Lise had gone upstairs for a shower and I was still lying on the little bed, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. Here I was, unemployed, no longer in school, living with my underage girlfriend and her drug dealer brother. All my clothes smelled like pot and cigarette smoke. I barely had any money. All I really had was a girl and a band. In some ways I felt like my life was a mess. But in other ways, it felt like a pretty cool place to be.
I got up and got dressed. I had fallen into the habit of wearing the Riot Band t-shirts that Lise had made, and that was what I chose this morning. That, a pair of pants, and a pair of unwashed socks was good enough for me. I felt pretty sketchy. Lise has her own stash of pot, and she was generous about sharing with me, so we'd been up pretty late smoking, talking, and listening to music.
My eyes felt like they were full of grit, and without looking in the mirror I knew that they were completely bloodshot. The amount of pot that Lise smoked was getting to be too much for me. I didn't have any complaint about her smoking it, but I just couldn't keep up. I was happier as a once-in-a-while guy, so the experience would be properly weird and memorable. Smoking all the time? Life turned into a burnt-out fog.
I left the room and went up the stairs into the kitchen. I'd learned to navigate the little party-space. A lot of the cupboard were either empty or just had booze in them, but I'd figured out where to find some basic foodstuffs. Even so, I was going to need to find a job soon so I could start buying my own food, because there wasn't that much around in this place. I set myself up with a bowl of cereal and sat down at the kitchen table.
Smoky came out of his bedroom, wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants. He hadn't shaved his head in the last few weeks, and his hair was starting to show in a standard male-pattern baldness hairline. His beard was growing in two. He looked less Satanic, and more like a general roughneck.
"Morning, Eric," he said as he swaggered into the kitchen. "Eating my generic corn flakes, I see."
"Yeah," I said with a mouth full of cereal and milk. "Is that cool?"
He leaned against the kitchen counter and gave me a cool look, like he was appraising the situation.
"Not really, Eric," he said. "I'm not enthusiastic about this situation. I'm sure you'll appreciate me being perfectly honest. I wasn't really given much choice about this. And it's nothing personal. I think you're a good guy. We get along well. But this is my house, man. I like to have some say about who's living here."
"If you want, I'll move out," I said. "I'll just need some time to find my next job. And I'll pay rent. I don't expect anyone else to pay my way."
"You're damn right you'll pay rent," he said. "And you'll buy your own food, too. I mean, I've got my own financial concerns. It's not like I make a lot of money selling pot. Hell,with the amount Lise and I smoke, it's amazing I can keep the lights on."
"You do pretty well, don't you? You do some volume, right?"
He pulled out a cigarette. "Maybe, but you're at the mercy of the market. You know, there's a movement in California to decriminalize pot. If that happens they'll be able to grow more there, and that will destroy the export market for the weed coming out of British Columbia. All that extra weed will end up coming East, and prices will fall like crazy. Then it won't even be worth the cost of gas to drive out and bring the stuff back here."
I crunched my corn flakes. "I hadn't heard about that."
"Yeah, I've got a lot of worries. Anyway, are you able to chip in any money?"
"Some," I said. "I'll definitely pay for my food. I just need to get to a grocery store and get some stuff. And I'll be able to give you some rent money soon. What did you have in mind, number-wise?"
He lit the cigarette and blew out a drag. "I'm not sure yet. Let me ask you something. You had that screwball Cameron living in your apartment, right? How much did you charge him?"
"I think you mean Conrad. Um, I didn't charge him anything. He was just crashing on my couch. It would seem weird to charge a homeless guy rent, you know?"
"Yeah." He took a drag and seemed to think it over. "How long did you put him up?"
"About four weeks, I guess."
"Okay," Smoky said. "That's what you gave him, so that's what I'll give you. You've got four weeks rent free. Then you're on the hook for, let's say, three hundred a month. That's reasonable, right? That should cover the increases in the water and electricity bills, phone, internet, plus wear and tear on the carpets, door knobs and video game controllers. Sound fair? And you're buying your own food, plus every month you buy one of those big packs of toilet paper to cover what you use."
"I don't know if I go through one of those big packs a month."
"Sure," he said, "but you get one of those and we won't have to argue about light bulbs and dish soap and other little things like that. The toilet paper is a gesture to show that you're contributing to the household."
I nodded. "Sounds fair."
"Good," he said. "If anything else comes up, we'll talk it over. I'm not one to bottle things up."
* * * *
Nick and Ryan and I met up at Jake's Restaurant that afternoon to try and sort out the band's immediate future. Conrad was actually out looking for a real job. He'd been without an actual home address or phone number for the last several months, and that seemed to be one of the things preventing him from getting back on his feet.
