Lise and I stayed up all night. I was supposed to work early at the Burger Hut, and at about three in the morning we realized I would have to get up at five in order to make it to work on time (the drive through opens at six, and it's a long walk to the place).
We laughed and figured I was better off not sleeping at all, so we just smoked another joint, ate some junk food and kept hanging out. I dozed off and managed to sleep for about thirty minutes before stumbling to work and putting in an absolutely decrepit five hour shift. I must have looked like a zombie, but hell, what should they expect at minimum wage?
I kept thinking about Pink, the pop singer, because I'd heard a story that she was working at a fast food burger place, BK maybe, when she was still nobody. She was at work, on acid, when she got the call that she'd been signed to a major label. She took off her apron, or vest, or whatever, and walked out of the place.
I'm not a huge fan of Pink's music, but I like that story. I didn't honestly have any expectation of Riot Band ever recording music for any label, but somehow, the story provided a nice little fantasy. It's an unexpected way to fantasize about Pink. Anyway, I worked my five hours, went back to the house and crashed.
Lise woke me up late in the afternoon, saying that some woman was on the phone. I got up and found out that the woman was my mom. I'd finally gotten around to writing them and letting them know about my new address and phone number. And she'd finally gotten around to calling.
"So, how are you? How's your new place?"
"Good," I said. "It's a house. I live with my girlfriend and her brother, and everybody gets along. It's gone pretty well so far."
"Are they students?"
I paused. Drop-out and drug dealer. "No, they're not students," I said. "They both have jobs. They work."
"So this is Lise, right? The one you mentioned?"
"Yeah." The phone was in the living room, and Lise was there with me, watching. "That's her."
"Well, we're coming into Garrison Valley next weekend," she said. "We'd like to stop by and meet everyone."
I looked around. The living room was full of trash. The front windows were completely blotted out by heavy blanket curtains, and we hiked them back during the day to let in light. There were dirty dishes all over the place. There were ground out joint roaches in the ashtrays, the carpet was pock-marked with burns from dropped cigarettes, and frankly, the place stank. We lived in it, but we hardly did any cleaning. Oh yeah, and there was a terrarium in the corner of the living room where Smoky was trying to grow magic mushrooms.
Hi, Mom and Dad. Come on in. Yeah right.
"The place is nothing special," I told Mom. "Maybe we should meet out somewhere. You guys weren't hoping to stay here, were you?"
"Oh no," she said. "We've booked a room at the Valley View. We're going to a friend's wedding on Saturday afternoon, and the motel is close to the church. We were hoping to see your new place, but if you'd rather go out..."
"Yeah, that would be better," I said. "I'll hunt around for a nice place. Call me the day before you come in, okay? I'll set everything up."
Lise came out of the kitchen with an unlit cigarette dangling from her lips. "Your mom, huh? You don't want her to come by?"
"I don't think so," I said. "No offense, but this place would be pretty disturbing for them. I think we'd be better off at a restaurant or something. It's better anyway. More casual, more relaxed. Neutral territory."
"They make you nervous, don't they?"
"Maybe." I kept staring at the messy living room. Resolve to clean up the place was beginning to grow inside me. Luckily, the phone rang again, and I abandoned the idea and picked up the receiver.
"Eric? It's Nick. Listen, Jed and I just got back from The Grill House, and they loved us, man. We were there for like, two hours. The manager even bought us drinks. He's going to try to get us a spot there in March or April."
"That's awesome," I said. "Did you play him the disc?"
"Yeah, he listened to it. I think he got a kick out of Jed. They just talked and talked about bands and the type of acts they get through the place. It could turn out to be a better place to play than we thought. And they actually pay. And you guys can play your originals! Seriously, this is going to be great."
"We can play our originals? Really? No covers?"
"If we open for an originals band, we can play originals. If we're just there on an off night, then it's covers. But we get more money for cover nights."
"But we would probably get more new fans on originals nights."
"Maybe. Hard to say. People don't always pay attention to the openers."
"Yeah. It's good news, either way. At the very least, we're keeping up with those Blowing Up Springfield guys."
"Sure," he said, "but that doesn't really matter, does it?"
"I don't know. I figure if we're doing this, we should aim to be number one. Or at least, the biggest fish in this little pond."
* * * *
Over the next week, Lise and I worked to clean up the house. Every bit of garbage we could find was eventually taken out. Smoky had an old upright vacuum cleaner, and after a trip downtown for a new motor belt, we were able to give the living room carpet its first cleaning in years. The kitchen got a cleaning, we dusted, we scrubbed down the bathroom... we did every little household chore that we'd all been ignoring. The house smelled a little better. Less like dust, and less like old takeout food trash.
We didn't expect my parents to actually stop by, but once the idea got in our heads that we were living in a filthy shit-hole, there was nothing we could do to stop ourselves from day by day grinding away at the layer of dirt that encrusted the place.
Smoky nodded encouragingly every time he found us cleaning something, but he didn't lift a finger to help us. It was his prerogative, I suppose. After all, Lise and I were both staying rent-free. The least we could do was straighten up the place.
