Despite the tendency to have some sort of ridiculous crap blowing up in our faces, our Thursday night gigs at Jake's Restaurant had developed into a pretty steady routine. We would meet at school, go to Nick's house and bring the gear up from the basement. Then we would hang around until Jed's friend would arrive with his truck. Once the gear was loaded in the back we would shoehorn ourselves into the cab of the truck, with three of us on the bench in the front, and the other two in the tool-space behind the seats. Since I was the biggest and the driver was Jed's friend, it was usually Ryan and Nick who wound up in the back.
Once we arrived, it was always the same old crap. Load the gear inside, slip a twenty to our driver, and then set up and wait around for the action to start. But this week was different for two reasons: first, there was Lise's drop-in surprise with the band shirts she'd made for us, and her subsequent humiliation at the hands of my so-called friends. And second, we weren't playing this gig alone the way we usually did. The Urges would be opening.
I was feeling grim and pissy about what bastards I had in my band, and during the whole ride to the bar I had these guys chirping at me, telling me not to wear one of the shirts that Lise had made.
"It's not even about the quality of the shirt," Jed was saying as we sat, squeezed in next to each other in the cab of the truck. "It's tacky to wear a shirt with your own band's name on it anyway. You remember at practice yesterday, when she suggested we wear shirts with Riot Band across the chest? Man, I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but we would look like idiots if we all got up on stage wearing matching Riot Band t-shirts. We'd get laughed out of the place."
"We get laughed at anyway," I retorted. "We've do things the wrong way on purpose, just to set ourselves apart. If people think we're too serious, we play it waaay too serious, you know? This could be the same thing."
"You know what it is?" Ryan chimed in from the back seat. "She's a Metallica fan. Those guys always wear their own shirts. She probably thinks it's the normal thing bands do."
"I'm wearing it," I said. "If people think it's stupid, fine. If they think it's a clever reversal of convention, that's fine too. But it's staying on."
They laid off me for a while, but made comments back and forth about different bands that had worn their own shirts, and whether or not those bands were cool. It was their way to try and talk me out of wearing the shirt without approaching me directly. But I didn't care, because they had missed the point completely.
To me, the point was that someone had come up and tried to help them, and they'd been rude about it. They'd made her feel like she'd done a shitty job of something that she had intended as a pleasant surprise. And it didn't matter how awful the shirt looked (and it really wasn't that bad) or how stupid it was for a band to wear their own shirt. I was going to wear it no matter what, if only to punish the guys for being jerks. They had me pissed right off.
When we got to Jake's we found that The Urges had already arrived and loaded their gear in, installing it all on stage. While we lugged in our crap, they sat quietly at a table, sipping coffees and watching. We stuck our gear in the corner behind the stage and stood awkwardly. Finally we went over and dragged up a table next to theirs, so that we could all sit like one big happy family.
The waitress set us up with more coffees, and everybody started getting to know each other. At first there was some casual rehashing of the whole 'guitar hostage' situation from way back at our first encounter together. Everyone had a good laugh and the vibe was good. I could see guys like Ryan, Nick and Jed were made for this type of socializing.
Nick and Jed were naturals of course, but I could see the joy in Ryan about the situation. I thought about the night we met, when he talked about forming a band, and getting out and meeting people, making friends, finding girls and all that sort of thing. This is what he was really in Riot Band for: sitting at a table full of people where he was accepted. He was part of the crowd. It occurred to me that this might be the best moment of the night for Ryan. Because as loud, boastful and obnoxious as he often was, my buddy Ryan was really just a lonely kid trying to find a place where he fit in.
But as pretty as that all sounds, at the moment I really didn't give a damn about any of them. I nudged Ryan and got a cigarette from him, and then left him sitting there and went outside by myself. I needed time by myself to clear my head. Unfortunately, smoking a cigarette was the only reasonable excuse that came to mind.
Of course, when you want quiet time, you never get it. I'd barely choked down my first few drags when the door opened and James came out. James wasn't so bad. It could have been worse. It could have been someone from my own band.
"Hey Eric," he said, hugging his jacket tightly around him. "Get a drag?"
"Didn't know you smoked," I said.
"I don't," he said, taking the cigarette. "But neither do you, right? It's as good excuse as any to sneak out. Look, I wanted to say sorry if we were hard on you the other night. You know, with the asshole talk and all that."
I shrugged. "Water under the bridge, man. I guess I've been in people's faces a bit lately. Is your girl coming tonight?"
James passed the cigarette back to me. "Yeah, Meghan will come a little later with some of her friends. She wouldn't show up for the boring stuff. What about Lise? She coming?"
