After class on Monday I went down to Garrison Valley University's student lounge, The Market, to meet the other members of Riot Band. At this point it was a tiresome routine. For all of the excitement I felt when the band was really clicking, either in practice or while performing, the regular tasks of band business were wearing me down.
The others were already there when I arrived. I got a coffee from the bar before heading over to join Ryan, Jed and Nick at their table.
"Gentlemen," I said as I sat down. "Solving mysteries?"
"Not really," said Nick. "But maybe we should get to work on 'The Case of the Impossible-To-Find Replacement Drummer?'"
"Sure. Not much progress on that case." I had a sip of coffee. "But I've solved one mystery, at least," I said. "I found out why that Meghan chick hates Lise so much."
"Oh yeah?" said Nick. "And why's that?"
"Because she wants to shag me herself."
"Please," Ryan said, "don't say shag. You're not an English person. Don't pretend to be one."
"She wants you, does she?" said Jed. "How do you know? Did she say so?"
"Not in so many words, but the message was clear," I said.
"Awesome," Ryan said dryly. "If there's a hot nutcase within a hundred miles, she's got a wide-on for Eric."
"Please," I replied, "don't say wide-on. You're not Vice Magazine. Anyway, let's forget it. What were you guys talking about before I showed up?"
"This numb-nuts," Jed said, pointing at Ryan. "He's still trying to get in that reporter chick's pants, and pretending that it's somehow for the good of the band."
"It is for the good of the band," Ryan said. "Seriously, we need to bring Emily to another show. If we can get some positive press out of that piece-a-shit paper, it would help us get some bigger crowds. Better venues."
"I kind of like having The Typesetter hate us, actually," Nick said. "It gives us some cred, in a reverse sort of way, because everyone around here knows it's a crap newspaper. The more bad reviews we get from them the better, as long as they're interesting reviews."
"Right," Ryan said. "Well, she definitely writes interesting reviews, you've got to admit."
"And if she comes to a gig, you get to try and nail her again, right?" I shook my head. "Dude, she did everything but accuse me of a hate crime in her last write-up. Please, let her go. I know you like her, but but for the sake of the band, move on."
He frowned like a sulking child. "You just don't want her around because of what she saw you do on the tour bus."
Silence fell over the table, and everyone turned to look at me. Nick cleared his throat. "And what did she see, Eric?"
"Nothing," I said with a wave of my hand. "You guys have gotten all sidetracked. Let's get down to business. Listen, I had a chance to watch The Urges play, and they're completely different from Seriosity. Seriosity was really, you know, serious, but these guys are completely loose. They even got all baked before they played! It's like, these guys become the embodiment of whatever they call themselves. Either that or they're really good at picking names. But they're good. I only heard one song, but really, they're good. I think they'll do a great job."
Ryan, Nick and Jed sat staring at me.
"What did she see, Eric?" Jed asked.
"Nothing!" I repeated. "I jokingly grabbed some girl's breasts. It was all in good fun. No one got hurt. It's not important. Listen, we've got to focus. For the first time ever, we're going to have someone opening for us. We have to pick up our game."
"Well technically, someone opened before us at The Pop Rocks show," Ryan said.
"Well technically," I said in a mocking voice, "The Pop Rocks had two openers. The other band wasn't opening for us. They were opening for The Pop Rocks."
Ryan gave me a pissy look and then turned to Jed and Nick. "Speaking of The Pop Rocks, Eric forgot to mention it was their lead singer's boobs that he--"
"Okay!" I shouted. "Damn Ryan, you really know how to stick a knife in a guy, don't you? I would expect this behavior from that Emily chick, but do you think you could go five minutes without revealing something you promised to keep secret?"
Jed started laughing. "Eric, you felt up their lead singer? Man, she's hot! How did you pull that off?"
"I don't remember," I snarled, still staring at Ryan. "Let's change the subject."
"What's the big deal man?" Jed said. "Come on, tell us the story."
"The big deal is that Lise would tear off his nuts if she found out," said Ryan.
"Right," I said. "And that's why it would be nice if people would shut the fuck up about it already."
* * * *
It was late November, and the end of the fall term was creeping up on everyone. That meant final papers were weighing on people's minds, and there was the looming horror of exams only a few weeks away.
Even so, we managed to put together three nights in a row where we got together to jam and rehearse. I think there was a perceived threat from having another band share the bill with us, and we took it pretty seriously. We didn't want to be out-performed, especially by a band that was, technically (there's that word again) opening for us.
Nick was overjoyed that another band was playing, although I think he was privately bummed out that he hadn't been the one to arrange it. As far as he was concerned, adding another band would just increase and diversify the crowd: more bodies in the door to see us. It might also mean more people buying drinks, which would translate to more money for us, but I think Nick was thinking more along marketing lines than about the possibility of another fifteen dollars in his pocket.
But for Jed, Ryan and me, there was a risk. We'd invited these guys to come play. What if they blew us out of the water? We'd gotten tighter and smoother, but we were worried that we didn't have many tricks left in the bag. That's why on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night we were in Nick's basement, hammering away, trying to get faster, harder and tighter, and trying to clean up some of our unfinished songs.
Lise came along on Wednesday, which gave the night a weird vibe. I kept a close eye on Ryan, waiting for him to say something stupid to Lise, but instead he kept saying mildly insulting things to me, daring me to get mad at him. The threat was in his smile. And I had to keep eating his teasing bullshit, because I couldn't tell whether or not he would really say something to Lise about my activities on the tour bus.
On top of that, there was the weirdness about her going to Jed behind my back and asking for drum lessons. He didn't know what to say to her, and he played it stiff and awkward. I was glad Nick stayed there with us the whole time. He kept everyone focused on the music whenever things started feeling strange.