The practices and the Tuesday night gig went well for the band, and we were excited to have something lined up to replace The Pop Rocks gig. As always, Emily was there with her camera. I was getting in the habit of giving her dirty looks every time she pointed the thing at me, and I wondered how that would make me look when people saw the videos online.
On Friday night Lise and I got dressed up to go meet my folks for dinner. They'd come into town in the afternoon, checked into the motel, and we were due to meet them at six-thirty at a downtown restaurant.
At five o'clock, I was in the bathroom upstairs trying to make sense of my hair, when she came in behind me, apparently ready to go. She had on a super-tight Metallica baby-t, and her hair, which was at present dyed jet black, was swept across her forehead, completely covering her eyes. She her hair back so she could check herself in the mirror, and I saw that her eyes were caked in heavy black mascara.
"Jesus, what are you wearing?" I said.
"What do you mean?" she asked in a hurt voice. "I look cute, don't I?"
"Sure, you look hot, but we're not going to a club. We're meeting my boring, conservative parents at a steak house."
"Well, you want them to meet me, don't you? This is what I look like. Do you want me to dress up like someone I'm not?"
"No, of course not," I said. "But... are you really just wearing the t-shirt? I think I can see your nipples. I don't want my parents to see your nipples."
"I can put on a sweater if it really bothers you. I can see tonight is going to be loads of fun."
We caught the bus downtown and beat my folks there by about a minute. We were still waiting to be seated when they arrived. Mom grabbed me in a hug, and then suddenly pulled back, a frown on her face.
"Have you started smoking?" she asked in a deadly serious voice.
"No. Does my jacket smell?" I sniffed at my shoulder, and sure enough, I smelled like an ashtray. I'd been careful to wear freshly washed clothes, but I'd forgotten about the jacket. I just hoped the predominant smoke-smell was tobacco, and not all the marijuana that was burned in that house.
"Lise's brother lets people smoke in the house, so my jacket stinks a bit. But I don't smoke. I mean, I've had a few cigarettes, but I don't smoke. You know what I mean."
She pursed her lips. "I don't like that one bit..." She suddenly realized Lise was standing next to me, and she grabbed her up in a hug. "You must be Lise..."
Dad shook my hand, and then shook Lise's hand, and we were led to our table. And then the awkward chit-chat began. It was all very forced and charade-like, but we all knew we had to go through with it. Mom and Dad kept staring at Lise, and I knew they were both dying to ask how old she was. But Lise was very deft at evading certain questions. The way she worded things, she had finished high school (technically true, except that she finished mid-way through tenth grade) and that she was working while she sorted out her career path. All very nice. Good answers from someone who is an expect at keeping authority figures at arm's length.
"How's the band coming along?" Dad asked laconically as he took bites of medium rare T-bone.
"Good," I said. "We've done a little recording. We play every week for a couple bucks, and we're lining up some paying gigs for next month."
"Are you're all over the internet," Lise added.
I nodded. "Our guitarist's girlfriend is keeping kind of a video log on us. She puts it all up at the university newspaper's website."
"That must be exciting," Mom said.
"I guess. I don't care much for it, really. She's always taping when you're not paying attention."
"Well, that's life in the spotlight these days, right? I mean, if you're going to be a performer, that's the type of thing you'll have to get used to."
After we were through with supper, Mom and Dad drove us back to the house. They didn't come in, but Dad got out of the car and walked us up to the front door. He paused, and then smiled at Lise. "Give us just a moment, won't you please, Lise?" he asked, as smooth as butter. She shook his hand and said goodnight, and stepped inside.
"She's nice," Dad said.
"Yeah, she's great," I said.
"Look, I know you're getting by right now," he said, "but if you feel like you need to take a step back, gather your resources and try again, you're always welcome back home. There's plenty of work out there for a smart guy like you."
"What do you mean? Go back to Rose Creek?"
"Yeah," he said. "You could stay with us rent free, make some proper money at one of the big farm operations, and when you've got some money saved up and you know what you want to do with your life, you could make your next move. Hell, you could probably even find some others fellas to play music with out there."
"No," I said. "No, no way. I'm with Lise. I'm working. I've already got a band. Everything is fine here."
"Eric," he said. "Son. I know everything looks good to you. But you're stuck at the bottom of a well the way you're doing things here. You don't have to be poor, but if you follow this trajectory, that's what you're going to be. I know you like Lise. You could still go out with her. Do the long distance thing for a while. Give yourselves some time to grow up."
I almost groaned at the comment. "I'll see you later, Dad," I said. "Say goodbye to Mom for me."
"Think it over," he said, and offered me his hand. "The door is always open."
I was mad, but I gripped his hand. There was something in his palm. I had a look. It was three hundred dollar bills. "No, no," I said, and tried to hand it back. "I don't need it. I'm fine."
"It's yours," he said, holding up his hands and backing towards the car. "Call it early Easter money."
He got in the car, they both waved, and I waved back. I slipped the cash into my pocket. "Damn them," I muttered as I watched them pull away. It wasn't that I couldn't use the money. I just hated that they thought I needed it.
2011, Nolan Whyte