The last week of August was hotter than hell, with a dry prairie wind blowing through Garrison Valley's dusty streets. There was a feeling of desperation among the young people watching the last days of summer slipping away, but there was also the anticipation of a new school year, with new people, new classes, parties and the usual goofy university silliness soon to arrive. Classes were due to start on the coming Tuesday.
Nick was getting wired for the return to class, although he acted too cool to admit it. For a scene-whore like him, a full class load represented a few hundred new potential friends and collaborators. Ryan was excited to get back as well, but his social urges were more biological. He'd had no luck picking up chicks working as a pump-monkey at the gas station all summer, and he was looking forward to meeting new girls on campus.
I had eventually chosen the path of least resistance and signed up for two classes: a Monday-Wednesday-Friday American Literature course, and a Tuesday-Thursday European History course. It seemed worth while to register, even if it was only for two classes. Having a class to go to gave me a reason to get out of bed at a decent time each day, and it kept my parents off my back about what I was doing with my life. Sweet complacency.
As well, it gave me a reason to hang around the campus. I definitely liked the lazy student lifestyle, although I wasn't crazy about the classes. Taking a light load seemed to allow me the one without over-doing the other.
I had to work the Saturday night before school started. It was a good night for me, because I was closing with my buddy James, and Lise was there, finishing the late afternoon shift. There were a few hours that we would get to hang out and work together.
Hey brother, James said when I walked in. We were supposed to start our shift the same time, but he was already behind the counter, wearing his staff vest. Guess what? he said. Good news.
I have no idea, I said. Good for me, or good for you?
Me, dude! My band has its first gig lined up. We're playing a house party next weekend.
Hey, cool, I said, and high-fived him.
Lise came out of the back room and joined us at the counter. Hey Eric, she said. Thanks for showing up almost on time. Is James telling you all about his amazing gig?
Yeah. I looked at James. He looked so proud. It was kind of cute, in a puppy dog kind of way. Does that mean you guys settled on a name?
Yeah, we're going with The Urges, he said. There are some other bands out there using it, but we like it. It sounds like it could be from any era, you know? The sixties, the nineties, or any time.
It's pretty good, I said. You're lucky you all like it. It took us forever to settle on Riot Band.'
He shrugged. We fought too. Our new singer, Dong-Ha, wanted to use the name Burn Unit. But the rest of us thought it was kind of insensitive, you know? Like, there are people out there with burns and shit. It seems kind of cruel to act like a burn unit is a cool place.
Lise smirked. That's stupid, she said. I guess everyone who knows a murder victim should be mad about Slayer's name, right?
I guess not, James said. It just seems to invite trouble. Like burn units are awesome or something. They're not. They're a place to go when you're all burned. Like, when those guys were sending anthrax in the mail, and the band Anthrax was like, Oh, we're not terrorists. We just thought it was a cool sounding name.' It seems like the same thing.
Lise shook her head. I have no idea what you're talking about. Anthrax in the mail? That doesn't even make sense.
No, it happened, I said. After 9/11. Guys were sending powdered anthrax viruses through the mail all over the U.S.
After 9/11, like in actual 2001? Lisa said. So what was I, five years old? I don't remember that far back.
I smiled. Okay. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I remember talking about it in current events' at school.
James nodded in agreement. Yeah, I remember too. Did they ever catch the guys that were sending it?
I don't think so, I said. The conspiracy nuts probably think it was the government anyway. You know, just to freak people out. Keep the masses scared. Anyway, I'm going to grab my vest.
It was a busy evening, but we managed to chat quite a bit before Lise was ready to leave. James and I were both careful not to talk about school, since it seemed to be a sensitive subject with Lise. Since she'd dropped out of Grade Eleven during the last winter and was not returning to school in the fall, she was apparently getting tired of listening to how happy her co-workers were to go back to class. I'd already heard her tell another one of the girls to shut up, so I figured it best to just skip the subject.
What Lise was very interested in talking about was her seventeenth birthday, which was coming up at the end of September. She was planning to have a party at her brother's house again, with lots of beers and pot and, she hoped, some bands. She looked at James and me both when she said that.
At seven o'clock she took off her vest and threw it in the back room. She grabbed her knapsack and gave us both half-joking fist bumps, but then gave us the finger before slipping out the door.
As soon as she was gone, James turned and looked at me. Eric, man, why aren't you hitting that? You know she likes you, man. She would go out with you in a second.
I shrugged. I'd quietly had my twentieth birthday two weeks before, so to me, the age difference was even greater than before: sixteen to twenty. Sure, she would be seventeen soon, but that didn't help right now.
I don't know, I said. Seems weird, going out with a co-worker, you know?