We plowed through our material. We were slowly graduating from the sluggish, fragmented, pots-and-pans sound of our early months to tight, fast, blasts of energy. We were able to play our older songs, which were quite simple, faster and faster without losing any quality or accuracy. That meant we could add new songs without our set getting too bloated.
"You guys are getting way better," Lise commented as we finished our run-through. She was sitting in the corner, fiddling with a pen and a little sketchbook she'd brought. "You even sound like a riot now. It's like, a wall of noise."
"The acoustics down here aren't the greatest," I said, referring to the basement's smooth cement walls and floor. "Everything gets kinda trapped. It's deafening."
"Sure, but you sound great," she said. "You'll sound even better when you find a new drummer so Jed can do more on the keyboards."
Jed and I exchanged a look, but no one said anything.
"I've been thinking about your look," she went on. "You guys look cool, but have you thought about your clothes at all?"
"What about them?" Jed asked.
"Well, you've got this really stark name, 'Riot Band.' And you've got this really heavy, dramatic sound. Everything is really tight, really together. Maybe you should think about tightening up your visual style too."
"How?" I said.
"I think I can see where you're going," Nick said. "Are you talking about a uniform, or something like that?"
"Maybe something along those lines," she said. "Even something simple like wearing all black. Something maybe police-inspired. Like the real riot squad."
"Helmets, bullet-proof vests," Ryan said. "Right? Maybe those plastic shields and batons."
"I wasn't thinking about that," she said. "I thought maybe black cargo pants and black t-shirts that say Riot Band across the chest."
"Maybe combat boots too," I said. "That could be cool."
"Yeah," Nick said. "It's worth thinking about. Let's not get too wrapped up in it now though. There's no time to have anything ready for tomorrow."
Lise smiled quietly and sat back in the corner, still doodling in her sketchbook, while we went back to work on the songs.
So you can probably guess that on Thursday, when we showed up at Nick's to pick up our gear and take it to the bar for the show, Lise was there. And what do you think she had with her?
As usual, Jed, Ryan, Nick and I met up at school, and went to Nick's place together. When we arrived, Lise was sitting, shivering on the front porch, with a big plastic bag on her lap.
"What the hell are you doing?" I asked as soon as I saw her there. "You're freezing your ass. Why didn't you ring the bell? One of the other guys would have let you in."
"I rang the bell," she said with chattering teeth. "No one's home."
We got her inside, and Nick put some water in the kettle for instant coffee. She sat down on the living room couch and showed us what she had in the bag: three black t-shirts with RIOT BAND emblazoned across the front, in blurry yellow-white lettering.
"Wow," I said. "How did you make them?"
"With a cardboard cutout and a paintbrush with some diluted bleach water. A plastic cutout would be better. The letters would be sharper."
"I like it," I said, holding one up to inspect it. "It looks rough. DIY. It's bad-ass."
Jed took one and inspected it. "Um, it's cool that you did this," he said. "Maybe we should look at doing some with the um, plastic cutout or something."
"Yeah," Nick said. "Thanks so much. We'll have to see about doing some more. Maybe look at some different ways of making them."
"Where did you get the t-shirts?" I asked, checking the tag. It was heavy-duty cotton. Quality, as far as I could tell.
"From the outlet mall in the east end. There's a clearance place where you can get blank t-shirts for less than three bucks each. Check this out." She stood up and opened her jacket. She was wearing one of the Riot Band shirts as well, except it was a tight female t. "You could make different styles. You could wear them, but you could also sell them. Guys and girls styles."
"That's awesome," I said. I pulled off the gray t-shirt I was wearing and tried on the XL size. The other two were larges, presumably for Jed and Ryan. I turned to the guys. "What do you think?"
"It's cool," Ryan said, "but the lettering is a little f--ked up. No offense," he said to Lise. "But maybe we should wait until we get it exactly how we want it."
I shrugged. "You guys can wait if you want. I think it looks cool. I want to wear it like this."
The other guys exchanged some unhappy looks, but with Lise sitting right there, they didn't say anything. She looked back and forth between them.
"It's no big thing," she said. "I wasn't expecting you to wear them to the show. I just did it for fun, as an example to show how easy it is. Don't wear it, Eric."
"I like it," I said. "I'm going to wear it."
Nick brought her a cup of coffee from the kitchen. She took the cup, blew on the surface and had a few quick sips. "It doesn't matter," she said, and set the cup down on an end table. "I can't be in there anyway, so I'll never know if you wear it or not. Seriously, it was just for fun. A joke, even."
She zipped up her jacket. "I've got to get going," she said. She kissed me on the cheek. "Have fun tonight."
"I'm wearing it," I said, as I followed her to the door. "No joke. It's cool. I want to."
She looked up at me with embarrassed, almost pleading eyes. "Don't, Eric. Please. They don't like them. Really, don't wear it."
I stood there stupidly while she tied up her boots. We exchanged a quick kiss, and she left, shouting a quick goodbye to the guys, who were still in the living room. They called bye back to her, and she slipped out into the frosty night.
"You assholes," I said, stomping angrily back into the living room. "You hurt her fucking feelings."
Ryan looked guilty. "Sorry, dude," he said. "Lise is awesome and all, but the shirts don't look that good."
"Really," Jed said, holding one up. "You can barely read what this one says. "Ryan's right though, Lise is awesome. I can't believe you would mess around on her."
I ground my teeth together. "I did not mess around on her. I grabbed some chick's boobs as a joke, and I don't even remember doing it, so don't give me any more shit. And I'm wearing this t-shirt, no matter what you pricks say."
Jed shook his head. "Okay, Eric. Do whatever you want. Come on, let's start bringing up the gear. The truck will be here soon."
2010, Nolan Whyte