Once the four of us were playing together, the pieces of the band locked together like some demented metal puzzle. Whatever had been vague and directionless when it was only Jed, Conrad and I playing together was given fierce shape when Ryan's guitar was added into place. And although Jed wasn't willing to admit it openly, his compositions didn't seem finished until Ryan's raw guitar lines were mixed in.
Knelson is a pretty good guitarist, but in the few times that he played with us, he just tried to play along. Ryan stepped in, sneered at what he heard, and laid into it, changing the songs by adding his aggressive, sometimes simplistic riffs.
Jed had always been critical of Ryan's abilities, but it happened to be true that the biggest part of Ryan's musical education had come while he was playing with Jed. So when he was asked to add parts to Jed's songs, what he played fit in almost instinctively. Some things that he played almost sounded ironic at first, as he added screeching lines at seemingly inappropriate places, as though he were trying to cross out what had been written with a distortion-heavy grader's pencil. But it fit, and on second tries, his parts always sounded like they were meant to be there. It was natural.
As for the older songs from Riot Band's earliest moments, they were made denser and richer with the addition of the keyboards from Jed. Even Conrad's simple boom-tat drum style fit. Everything sounded great. Rusty, sure, but there was no question that we were onto something.
Now, I'll tell you something that I want you to remember. Four simple words: happy people are sexy. Happy people who are passionate and engaged with their lives make other people feel happy too. They make other people feel happy too. Good feelings are contagious. And that basically explains why things went so horribly off the rails on Tuesday night.
So Riot Band had practiced three times with the new lineup: Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and then on Monday night. In between those times I'd had to work, and I hadn't had a chance to spend any time with Lise, except for a few brief phone conversations. But on Tuesday night we were closing the convenience store together again, and it gave us a chance to catch up.
I spent a lot of time that night speaking with great hope for the future. I was so happy, so full of joy over what was happening with the band. Maybe I give off morose signals sometimes, and maybe I play my emotional cards too close to the vest with people I care about. It's no real surprise. After all, my parents are not exactly demonstrative people. But that night with Lise, it was all about happiness and hope.
I told her how great things were with the band. I told her how great she was. I told her my visions of the future. I told her I wanted us to move in together sometime in the next year when Conrad had sorted out his own living arrangements. I told her how great everything was going to be, and I meant every word of it. And she started feeling it too.
I felt like I really had my shit together, and that everything was going in the right direction. And Lise, who had had a pretty f--ked-up time over the last many years, started feeling the same way.
Now to digress, let me just say that Lise and I tended to "get together" a lot. Like, pretty much every time we were able to crash at each other's place, we without fail had sex. Not particularly surprising, right? Seventeen year old girl, twenty-one year old guy, both hot for each other and in love, but with a good understanding about birth control.
Add in the fact that we didn't see each other every night. That means there's often a day or two between hookups where you have to wait, and the hormones build up a little. On top of that, put us together in a boring place with little else to do except serve the occasional jerk. And then we get into a long conversation where we just talk with great enthusiasm how much we love each other and how great things are going to be.
Recipe for disaster.
Even before we stepped outside for our for our nine-thirty joint break, we were already sneaking kisses when the store had no customers. And I'm not talking about peck on the lip kisses. I'm talking the long kind where your tongues are slipping and you're each squeezing something on the other person's body.
After the joint, we got a little reckless.
We had to serve a few people, but the moment we were by ourselves we were basically locked into a variety of dry-hump positions behind the cash desk, in full make-out mode. Hands were in places where hands are not supposed to be when you're in the workplace, and sometimes they were in those places under the clothes. The next step was logical. With red cheeks and panting breath we locked the store's front door, hung out a hasty "Back in 15" sign, and headed for the room at the back. There I lifted Lise onto the manger's desk, and we got down to serious business.
And you don't need to be a mind-reader to guess what happened next.
I'm not a particularly spiritual person. I don't believe in fate, luck, karma, or any great consciousness that might be guiding things from above. I'm also not a cynic or a pessimist, and I've never subscribed to Murphy's Law, which states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. As far as I'm concerned, it's enough to say that things CAN go wrong. If you know things can go wrong, don't be surprised if they do go wrong.
But I have to admit I was surprised when Will came into the office and found me penetrating Lise on top of his desk. We thought we were safe because the door was locked, and it our state of pot-headed horny agitation, it didn't occur to us that there were people out there that also had keys to that lock.
And sure, you can point out how unlikely it would be for Will to drop by the store at just that moment to check up on us (because he was worried we might lock the store and screw on his desk-- very perceptive of him), but it doesn't change the fact that we were more horny than smart, and we shouldn't have so surprised when he opened the door and screamed "I knew it!" before closing the office door again.
