I've spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be cool. This was a running discussion with my group of friends at high school. It was a philosophical, and often a moral argument. We didn't subscribe to the common conviction that cool' referred to what was fashionable at the time. If something was popular, than it was popular. But that didn't necessarily mean it was cool.
For us, being cool was based on behavior. Cool meant you were level-headed. It meant you were trustworthy. It meant you backed up your buddies. A cool person wouldn't rat someone out, even if he didn't like them. All pretty simple, obvious stuff, but we would analyze anything that we came across.
Is Stone Cold Steve Austin cool? one of us would ask after watching wrestling.
No, someone else would respond. Stone Cold is not cool. He's badass, but he double-crosses people, and that's not cool. He'll pretend to be your friend, and then give you The Stunner.
No, I disagree, someone would say. He follows very simple moral codes and he applies them consistently. You know what you're getting with Stone Cold. He won't lie to you or manipulate you. He'll just kick your ass. But he's cool, because you can trust him.
You can trust him to kick your ass.
Sure, but you should see it coming. He'll never pretend to be anyone's friend. He might work with you for a match, but that doesn't mean you're married.
Needless to say, we were not the popular kids at school. My friends and I were generally a bunch of weirdoes, and we hated the way everyone kissed the asses of the good-looking kids, or the kids who were good at sports. It seemed a stupid, arbitrary way to choose your leaders, and we especially hated that those kids were referred to as cool.' Because to us, being cool had nothing to do with what you looked like. It had to do with how you treated people. You could have a f--king rhino horn, but if you were a good person then you could be cool. It was about not judging people. A cool person would always give someone a chance. A cool person would give you the benefit of the doubt.
I tried to use this as my own code of behavior. When I saw Ryan getting beaten up in the parking lot, I stepped in because that was the cool thing to do. Help a guy out. And that was why I felt shitty after trying to pick a fight with Handlebar Moustache Jed in the bar. It was uncool of me and I knew it.
All of this went through my head when Nick suggested that Ryan and I invite Jed to join our band.
Ryan's first reaction was to take my side, even though he'd never even met Jed. Good man. You could barely call us a band, but he immediately had my back. Handlebar guy? No, forget it, he said. We made a rule as soon as we started playing together, and that was no moustaches.
Nick finished his beer and eyed the empty pitcher. Yeah, right, he said. You guys have some serious ill will for Jed, which I really don't understand. Is it because he likes prog rock?
No, I said. Well, I'm not crazy about prog rock. It's really not the type of sound I'm interested in.
Sure, but being disinterested in prog doesn't foster the kind of animosity you guys have. I mean, you were calling him all sorts of names at the bar last weekend. Don't tell me you act that way with everybody who likes Pink Floyd.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. Pink Floyd? Are they really prog?
Nick nodded. Sure. Listen to Animals. Totally prog. That's like, what prog is. But forget Pink Floyd. Just give me a reason that doesn't involve moustaches or prog that explains why you don't want Jed in your band.
Because he's a f--k-wad, that's why, Ryan said, and he went off on a long, completely nonsensical rant about how Jed did sexual things to livestock and his own ass with kitchen utensils. I sat tapping my fingers on the tabletop and thinking it over. Thinking over what would be the cool thing to do.
It's true, man, Ryan was saying. I've seen pictures of him on the internet fisting an ape. I'm telling you, the guy is twisted. Nick, although he was obviously trying to get Ryan to stop screwing around, was starting to crack up laughing at the sheer Aristocrats-level vulgarity of the rant.
We'll give him a try, I said, interrupting their arguing.
They both stopped and looked at me. We will? Ryan asked.
Okay, here's the story, I said, looking at Nick. I saw him making out with my girlfriend just a few days after we broke up. He didn't know she was my ex, so I had no right to be pissed at him. I was judging him out of anger. I looked at my guitarist. If he can play drums, maybe we should let him try out.
Ryan looked confused. That's an awfully quick reversal.
I nodded. Yeah, I know. Look, I don't really like the guy, and if I see him with Sash again I'll probably freak out, but I want to be fair. He really didn't do anything wrong, and we do need to find a drummer.
Ryan smiled. You're a strange one, Eric, he said and leaned back in his chair. Okay, sure. Shit, what do I care? Yeah, let him try.
Nick pulled out his phone. I'll see if he's still on campus. He sent off a text message and put the phone down on the table. So who's getting the next one? he said, looking at the empty pitcher. I said I'd get the first pitcher, not every one.
Ryan and I looked at each other for two or three long seconds. He looked away first. Fine, I said. I'll get this one.
I took the empty plastic jug up to the bar. I had to wait a few minutes, but that was okay because the bartender was worth looking at. Tall. Probably six feet. Long black hair, too. Total ice queen, but she was good looking. Hotter than Sash, even. Then I sighed, thinking about Sash, sweet Sash, naked against me, kissing me in the dark. My heart dropped a little. I tried to think about what a bitch she was for dumping me, but it was too late. I had bummed myself out.
