I don't know how much money they spent fixing up Jake's Restaurant for gigs, but I could see right away it was going to make a huge difference. Ryan and I went down in the afternoon to bring our gear and check the place out. Keith, the manager, practically jumped over the bar he was so excited to show off his investments.
Track lightning! he shouted as he led us to the back of the room where the stage had already been cleared off. Check it out! Eight lights! And I can switch on all of them, or just a few. And check out this gear!
We set down our guitars and looked it all over. He'd gone full-out, buying a P.A. system, a little sound board, monitors, and half a dozen microphones and stands. A lot of it was second-hand stuff, but it looked pretty impressive to us. He'd even rigged up small ceiling amplifiers around the room.
Keith was all smiles. What do you think? Are we going to kick ass tonight or what?
I looked at Ryan. He looked sick.
Sure, I said, looking back at Keith. Yeah, we're ready. Ryan, you want something to eat or something?
Ryan stared blankly for a second. I'm going for a smoke. He turned and walked out the front door.
Um, he was up late, I said. Practicing. You know. Um, I think we're going to do a couple of the breakfast specials. Um, bacon and eggs over-easy, I think. Coffee. I'm going to see how he's doing.
Keith could see that Ryan was rattled. Sure, no problem, he said, and backed away. I followed Ryan out.
Ryan was standing on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. You okay? I asked.
He smiled at me. They spent a lot of money, didn't they? I mean, some of that stuff is used, but they still spent a lot. For us. For us to play here. That's reeeee-tarded.
I took the cigarette from him and had a drag. We've been over this. It's not all on us. We're just up first, you know? He's going to have other bands later on. You're thinking like, if we suck, then he's going to lose his house or something.
Ryan shrugged. That might not be far off. You know, if nobody shows for this thing, or if they show up once and we suck, the bar might not make their money back. They could go under.
I handed his cigarette back. You're paranoid. And over-reacting. Everything is going to be fine. And anyway, we're going to play a good show tonight. Everything is going to be cool.
Ryan shook his head. Eric, is it possible that you haven't noticed how much we suck lately? These last few practices have been torture. We're actually worse than we were before.
I think that's overstating the case a bit, I said. But to hell with it anyway, right? We're here, and we've got a gig to play. He's going to pay us. We're going to have a good time. Shit, maybe we'll meet some girls.
He laughed. Yeah, just what you need, right? More girls. Who are you dating right now anyway? The psycho or the jailbait?
Neither right now, I said. I looked back in through the front window of the restaurant. He brought us coffee. We should go back in.
He flicked his butt into the gutter. Man, I hope both those chicks show up tonight. That would be hi-larious. You have the worst luck with girls, man. I guess they've been hot, but still. You should find yourself a nice ugly girl. Not ugly-ugly, but so-so ugly. That's probably the only way you'll get a girl who won't drive you nuts.
Thanks for the advice, wise one, I said. We went inside and sat down.
It was four o'clock. We ate our all-day breakfast speciasl and drank coffee. At five o'clock Nick and Jed showed up with the drums. They rolled up with the kit stacked in the back of a pickup truck. It was Jed's pal driving again. He came in, helped them carry the stuff, took ten bucks from Jed for gas money, and left without a word to the rest of us.
Who is that guy anyway? I asked.
A buddy from my home town, Jed said. Not really a close friend, but he doesn't mind helping out.
Who cares? Ryan said. Let's get set up. It will be nice to actually do a sound check for once.
We took our time setting up, and worked with the new equipment to get the levels as good as we could, and then did a partial run-through of the night's set.
I kept my eye on Keith. He was there the whole time, not really watching us, but always busy around the bar, serving a customer, wiping stuff, whatever. But I knew he was watching us out of the corner of his eye. He wanted to know what was going on. Anyone could see there were problems in our little band.
Ryan was nervous as hell and he was taking it out on Jed in snide little comments. Jed was giving Ryan looks, but he wasn't saying much. Nick was talkative, yapping about anything he could think of, I guess hoping to make everybody get along. It all got on my nerves. I wished we could all just drop the act and focus on playing.
The show was scheduled to start at nine. At six thirty I told them I was going to step out to clear my head. I didn't feel like hanging around in that little place, waiting forever for the show to start. Also, I didn't want to start drinking just because I was in a bar. I'd had too many bad nights lately because of booze.
Don't fall asleep anywhere, Ryan chirped after me as I stepped out the door. Remember last time? Don't be late. He seemed to have snappy words for everyone.
I walked up Reynolds Avenue until I got to Main, and cruised along until I found a coffee shop. I stopped inside, got a coffee and a doughnut, and sat reading a day-old sports section.
I went back at eight o'clock. It was still light out, and there were a few people hanging out in front of Jake's. When I got closer I started recognizing them. First there was my co-worker James and Randy, the guitar player in his band. They had an Asian guy in black T-shirt and shades with them. I figured he must be Dong-Ha, their new singer.