It's a downward cycle, isn't it? It's hard to get a job when you're homeless. "How can we contact you if we want to give you an interview?" Well, I don't have a phone, so I'll just sleep in the parking lot outside. It's stupid. You can't even apply for welfare if you're homeless. How are you supposed to get a home if you can't get a job or welfare? Sometimes society is stupid.
Jed was in class, but he said he would go along with whatever we managed to plan, as long as it wasn't too ridiculous. Jed didn't trust Ryan at all, and he halfway trusted me, but he trusted Nick enough that he was willing to let us plan things.
And really, all we had to plan was how to pull together seven hundred dollars in the next few days so we could book an overnight recording session, record and mix a demo, and get it over to an event promoter before Valentine's Day. Easy, right?
"So," Nick started. "There are five of us. Can everyone chip in a hundred and forty dollars?"
"You've willing to chip in an even cut?" I asked.
"I've received an even quarter up until now," he said. "I figured I was still in for a fifth."
Ryan shrugged. "It would be tough for me," he said. Maybe in March, but I just got my student loan check, and it's mostly gone already from rent. The gas station money covers food for the month. I could put in sixty. Eighty would stretch me."
"I'm close to broke," I said. "I could put in about the same. Sixty maybe. I don't know where my next check is coming from."
"I'm tight," Nick said. "I could do the hundred forty if I thought I was going to see it back, but there's no way I'd be able to front extra for anybody else. Conrad is flat broke. I had to lend him bus tickets today. And Jed could probably do his share, but not much more than that."
"So where does that leave us?" I said. "Three hundred or so? That's not going to do it."
"We could have another party," Ryan said. "Like the one we had at your place, Nick. We would just charge a bit more. How many people came, eighty? So we charge them five bucks each instead of two, and we make up the four hundred right there."
"There are a few problems with that," Nick said. "First, we've got no time at all to plan or promote it, and I don't think we would be able to get nearly as many people if it was five bucks. We'd need more bands playing to justify the door price, and those bands would want part of the money. We would just..." Nick shrugged. "I don't think that's the answer. Not with this short notice."
"Just an idea," Ryan said meekly.
Keith, the manager of the lounge, was over at the bar reading a newspaper. "Hey Keith," I shouted to him. "Will you pay us seven hundred dollars to play here tonight?"
He didn't look up. "I'll give you a dollar to shut up," he replied.
"It's not a bad idea, actually," Nick said. "Keith, if we schedule a certain number of gigs here with you, could we make some arrangement for part of the money up front?"
He looked over. "Seven hundred bucks?" he said. "Seriously, how often do you think I even have seven hundred dollars in the till? Look around. It's two in the afternoon, and you pricks are the only ones in here. And you're just having coffees for a buck apiece. Where am I going to get seven hundred?"
"You make money when we play here," Ryan said.
"Give us seven hundred," I said, "and we'll give you seven Tuesday nights."
"Hundred bucks a night?" he said and laughed. "You guys are cheap all of a sudden."
"We need money now," I said.
"Eric, man, that's too cheap," Ryan said. "Seriously, if you look at how Thursdays turned out here, we're worth more than that."
"Seven hundred up front, plus the usual cut of the bar tab," I said. "What do you say, Keith? You know that if we're getting a cut, we'll do our best to pack the room. And you were thinking of adding another night anyway."
He took out a pen and started jotting some figures on a napkin. He paused, jotted some more, and then just stared into space. "I would need something in writing," he said. "Something binding. I wouldn't want to have you guys split on me after one week. Or break up again."
"Well, we're hoping not to break up again," I said.
"Come in tomorrow," he said. "Everybody. I'll write up a little contract that I want you all to sign, and I'll give you the cash. But you better make it worth my while. I run this place of a razor sharp margin. Seven hundred is significant."
"We understand," I said, and Nick, Ryan and I headed over to shake hands on the deal.
* * * *
Five days later Riot Band was crammed inside a rented van, hauling all our gear out to the town of Walsh River, which lay about forty minutes outside of Garrison Valley. I don't know exactly why the little town had a recording studio, but I guess the place, called Radio City Recordings, had a good reputation. Apparently they handled a lot of business from surrounding cities and towns, and they were usually booked up. The only way we could be scheduled was to accept a time in the middle of the night.
We arrived out there at eleven P.M. It was freezing cold as we loaded our gear inside the building. The town was so small that there really wasn't much cover from the early February wind that raked across the prairie as we struggled to get everything in.
"My hands are frozen," griped Ryan. "I won't be able to hold the chords."
"No one will be able to tell the difference," I told him. "You usually play like your hands are in casts anyway."
"Funny guy," he snarled.
Inside we met the engineer. He had a pot belly, scruffy beard, and dark circles under his eyes. "Welcome guys. The studio is right in here. Go get set up and we'll get started."
2010, Nolan Whyte