After that there was a lot of screaming from him out in the little hallway while Lise and I scrambled to get our clothes back into place. Then Will came back into the office, and eyeing his desk suspiciously, he screamed at us for a good five minutes. The short version: we were both bad employees. We were both bad people. We were fired. He was very disappointed and angry. We were fired. And most importantly, we were very, very fired.
We walked back to her place through the cold winter night. We still had a little buzz on, but it wasn't so pleasant now.
"Smoky's going to be pissed off," Lise said.
"At me or you?"
"Both," she said. "How are we going to explain this? We can't really make anything up. How can we explain that we both lost our jobs there on the same night?"
"Let's just say we got caught smoking a joint. There's no need to mention getting caught having sex," I said. "Smoky will sympathize. Hell, he smokes all day, doesn't he? I mean, it's his name, for crying out loud."
"He smokes a lot, but he knows there's a time and a place. He's going to be mad. He really wants me to keep my act together."
"That's not so bad," I said. "Hell, I'm barely scraping by. If I miss any work at all, I miss my rent. I'll basically have to get a new job tomorrow if I'm going to make February."
"So skip out on that apartment," she said. "Move into our place. Smoky will be pissed, but he'll understand if you lost your job. And I'll tell him you lost your job because of me. He'll see it as my responsibility to put you up. You can crash in my room."
"You don't think it will be crowded?"
She sighed. "Eric, just like, two hours ago you were talking about us moving in together. Was that just talk?"
"No," I said, and a little tingle went through me. It was a good tingle, and I suddenly saw how everything might work out after all. I had just lost a job I didn't like, and as a result I was going to move in together with the sexy girl I loved. Except for money being tight, there really wasn't much of a downside.
"I'll need to figure out what to do with Conrad," I said. "Maybe Nick will let him move into the basement, like Ryan and I did in the fall."
"I don't think Nick's roommate would go for that. You remember how it ended last time."
"Yeah." I laughed. "Shit, that means tonight was the second time someone's walked in on us having sex. What do you think will happen if we're living together in Smoky's house? He'll catch us going at it and come after me with a big knife or something."
"Don't worry about it," she said. "Smoky knows we have sex. And I'm sure we'll be able to keep it inside the bedroom. It's not like he comes in without knocking, you know? It'll be fine."
* * * *
The next day I told my landlord that I would have to move out on the last day of January, which was only a few days off. He was pissed because I hadn't given him any time to find a new tenant, but there was nothing that could be done about it. I wasn't on a lease. I explained that I'd lost my job, blamed the economy, and basically said there was no way I could make rent. That wasn't true of course, but if I paid February's rent I would have no food money for the month. I might as well get out right away, move in with Lise, and have a few bucks in the bank to live on for a while.
Conrad took the news pretty well. He was very comfortable crashing in my living room, but I could tell that he'd gotten used to bumming around and jumping from one couch to another. I told him we could probably set him up with a foam mattress in Nick's basement.
"No problem," he said. "A foam mattress is better than sleeping under a bridge. Sometimes I wish I lived in a bigger city, you know? There are always abandoned buildings were you can sleep in a bigger city."
"Um...right. Look, let's just see if it's cool to stay at Nick's before we go looking for abandoned buildings. It should be okay, but Nick has two roommates. Jordan is pretty easy-going, but this guy Bertrand is a real uptight asshole. We might have to do some sweet-talking."
"That's cool," he said, flashing his big dopey grin. "I'm a charming dude when I want to be."
Conrad and I went to meet the others at Nick's place. I told them what had happened with Lise, and filled them in on everything. Nick looked pretty skeptical about having Conrad in the basement, but finally shrugged and said it would be fine.
"The truth is," he said, "Bertrand is moving out when this semester ends, so I don't really give a shit about his opinion. I'll need someone to take over his rent in May, so we might as well have Conrad there. And if Bertrand doesn't like it, I'll tell him where he can stick it. It's my name on the lease anyway."
Nick looked sharply at Conrad. "You will be able to pay some rent, right?"
"I hope so," he said. "I'll go to that convenience store and apply tomorrow. I hear they need people."
Everybody had a good laugh at my expense, and we got down to band business. Nick told us what he'd been able to find out about the promoter for The Pop Rocks show. Apparently they had a few bands in mind as local openers, but they would still consider us if we were able to provide a professional quality demo before Valentine's Day. That gave us barely over two weeks to get something ready.
"I've called everywhere in town that could do the recording for us," he said, "and nobody can do it on that short notice. So I started looking a little further, and there's a place in Walsh River that can do it on almost no notice, as long as we're recording overnight. They'll give us four hours in studio, plus a quick mix, for seven hundred dollars."
"Damn," Ryan said. "Can we afford that?"
I shrugged. "Do we have any choice?"
2010, Nolan Whyte