In The Van On Comeback Road Part 18

date: 07/29/2006 category: features
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I look in the mirror and decide for about the hundredth time that I look like a complete asshole: a fraud, a charlatan, someone trying to pass himself off as something he is not. My face is the same: rough from thirty-odd years of the sun and the road, too many late nights and plenty of bitter mornings. It's a face that you would think would be honest, and would give you the straight goods and speak from experience. But the face is tainted by a frame of artificially colored hair. The color I picked out at the drug store turned out to be way too dark, and my mop of hair is now almost purplish black. "I curse you, with every fiber of my being to my very last breath," I whisper, thinking of my two young band mates who had implored me to dye my hair. Jason Guitar-star and Mark the Scotsman had argued I needed to look younger and that dying my hair was the way to go. They wanted to get a younger Terry, but instead they would get a still-old Terry who now looks like a fake. There's nothing I can do about my hair so I try to put on a half-decent shirt and some clean pants, tie up my Docs and head out the door on my way to a house party being held by Matt, the drummer from Machine Within a Machine, a guy I barely know. I guess this could be chalked up as networking, since Machine looks like a pack of hungry up and comers and it might be helpful to be friendly with them. It also doesn't hurt that their guitar playeris a sexy young thing that has my kind of attitude. Not too friendly. Hurt me baby, and I'll love you forever. With a twelve pack of Laker Lager under my arm, I show up at Matt's door a little after nine. He's rented the third floor of a huge old house, and he and his girlfriend get the whole floor plus the attic. I ring the bell and he comes down to the landing to let me in. "Hey Terry," he says, looking a little baked. "Hey, come on in man. Hey, I'm glad you could make it?" "No problem man. Lot's of people here?" "Hey, it's swinging man, swinging." I walk behind him up the stairs. He leaves a trail of pot stink behind him. We get up to the third floor and he opens the door to what is indeed a swinging party. There's marijuana smoke in the air, some music I don't recognize playing, and the living room is full of young people. They're on every chair, sitting on the floor and standing in the open spaces. "Holy shit," I say. "Good party." "Yeah," says Matt, who squeezes between two people to get back into his chair. "Make yourself at home, man." I slip around the corner into the kitchen to throw a few of my beers into the fridge, but the appliance is already so jammed with bottles I can't squeeze any in. "Well, no one will go thirsty," I mumble to myself, trying to set the case out of sight in the corner, lest anyone try to lighten my load by a few bottles. There's a funky looking dude in the kitchen messing around with some food on the counter. He's maybe forty years old, with blonde hair in ragged dreadlocks and rough-looking, hippy-styled clothes. He smells like patchouli. "You want to try some of these, man?" he says, smiling under droopy eyelids. "What is it?" I ask, taking a look at the assortment of goodies spread out. "Man, there's pot brownies, chocolate chip pot cookies, crackers with pot butter, and some left over chili con carne." "Is there any pot in the chili?" "Um?I don't think so." "Okay. I'll just try a cookie." "Cool, man." It's a good cookie too. It has M&Ms in it and everything. I squeeze through the crowded living room, beer in one hand and cookie in the other, down a hallway to where I can see a door opening out onto the balcony. I figure the crowd might be a little thinner out there. Most of the people crowding the living room look like young bohemians, artists, musicians and the like. Several are probably students, but there's certainly no way I could talk to every person and find out who they all are. It's just too packed. I polish off the cookie and step outside. The old house has a big wooden balcony sprouting off of its side, decorated with paper patio lanterns, wicker furniture and, predictably, lots of people. There's no space to sit, so I lean against the brick wall and pull out a cigarette. No one pays much attention to me, and I smoke and listen to them talk. It's boring, and after I finish a cigarette and my beer I wander back in. Sad to say, but at my age I guess I don't feel very interested in wandering into a big crowd of people and making friends with them all. I'm not a good mingler. Anyway, people who are really good at mingling typically have something they want. It's hard to mingle without an agenda. I grab another bottle of beer and take another cookie. During a space between tracks on the CD player, I hear music wafting down from the attic above. I hear an acoustic guitar and singing. I figure it might be cooler than the living room or the balcony, so I carefully step through the people sitting on the floor and make my way to the steep, narrow stairway at the back of the room. I carefully climb up to find half a dozen people sitting in a circle in the low-ceilinged attic. Gina is there. She's the first one I notice. She's sitting crossed legged with a big old acoustic, strumming away. I see the singer of Machine Within A Machine as well. I climb up and almost have to crawl in the close space, but I find a spot to sit just outside the circle, not wanting to push my way in. There's a window open, and in the middle of the circle sits a dick-shaped glass bong, a lighter and an ashtray. The song ends. The singer nods to Gina and says, "Do the Floyd one." Gina responds by nodding and begins to strum a simple, recognizable riff. The singer starts the line: "We don't need no education," and everybody picks up on it and sings along, "We don't need no thought control." I smile and listen as they all sing. Gina looks relaxed and beautiful. She has her hair braided and pulled back tight. She's got a tie-dyed light blue t-shirt on, and is wearing less makeup than at the shows where I'd seen her. She looks natural and fresh. She looks good. She always looks good. We all sing through the song, which really is very repetitive, but we all put on squeaky English accents for the final chorus when the school kids sing in the original version, and it's good for a laugh. When the song ends, the