I didn't sleep much that night. Instead, I just lay in my stuffy little closet, thinking over who I was and who I wanted to be. The scene at Shattered had filled me with angst that I was basically becoming a friendless asshole who just wanted to fight people, and I didn't like it at all.
Everything had been pretty simple back in Rose Creek. Eric was the tough guy. He didn't like his reputation, but it did come in handy. People respected him for being tough. He had his little group of friends. He didn't have to worry about people liking him. He didn't have to worry about being cool. He didn't have to be stylish or clever. He didn't have to be interesting to talk to. Just being Eric the tough guy was enough.
But in Garrison Valley, I had no reputation. If you took away the tough guy image, what was left? Nothing--a neutral image. Just a big guy with no style and a chip on his shoulder. And I didn't like the chip.
I had no real friends and no girlfriend. I had nothing going on except one thing: Ryan Endstrom and the idea of being a band. In the darkness, staring into the inner-closet abyss, I realized that being in a band with Ryan actually provided me with a very convenient opportunity for self-reinvention. Instead of just going along with Ryan with his silly idea, I could embrace the experience. Like he said, get out there. Be cool, meet people, and maybe prove that I was capable of being more that the thug.
Shit, this could work, I thought to myself. I started to get really excited about the whole idea and when I finally dropped off it was into a happy sleep, instead of the nihilistic tossing and turning I'd been doing since Sash dumped me. I went to sleep looking forward to the next day.
* * * *
On Saturday morning I got up and called Ryan. He was up, but he sounded like hell.
I was partying last night, he told me. What's up?
I want to buy an amp today, I said. Do you know where to go?
Yeah, I guess, he said. There's a place up on Eleventh Avenue. You want me to come along?
I told him I'd pick him up in an hour and hung up. I made coffee, ate some toast and took a shower.
When I came out of the bathroom all dressed and ready to go, I found Dustin sitting on the couch, looking like a completely blasted piece of shit.
Hey man, I said. You have a good time last night?
I think I'm going to die, he said. He took a gulp from a plastic bottle of orange juice. What happened to you? I lost track of you at the bar.
I pulled a hooded sweatshirt over my head. I came home early, I said. Had some soul-searching to do.
Still thinking about that bitch?
I slipped on my jacket and got the bass from the closet. Nope. Time to move on, bro. Take it easy. I put on my shoes and left.
The January air was cold, but it was a bright morning and the sunlight felt good on my face. I kept my hood up to cover my wet hair, and made it to Ryan's place in about twenty minutes. I buzzed up and Ryan's roommate Minako answered. She buzzed open the security door and I ran up the stairs.
Minako answered the door and let me in. She was wearing black leggings and a long grey sweater. She looked pretty good. Ryan is in the shower, she said, and immediately disappeared into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
I slipped off my shoes and took a seat on the chair, leaning the bass up against the wall. Ryan's guitars were there next to me. There was the big yellow acoustic and the blue electric. The name Les Paul was stamped on the headstock of the electric. I picked up the acoustic and set it in my lap. My fingers were still stiff from the cold outside, but I strummed the strings. It sounded out of tune. I didn't know how to form any chords, so I just played the bass lines from the two songs Ryan and I played together. They sounded weak and strange.
By the time Ryan finally showed up in the living room I had given up on the acoustic and was reading an old Maxim magazine. He had on an old zombie movie T-shirt and his shaggy blond hair was pulled back under a faded red cap. I waited while he ate a bowl of cereal and then we got going.
The guitar shop was called Sharp's. It was in the North end of the city, and instead of killing the whole morning walking up there, we caught the bus and rode with the old ladies.
Get up to much last night? he asked.
A few beers at that bar Shattered, I told him. I tried to pick a fight with a guy, but he played it cool and I ended up looking stupid. After that I just went home.
Why did you want to fight him?
It was that guy who was making out with Sash last week.
Oh. Well, f--k him anyway.
I nodded. Yeah. What about you? Where was the party?
Oh, no party really, he said. Just a bunch of beer and video games at a buddy's house. We were up until around four.
You shouldn't waste time like that, I said, giving him a joking elbow. You should have been writing more songs.
Yeah, right, he said. What about your songs? When are you going to write some songs?
We got off the bus in a beat-down neighborhood. Eleventh Avenue was a thoroughfare, but the area was sketchy. The houses were small, with faded paint and broken fences. The businesses had bars on the windows. Sharp's was covered in black-painted steel siding. We went inside.
It was a long narrow room crowded with amplifiers and other stacked equipment. The walls were lined with guitars. At the desk was a man in his forties with a fat gut pushing through an old T-shirt. He had a pony-tail, goatee, and coke-bottle glasses. He was talking on the phone, so we just started walking through the place looking at the different pieces of gear.
Ryan looked at an acoustic hanging on the wall. Check it out, Eric. Twelve-string.
I've only used two so far, I said. I don't need ten more. How about amps? And I think I need a bag to carry the bass. I'm sick of carrying it around without one. I feel like I'm going to drop it.
Yeah. You should get a strap too, so you can stand and play.
Yeah, good idea.
I think the fatty at the counter overheard us enough to realize we actually planned to spend money, so he got off the phone and came around to help.
