I'll try to give a fair and accurate picture of what happened after Seam/Fault/Flaw finished their set at The Horseshoe, but the drink had soaked into my brain and things were getting a little weird.
I wasn't used to drinking large quanities anymore. I was in the habit of drinking regularly, but only one or two cans a night, and rarely more than that. I'd had my usual two tall cans before showing up at The Horseshoe for New Music Tuesday, but after finding out that my ex-girlfriend Carrie Anne and her new band would be playing that night, I'd chased the two tall cans with a pair of whiskey shots, and then four bottles of Labatt 50. By the time they'd finished their set I was fully pissed and on the borders of sick.
So when Charlie, Seam/Fault/Flaw's singer/guitarist/man-diva got up in my face with a big friendly smile, it seemed way too close and way too much for me to handle.
"Hey buddy," he said, getting up so close in my face that I could see he had blue eyes, which is only unusual because I don't generally notice anybody's eyes. I don't know what color my mom's eyes are. Blue maybe. Hazel? Is hazel an eye color? Charlie nodded toward the front door of the bar. "You coming out for one?"
He was talking about having another cigarette, which would have made me puke. "No, thanks man," I said, trying to back up without looking like I was trying to back up, and also hoping not to trip backwards over anyone. I explained again how I didn't actually smoke, that I'd just asked for one earlier on a sudden whim. I told him that I'd rather meet the band, and I drunkenly explained how I was a music writer and that I'd like to profile Seam/Fault/Flaw on my website (website being more professional-sounding than "blog.")
I tried to look past him to see if maybe Carrie Anne was following him up to the serving area, but I couldn't see her anywhere.
He guided me to the bar, squeezed us in through the crowd, and nodded to the server. "I'm Charlie," he said, offering me his hand. We shook and I told him my name was Nate and he replied with "Nate the Great! I bet you get a lot of that, huh?" The server came over. "A couple shots of Cuervo," he shouted over the music, still rolling the "r" in Cuervo.
I told him I didn't drink tequila, but he replied with "Hey, have one with me, I want to celebrate the gig!""Don't you want to celebrate with the rest of your band?""We got all night, man." The server set up the shots and set out some salt and lemon wedges. Charlie named his band, and the server nodded. I guess they were on a tab. He handed me a shot.
"Seriously, this is going to be ugly," I said. He ignored the warning but looked me in the eye and counted down "Three, two, one," and he knocked his shot back. I drank as well, and we both reached for the lemon. My stomach roiled. Yes. Roiled. Then my head. It roiled too. I held onto the bar.
"Awesome," he said, "come on out with me. You don't have to have one, but I need a smoke. Come on. We'll talk about the band, or whatever you want to talk about for your website."
With all the booze churning in my gut I didn't have the ability to argue with him, and since I'd just said I wanted to talk it wouldn't have made sense now to refuse. He practically took my arm to guide me out through the front of the bar. I bobbled along.
"Sure you don't want one?" he said with a smoke between his lips once we were again out in the November night air.
"You sound like a... Marlboro spokesman," I said, and he laughed. "I'm good. Just give me a second. I don't usually... drink tequila."
I leaned against the rail that separated the patio from the rest of the Queen Street West sidewalk, and I realized this guy Charlie was probably running interference for Carrie Anne. He'd picked up on the little wave and nod we'd exchanged when the band was on stage, and here he was hustling me out the front door while the band performed their load-out through the back. I just wasn't sure if he was doing it on her instructions or his own perogative.
"I know your guitarist," I said, hoping to force the issue. "Carrie Anne? We were friends at U of T.""No shit," he said. "Cool. Good friends?""Pretty good," I said. "We haven't seen each other in a couple years. I'd like to get back in there and say hello.""Yeah, cool man, just let me have this and we'll head in. You look like you could use some air, no offence. Hey, what did you think of the band?"
I said some rambling bullshit, and he nodded like he was hanging on every word. I felt like we were both faking something, like two spies playing a game, and they both know the other guy is a spy. I asked him if he'd played a lot of gigs and he talked about the bands he'd been in before this one. He'd been around in a bunch of groups, although this was the first time that he'd been the de facto front man. "You need to grow into your role. You a sports guy? Yeah? Well you know, it's like sometimes you need time in the minors before you're ready for the bigs."
He finished his smoke and we went back inside. The second band was hitting the drums, testing strings, checking sound. We made our way to the back, where there was a small room next to the stage for the bands to prep. Carrie Anne was there with the drummer and bass player, plus a few others I didn't know.