"No," I said. "She's not allowed in yet. The manager knows she's underage." There was a pause. I took a drag and held out the smoke for him. "Are you guys going to get all baked like you did at practice?"
"Nah," he said. "Maybe a bit. We're all pretty straight most of the time. I don't know where we got in the habit of getting so baked at practice all the time. Probably Dong-Ha's influence. We practice at his place, and he's a big pot-head."
"You're playing stoner rock, aren't you?"
He shrugged. "Sure, but you don't need to be stoned to play it."
We finished the cigarette, and were ready to head back inside. He paused. "How come you left so early the other night?" he asked. "Meghan said you suddenly just turned and walked out."
"Right," I said. "Um, I just decided to hit the road, that's all. No big thing."
We went back in, and I managed to find ways or reasons to isolate myself from the table of musicians. When people started arriving, I would head over to greet them. I was making a little social butterfly of myself, talking to all the people that were coming through the door. Some of them I'd seen at the weekly shows several times, but had never talked to. Others were new faces. A few were there to see The Urges.
I was near the door when Emily arrived. She was really dressed up, with her hair up, and lots of lipstick and eyeshadow. As she stepped inside the warm bar, she let the front of her coat fall open, and I could see she had her big chest pushed up and forward, with a plunging front on her blouse. I figured Ryan was going to blow a load in his pants as soon as he saw her.
I disengaged myself from the conversation I was in and caught up with her at the bar. Ryan hadn't spotted her yet, and I wanted to put in my two cents with this chick before Ryan went off and did something stupid again.
"Hello," I said, brushing elbows with her at the bar. "Can I get you a drink?"
She saw me and smiled sarcastically. "That depends," she said. "Are you going to try and sleep with me after, like your buddy did?"
"I'm spoken for," I said.
"That's never stopped you before," she said.
I waved to Keith, and he ignored a few customers that had been there first to come over and serve me first. I ordered two bourbon and cokes. "Okay," I said. "I guess you're referring to the events you witnessed on the tour bus a few weeks ago. Just let me say that silly things happen when people are drinking. Yes, you saw me grab a girl's boobs. Seriously, that's no big deal. It's silly shit, and I'm not proud of myself, but really, it's a little thing, and it's in the past. I've moved on."
Her smile was from ear to ear. "That's a very nice speech," she said. "I bet you've practiced it a lot. So you grabbed her boobs, right? Is that all you did? Or is that all you think I saw?"
Keith set the two glasses down in front of us, shoveled in some ice, and poured in the bourbon, then coke. My brain slowly ground its gears trying to process Emily's question. "What do you mean?" I asked.
"Tricky question?" Emily asked. "Let me ask it a different way: did you wash your face before you went to bed that night, or did your pillow smell like pussy when you woke up?"
"What...the complete and absolute f--k...are you talking about?"
"You and that Taylor chick!" she said. "You two went into the back bedroom part of the bus, but you didn't close the door all the way. I saw you going down on her when I went to the little bathroom."
I stared off into space. Lise. Lise, Lise, Lise. Lise could never, ever be allowed to know about this.
"Are you the only one who saw us?"
Emily shrugged. "Maybe. Probably. I can't say for sure though."
"What will it take for you to never mention this to anyone, ever?"
"Don't worry." She sipped her drink. "I would never gossip about something like that. To be honest, I think you're gross. Like, really gross, as a human being. But I don't want to ever be a gossip journalist."
I knocked back half the drink. "Never? You'll never mention it?"
She looked up at me and laid a hand on my arm. "Don't worry. Your disgusting secret is safe with me."
She straightened up, I guess in an attempt to look business-like. "So, do you guys want to do me a favor?"
"What kind of favor?"
"Well, your ridiculous band has been the gift that keeps on giving, as far as the paper goes. We've had a lot of reader feedback, especially from people who have been to see your shows. I was thinking about another interview."
"I'm not sure," I said. "You guys butchered us in the last interview."
"You guys butchered yourselves," she said. "Besides, we'd like to do a video to accompany it, and we can mix in some tape of you guys performing, or rehearsing or something. We want to post it on the Typesetter's website. We need more rich content, and you guys are about as rich as it gets."
I laughed. "Should it worry me that you seem so openly hostile to us? How do we know you won't make us look like idiots again?"
She sipped her drink demurely. "I can't make you look like idiots. You can only make yourselves look like idiots. It's up to you. It's exposure. Good for me, good for you. You should think about it."
"We will. I'll talk it over with the guys. Is that why you came tonight? To ask for another interview?"
"I came for the show too. And to see the other band. If something hilarious like a fist-fight happens, I might write it up."
"You're so cynical," I said. "What if it's just a great show from both bands? Would you write that up?"
She laughed. "We'll see."
2010, Nolan Whyte