There was also my other co-worker, Lize. Lize was underage and looked it, so I wasn't sure why she'd come. Was she planning on sneaking in? Hell, a better question would be if Keith would even bother to card anyone. It wasn't like he had a door man. If she didn't try to order drinks, she would probably be fine.
Standing with Lize was a scary devil-faced guy with short black hair, smoking a cigarillo. It was Smokey, Lize's freaky drug-dealer brother. Okay. Things were getting weird. Smokey had a couple buddies with him too. I recognized them from his house party, although I didn't remember their names.
Who else was there? Things weren't looking so good. I saw Conrad, the big, wild-eyed screwball who was currently rooming with Jasmine, my more recent ex. He was trouble. And he was standing smoking cigarettes with Cara, Jasmine's low-self-esteemy friend. I figured Conrad plus Cara equals Jasmine is probably around somewhere too. This night was getting complicated fast.
I stopped and thought of all the worst names I could call Ryan.. He called it, didn't he? He said both Jasmine and Lize would show up. Not only that, but he actually hoped for it. He could have hoped for a good show, but instead he hoped things would go to shit for me.
James saw me and waved. I walked over and started saying hellos to everyone. Lize hugged. The guys mostly shook hands, fist-bumped or high-fived.
Smokey clutched hands with me and then pulled me close against him for a chest-shoulder bump. Was it a hip-hop thing? I never know what people want. I took it as a good sign anyway. Unless it was more of a touch my sister and I'll bury you type of chest bump. Why was I so intimidated by this guy? Because of his drug dealer status? He sold pot. He wasn't goddamn Pablo Escobar.
Cara nodded to me without coming over. If Conrad noticed me he gave no sign. We still hadn't been properly introduced, and I was fine with keeping things that way.
I went inside, and made straight for the bar. There were people in there, although it wasn't wall-to-wall the way it had been at the first gig. I looked around and spotted Nick and Jed talking with their friends near the back. Ryan was chatting with a few girls at a different table. I should have figured they wouldn't be hanging out together.
Keith had an extra bartender working, and I nodded to her. It's time, I said, and ordered two bottles of beer. She brought them over. On the tab? she asked.
You guys can charge your drinks, right? she asked. Keith told me it was okay.
Um. Okay. Thanks. I took the beers and joined Ryan.
Hey there, dick-ass, I said, and slid onto a chair next to him. You son of a bitch.
What? He looked amused and confused.
You know what. I drank from one of the bottles, damn near finishing it in one shot. You worked some kind of voodoo magic and got both of those chicks here, just to make my life miserable.
The girls Ryan was sitting with looked at each other.
What, these two? Ryan asked. He really wasn't getting it.
No, voodoo wizard, I said. Psycho and jailbait. They're both here.
Really? Ryan tipped his head back and laughed. He laughed longer than he should have. It was malicious laughter. He was laughing at my suffering.
Goddamn voodoo, I repeated.
Take it easy with the voodoo stuff, he said, wiping tears from his eyes. It's probably offensive to someone.
I slugged back the rest of the first beer and started on the second. This night is going down the shitter already, I said.
The two girls were looking at me like I was re-animated road kill.
I'm having fun, Ryan said. Everything's fine.
Yeah? I snapped. You're drunk, aren't you? On top of all the other problems we have, you went and got drunk.
Jeez, take it easy Eric, he said. The pressure of taking one class a day is getting to you. Come on, have a smoke with me. Excuse us, he said to the girls, and he pushed me up out of my chair.
I chugged the beer on the way to the door so I didn't have to take the bottle out with me. Ryan grabbed me by the arm and actually guided, me, tugging me along past the little crowd on the sidewalk. Band meeting, he said to the people who greeted us. We'll be back in a few minutes. He dragged me half a block from the bar and dug out his cigarettes.
I don't need one, I said.
That's fine. I do. He lit up. Dude, forget these chicks. Remember that shit you were saying a few hours ago, about how I shouldn't worry about the bar and how much they spent? Well, it's not the same thing, but it's kind of the same thing. Just put it out of your mind. Not your problem, right?
I took the smoke from him and had a drag. You bastard, I said. I'm going to end up addicted to these things. I only smoke them around you.
So stop taking them from me, you dummy. Look. You're not actually dating either of these chicks. So who cares if they're here? Don't let them be a distraction. Focus on the real problem.
He spit on the sidewalk. That snake behind the drums. That cock, he's probably planning to sabotage us, and then walk out. He's the type.
I shook my head. He's not the type. He'll be cool.
Just be ready for anything.
Amen. I walked back toward the bar. Lize and Smokey came toward me.
Hey bro, Smokey said. He held out a cannon of a joint. For after the show.
Thanks, man. I took it and gingerly slipped it into my pocket. I'm going to head in. We'll probably start soon.
Cool, Lize said. Good luck. She reached up and wrapped a huge hug around my neck. She was much smaller than me, so she had to pull me in toward her. I felt like I was enveloping her in my arms. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. Play Master of Puppets if you have time, she whispered in my ear.
Right. She released me and I straightened up. Jasmine was there in the doorway of the bar, watching us with a pissed-off look on her face.
2010, Nolan Whyte