It didn't take him long to match me up with an amplifier. I didn't know anything about them and I didn't understand much about his descriptions, so I just looked for the best compromise between big size and small price. He found me a half-decent Peavey amp that came up to my knees. Fatty promised it would be good for practicing and would suit a gig in a small enough room.
It's got some punch, he said, and plugged it in with a shiny yellow bass that he pulled off the wall. He did some ridiculous noodling up and down the neck, and then passed the bass to me. I couldn't do anything close to what he had done, so I just hit the bottom string a few times and let the sound resonate. It sounded good. I hadn't really appreciated the vibration until that moment, and with the amp I got a feeling for the power of the instrument.
I like it, I said. Sold.
Ryan and I hung around a while looking at other equipment. The amp was a hundred-twenty-five, and I stacked on two patch cords, a leather shoulder strap and a vinyl gig bag, bumping the total after tax to two-hundred-ten. It stretched my budget, but my rent was cheap and most of my spending money was going to beer anyway, so the purchase hardly seemed frivolous.
The amount I spent was not lost on Ryan. Outside he sparked a cigarette. Are you on student loans? he asked.
I took a year off after high school and worked, I told him. I'm living on my savings. I was carrying the amp in one hand with the gig bag over my other shoulder, with the strap and cords inside the bag. It was about a block back to the bus stop.
So what happens when that money runs out?
Summer job, part time job, I replied. Maybe student loans if I have to. I'd rather avoid debt if I can.
Yeah, loans suck ass, he said. I'm in second year and I'm already down twenty-five grand. It'll be over a hundred by the time I graduate. Jesus, look at these guys.
Standing at the bus stop were four guys, probably seventeen or eighteen. They were all white kids dressed in hip hop gear, with baggy jeans, oversize jackets and caps on at skewed angles. Shitty K-Fed moustaches and goatees were the order of the day.
Holy shit, check this out, one of the guys whispered, loud enough for us to hear.
Wanna keep walking? Ryan whispered to me.
f--k that, I said. Don't be scared of these punks. I stopped about ten feet away from them and set down the amp. Do know when the bus is coming? I asked him.
It comes every half hour, Ryan said, eyeing the four boys. How long were we in there? Almost an hour? It should come soon.
The kids turned in toward each other and formed a little huddle, with one occasionally peaking out at us. It was pretty obvious they were working out how to make a run for the amp. Just in case, I folded the soft gig bag in half and set it down so they could see there was no guitar in it. Also, it freed my hands in case these guys tried anything stupid. Would they take a chance on jumping us, as the saying goes, in broad daylight? I mean, it might have been a rough neighborhood, but they would have to be crazy.
Two of them broke away from the huddle and started walking up the street away from us at a fast pace. Keep an eye, I whispered to Ryan. Those two might go around the block to come up behind us.
Or they might be going to get friends.
Maybe. The two remaining guys were standing still now, acting nonchalant, but still glancing at us out of the corners of their eyes.
Let's go, Ryan said. I know they're probably just high school kids, but this is freaking me out.
Nah. Let's have some fun instead. Hey G-Unit, I called to the two kids. They looked over. If you and your bozo friends are thinking about trying something stupid, you better have 911 ready on your cell. You guys are pretty small. They can probably fit all four of you in one ambulance.
The two guys looked at each other but didn't respond. One whispered to the other something we couldn't hear.
Nothing to say? I asked. Smart. You just keep looking straight ahead. And when your little buddies get back you better tell them to mind their shit so they don't get hurt.
They kept whispering, but they wouldn't look over again. Ryan checked his watch and kept looking over his shoulder. Whenever Ryan checked his watch one of the two hip-hoppers did the same, so I knew they were still watching us.
Ryan nudged me. The other two are behind us.
I turned. As I thought, they had looped around the block, and were walking toward us. I looked at the two standing by the bus stop.
Your pals forgot their bus passes, is that it? I called to them. Let me ask you something. Do you think you buddies will be too tired to fight after running all the way around the block? You f--king clowns think you're pretty smart, but you're about to learn a real hard lesson.
What the f--k, dude? one of them responded, his voice cracking a little. We ain't doing shit.
The two guys approaching from the rear had slowed down and were now almost creeping up on us, but still trying to play it cool, like they just happened to be strolling by. They were looking past us to their friends, maybe waiting for a signal.
I pointed to them. You: f--k-heads. Get the f--k over there and wait for the bus with your friends.
They looked to their buddies, who made little waving gestures. Not sure what to do, they paused and then walked past us, giving us lots of room, and went to stand with their pals at the bus stop.
Real smart, I said to them. They didn't respond.
The bus rolled up a minute later. The hip hop boys got on first and went all the way to the back. Ryan and I picked up our stuff and took seats halfway back.
Shit, that was weird, Ryan whispered. They were totally planning to jump us, weren't they? How did you know they didn't have weapons or something?
This is Garrison Valley, not Detroit, I said. We lost nothing by bluffing.
You're not afraid of fighting, are you? he asked.
I shrugged. I hated to even admit it to myself, but sometimes it wasn't so bad being a tough guy.
2009 Nolan Whyte