Charlie was ahead of me. Carrie Anne turned and saw us both, but made a joyous showing of throwing her arms open to grab Charlie and clutch him in a tight, eyes-closed hug. I understood immediately that it was a choreographed performance, and this wasn't just a "congratulations on the good gig, partner," type of hug. This was Carrie Anne, showing off her new boyfriend to her old boyfriend. Making sure the old boyfriend gets the picture.
Likewise, Charlie hadn't bought me a shot of tequila and taken me out for an unwanted smoke just because he liked drinking and smoking with strangers. He was scouting me out.
The new boyfriend, checking out the old boyfriend. Assessing the threat. I wondered how much he knew about me. Hell, maybe he even knew who I was earlier on, when I was outside and he gave me the first cigarette. Maybe he'd recognized me from pictures he'd seen in the photo albums on Carrie Anne's laptop.
I was being played here. It was time to make a dignified statement, followed by a smooth exit.
They both turned to look at me, Charlie with his arm around her, suddenly looking smug. He looked like the cool-casual guy from on stage, hipster hair flopped over, thin and handsome and clever and manly. And Carrie Anne again looked beautiful and chic, straight-cut bangs and glasses, dark red lips, her figure full and sleek.
Me standing there opposite them, not knowing what to say or do. I felt like my brown corduroy jacket weighed about a hundred pounds.
Carrie Anne broke the brief stalemate, cutting forward from Charlie's arm to give me a quick half-hug which I leaned forward into. "Hey Nate," she said, and I could smell her body odor, the smell of sweat born from nervousness and performance under hot stage lights. It suited her. It was rock and roll.
"Good to see you," I said in a monotone voice, hoping my drunkeness was not too obvious. "Playing in a band, eh?""Yeah," she beamed, "quite the turn of events, isn't it?""Not what I would have expected. It's cool though. You looked really cool up there. You guys all-- you guys were good.""Thanks." She nodded and turned suddenly back toward Charlie. "You guys met?""Briefly," I said.
Charlie stepped forward. "He's going to write about us on his blog.""Website," I said. "Yeah. If you guys want.""That would be cool,"Carrie Anne said. "We could use press."
I nodded. "So... you're doing good?"
She smiled. "Yeah. How are you?"
I'm drunk and sick in my guts from seeing you, I thought to myself, I've been missing you for two years, taking myself apart and trying to figure out how to put myself back together so that I could be the guy that a girl like you would want to be with even though I had been the guy you wanted back at the beginning, but then when you got to the bottom of me you found me empty and decided that I wasn't what you wanted after all so I've been trying to fill in that emptiness but the more I try to fill the emptiness the more empty space appears, and I've been trying to figure out who I want to be, always with an eye over my shoulder looking toward an unseen image of you, trying to figure out if any step I take is the one you would want me to take, and it's been driving me crazy and it makes me love you and hate you and want you and resent you because I don't know who I want to be anymore except that I want to be the guy you want...
but I couldn't say all that, so I said "I'm fine. I think I'm going to grab another drink.""Cool," she said. "We'll be here."
So I smiled and backed off, went to the bathroom and then up to the bar. I checked my wallet and realized I didn't have money for another beer, so I left the bar and went to the ATM across Spadina and took out another forty bucks. And then, once back in the bar, with another unnecessary beer in my hand I went to the back and found that the second band was nearly through their set, and that the member of Seam/Fault/Flaw were all gone.
I drank the beer and then another while I waited to see if they would show up again. I was completely wasted, rolling my head around and wishing I could lie down under a table. I decided it would be a good idea to head home while I was still able to walk. The night had been a wreck. A depressing, humiliating wreck, and I felt like a fool. I zipped up my coat and got the hell out of The Horseshoe.
The beer didn't like being sloshed back and forth while I walked. I knew this, because it kept trying to escape from inside my body. I pissed in an alley, but this only solved half my problems. I started thinking: just make it home and then you can pass out in your warm soft bed. If you have to puke, you can puke in your bathroom. Your nice, clean bathroom.
I almost made it.
There's a tree in front of my four-story building, and I ended up leaning against it, holding myself steady while a stream of beery vomit forced itself out of me and onto the grass (it was a snowless November). I just remember trying to spread my legs as far as I could to avoid splattering my shoes.
I must have been making a lot of noise, because someone came out onto their second floor balcony and a female voice asked me what I was doing. If I live a thousand years I'll never know why I replied, "Goddamnit, I'm a music journalist!"
I Sing When You Shut Up is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar. Find him @nolanwhyte.