rolling Stone. He started to sing in a thin, high-pitched voice: You used to...laugh about...
Okay, okay, I said. Good grief, don't sing. You're terrible. What do I do? Show me what to play.
This song is about you, you know that? Ryan said, continuing to strum. It's about losers who don't know what to do with their lives.
You're sweet. Just tell me what I'm supposed to play.
Okay. You start with a C...
2010, Nolan Whyte