Yeah, that's one of the guys, I heard a girl whispering not far away. I stood still and tried to listen. They were playing guitars in the hallway, she was saying. They kinda sucked, but it was interesting to see someone playing there.
He's kinda cute, said another girl.
A spot opened up, so I stepped up to the bar and very casually looked around, trying to spot the girls who had been talking. There were a lot of girls going back and forth and none were looking my way. The Market was full at that time on a Friday. I ordered a pitcher of beer from the ice queen and went back to the table.
Jed called, Nick said. He's still around. He's on his way.
I finally get to see this guy, Ryan said. The kissing bandit.
I filled up the glasses. I just heard the first review of our show in the hall, I said. We were interesting, but we sucked. And at least one of us is cute.
Me, I assume, Ryan said.
Don't worry about sucking, Nick said. That's the past. You move forward from here. Hey, do you guys even have a name?
Not yet, Ryan said.
Well, there you go, Nick said. Whatever band you're going to be hasn't played its first gig yet.
Jed showed up about fifteen minutes later. He had a girl with him that I had seen around but didn't know. He waved to Nick, while she waved to friends on the other side of the bar. They separated and he came straight over. He stiffened a little when he saw me, but he stayed cool.
Hey Nick, he said, but he nodded hello to all of us. What's up?
Hey, grab a glass from the bar, man, Nick said. Sit down and have a quick one with us.
I'm going to cruise over and sit with Bridgette and her friends, Jed said. I just wanted to see what's going on.
It's okay, man. Relax, I said. Look, I'm sorry about the shit I said at the bar the other night. Have a seat. We want to talk about playing music.
He stood for a moment and thought it over. Okay, he said. I'll grab a glass.
When he came back, we talked it all out. Ryan and I had a shitty band, but we knew we could get better with a competent drummer and some hard work. Jed wanted to be in a band, and Nick wanted to help put together some kick-ass shows. It seemed like a good fit all around. At least, that was the way we saw it.
I don't know, Jed said. Don't get me wrong, I love playing drums, but I'm just not sure if it's right for me.
I shrugged. You're not in a band right now, are you?
No, but I don't want to be in a band just for the sake of it. It has to be the right situation.
That's true, chimed in Ryan.
How about this, Nick said. Get together and jam once. I live in a big old place that I'm renting with a few other guys. You guys could play there and make as much noise as you want, and we'll just see how it goes. Fair?
Sure, Jed said, but I don't have any drums.
You told me you had a hundred instruments, I said. Even a trumpet.
Well, yeah, I've got a drum set, he said, but it's at my folk's house, like, four hours north of here. I just have an acoustic guitar with me.
Ah, shit, what a waste of time. I slumped back in my chair.
Hold on, said Ryan. He pointed a stern finger at Nick. If you can find us a drum set by Sunday, then you can be our manager, he said. Deal?
Nick stared at him, and finally nodded. I'll see what I can do, he said.
We drank another pitcher. Jed had a party he was going to later that night, and I guess with a few beers in him he thought it would be a good idea to invite us along. Maybe he figured he was covering his bases, just in case we ended up in a band together after all. Or maybe he figured he would see if he could get along with us before committing to join the band.
* * * *
Ryan and I dropped off our gear back at his place. He threw some frozen burgers in the oven and we ate and watched TV. At nine o'clock we went out and caught a bus downtown. We got off in front of a liquor store on Fourth Street, picked up twenty-four beer and walked to the coffee shop where Jed was supposed to collect us.
We stood in front of the place and only waited long enough for Ryan to smoke a cigarette before we saw Jed, Nick, and several girls coming around the corner and down the street.
He's punctual, I'll give him that, I said.
Yeah, Ryan said. He ran his hand through his shaggy hair. Are you sure about this? he asked. Like, I don't really see the point in pursuing anything with this guy if it's just going to be drama, you know? Are you sure you're okay with him?
I think so, I said. Fair's fair, right? He didn't know she was my girlfriend, and we were broken up anyway. I can be pissed off at Sash, but there's no reason to be pissed at him. We can give it a shot. I mean, we definitely need to add something to our sound. Maybe he can give us something.
They got close, and together the bunch of us walked a few blocks to the house where the party was. It was in a rented two-storey house. Property values are pretty low in Garrison Valley, and a lot of students from out of town can afford to rent houses. We walked up the snow-covered walk to the front door and walked right in. The living room was full of people.
Sweet, Ryan whispered to me. What did I tell you? We're meeting people.
I nodded. We went in and found a place in the kitchen where there was space to stand around and drink our beers. The music was heavy and loud. Ryan told me it was a band called Mastodon. Everyone was friendly. I started to loosen up and have a good time.
Until I heard a familiar laugh from the living room. I felt a chill go up my spine and I took a look around the corner.
Yep. Sash had just walked in.
2009 Nolan Whyte