Ah, bullshit, he said. That's an excuse. And I know you think she's too young, but she's been around, man. She's experienced, you know what I mean?
I don't know, I repeated. I felt gutless.
James shook his head. I don't know either, he said. But sooner or later she's going to get tired of waiting for you, and she's going to go out with some other dude. And you're going to feel like an idiot.
I didn't answer him and just started stocking the shelves.
* * * *
On Sunday Jed got back to town, and Ryan and I were eager to catch up with him. We were excited about showing him the new songs we'd written for the band, but we were also going nuts to sort out our living arrangements for the fall.
Our plan had been to rent a three bedroom house in downtown Garrison Valley, and the three of us would live together. There were lots of houses available for cheap. All we had to do was ask around. But Jed had been dragging his feet, saying yes, maybe, yes, no, maybe. Now September was here, and I was still living in Nick's basement.
Ryan was really caught up. Minako, his roommate, was going back to Japan, and since he thought the three of us would get a place, he hadn't renewed his lease for the year. He was out on his ass. He had actually moved into Nick's basement as well, and the two of us were stuck down there together like a couple of cave-dwellers.
Jed was crashing at another friend's place while he worked out his own living arrangements. Nick, Ryan and I heard from him Sunday evening, and we went out to meet him at Gooch's.
Gooch's is one of the big party bars near the campus, but on a Sunday night it's mostly quiet drinks and people playing pool at the tables upstairs. The four of us got a table and sat down to catch up and work out our plans.
Calgary was good, Jed said. He was practically unrecognizable to us. He'd shaved off his trademark handlebar moustache, and had cut his hair down to shaggy mohawk. A flop-hawk, they call it.
Everybody says it's just cowboys there, but there's a lot of electronic music too, he was telling us as the server brought our pitchers of beer. I went to a rave every weekend, and I found some clubs that played some good shit. House, drum and bass, dub, all that stuff. It was really inspiring. I started working on a lot of music that was more in that direction.
Cool, I said, as I filled my glass. We've been working on a lot of stuff too. Mostly rock stuff though.
He sighed. Yeah. Look, I've got to be honest, guys. I'm really not inspired by Riot Band, you know? I've done this thing with the rock bands before. It's boring. It doesn't go anywhere. I'd rather work on some different styles of music.
What? Ryan said. What do you mean it doesn't go anywhere? Jed, we've got a paying weekly gig lined up. Do you have any idea how rare that is for a band at our level? That's like, it's like a magic jewel from the frickin' sky, man.
Jed grabbed the fringe of his hawk and twirled it in his fingers, just like he always did with his moustache. I know, he said, but it's still playing boring music in a shitty pub in a nothing town. It's not like it's CBGB's or something. It's hobby shit. And if that's all it is, I would just as soon do something else.
Nick looked at him. So...are you in or out.
Jed shrugged. Sorry guys. I think I'm out.
I shook my head. Dude, you've got to give us some time. We're supposed to play our first gig in less than two weeks. Will you at least play with us until we find someone to replace you?
He took a drink. Well, yeah, I guess. But I don't want this to stretch on forever.
Ryan was leaning back in his chair with a disgusted sneer on his face. What, have you got something else lined up? Big electronic projects?
No, Jed said coolly. I just don't want to devote too much time to something that I'm not passionate about.
Well, that's understandable, Ryan said. I mean, who could be passionate about such a boring band? We are boring, right? That's what you said. Boring.
Jed frowned. I didn't mean that you guys specifically are boring. I mean the whole thing of being in a rock band. Dude, I've been in a lot of bands. It's getting old, you know?
Look, I've got an idea, Nick cut in, interrupting Ryan before he could respond to Jed. Why don't we look at trying some of Jed's musical ideas with Riot Band? You guys could try to use some different sounds. Try some of the electronic stuff he's looking at.
I'm not going to play f--king rave music, Ryan said.
You don't know the first thing about music, Jed snapped. You can barely even play guitar, so don't get all pretentious.
This is going nowhere, I said. Jed, you'll give us until the end of September to find a new drummer?
He stared at Ryan for a few seconds, and then looked at me. Yeah. I'll give you the month.
There was a long awkward pause, and we all drank. Ryan said he was going out for a smoke, and I went with him.
Do you believe this shit? he asked me once we were outside. He dicks us around all summer about getting a place, and now he wants out of the band!
I know, I said, accepting a cigarette. Can you believe, a week ago I thought we should start looking for a singer. Now we're back to looking for a drummer again.
Ryan lit up. Man, being in a band sucks. I should have bought a new game console instead of a guitar.
I laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. Don't you quit on me too, you bastard. We're going to make this thing work.
2010, Nolan Whyte