singer notices me and nods. "Hey Terry," he says. Everyone turns and looks at me. "Hey guys," I say. "Did I miss much?" "No, just some bad Beatles renditions," he says. "Did you smoke up?" he starts reaching for the cock-bong. "No, I'm good. I had some of the cookies from downstairs. I'll wait for them to kick in and see where I am after that." "Hey Terry," says Gina. "We were trying to figure out 'All Apologies' before. Do you know how the guitar part goes?" "I know the bass part for it," I say. "I used to be in a band that covered it. Umm, can you pass me the guitar?" She points into the corner where there's another case. "There's Matt's guitar. We can get both of them going." "Sounds cool." I crawl over and get the cheap thing out of its case. I crawl back towards the circle with it, and while Gina helps me get it in tune, the others take turns smoking the cock, blowing their smoke out of the open window in the ceiling. I don't know exactly how the guitar part of the song goes, but I know the gist of it and do my best. She picks up on what I'm doing and falls in line with me, getting closer to the correct way to play it. It sounds good, not exactly right, but the singer starts to sing along, rasping his voice in a half-decent Cobain impersonation. Another kid in the circle joins in, and the two them sing along. The singers sound good, but I pay attention to Gina's guitar. Our strumming blends in together, and we begin leading each other, sliding along and intertwining the sound. It feels really nice just to play along with another competent guitarist. As much as my own guitarist Jason has improved, he's still not a relaxed, natural player. He fights it too much, trying to get everything perfect because he doesn't have the years of practice behind him. But Gina is already there: she's at the level that she can simply play without self-consciousness, unperturbed by minor errors, flowing with the sound and making the music happen. We continue jamming, playing through a bunch of different songs, old classics, nineties grunge standards, newer shit like Green Day and The White Stripes that Gina knows and I don't. I follow her, just like she follows me when I know a song and she doesn't. People come up and down the stairs, occasionally just to smoke from the bong, but also to listen to the music and sing along. Around eleven the crowd in the attic starts to dwindle. Eventually it's just Gina and I and Machine's singer, whose name it turns out is Wayne. I repeat it back to him about five times in two minutes trying to remember it, which makes him laugh. Matt pokes his head up through the attic entrance. "Jesus, are you guys still up here?" He crawls up through the space and sits between Wayne and I. He grabs the bong and begins packing himself a massive bowl out of a bag of grass he pulls from his pocket. "I didn't realize you guys were such big smokers," I say, looking at amazement at the bowl. "Not when we play, man," says Matt. "Actually it's more Matt's thing than anybody else's," says Gina. "Well? I guess we all smoke, just not all the time." "Not as a routine, anyway," says Wayne. "Jeez, sounds like my band," I say. "A couple small-timers and a heavy-weight drummer." Matt lights up, and takes a huge hit. He covers the tip of the cock-shaped end and passes it to Wayne, who takes the next hit. "What's going on downstairs?" Gina asks Matt. Matt says nothing for a moment, holding the smoke in, then discharges a vast cloud of smoke, big enough to support a colony of Care Bears. "It's quiet. There's just? holy shit?" He leans back on his elbows. "Oh man, that was big. There's um?there's just a couple people left downstairs. A bunch of people left for a club." Wayne smokes and passes to Gina, who uses the lighter to reignite the bowl. She takes a big hit and I watch as she puts her lips to the tip of the big glass cock. I notice that Wayne and Matt are watching too. Gina blows out and passes the bong to me and I finish what's left in the bowl. "I'm getting a bit stiff," Gina announces. "You guys want to go back downstairs?" We all creep under the low roof and climb down, finding a quiet living room. There's a girl curled up asleep in a big chair. "Hey Rachel man, wake up," says Matt, kicking lightly at the corner of the chair. "Hmmm?" She opens her bleary red eyes and looks around, then goes back to sleep. I go into the kitchen to grab another beer. The blond guy with dreads is still in there, watching another guy squirm on the floor. He looks pretty messed up, rolling around like a wounded caterpillar. I have to step over him to get my beer. "Jeez, what's with this guy?" I ask the dreaded man. "Oh man, he made the classic mistake," the blond guy says, breaking into a stoned giggle. "He ate some pot brownies and they made him hungry, so he kept eating more pot brownies. You can't do that man. You just get too fucked up. That's why you're always supposed to make two kinds of brownies: one for getting high, then some clean ones for snacking on later." The guy on the floor made a sick groaning noise. I shrugged and left him to his fate. Gina slips down the hall and out onto the balcony, so I step back over the floor-worm and grab a second beer for her, and head out onto the balcony, into the night air. "Hey," I say to her. "Do you want a beer?" "Oh yeah, cool," she says, taking it and cracking it open. "It was getting a bit stuffy up there, even with the window open. I thought it would be good to get some air." "Yeah, good idea," I say, opening my own beer and having a long drink. Looking for a conversation starter, I tell her "You know a lot of songs." She smiles. "I don't think I could remember any more songs now. Ohhhh, I'm starting to feel a bit too baked for playing now." I get out a cigarette and she looks me in the eye and holds two fingers forward. She smiles a questioning smile, and I pass her the cigarette. "Thanks," she says. "I don't usually smoke, except when I'm drunk." I light her cigarette and she takes a shallow drag. "What about you?" she asks me. "I didn't know you played guitar too." I nod. "I started out on guitar, actually. I guess I like bass a bit better. It's what I usually end up playing in bands." I decide to veer off topic and find out for sure about the guy she was with at The Bovine the week before. "So your friend isn't here tonight?" I ask nonchalantly. "Which friend?" "The guy you met at The Bovine last weekend." "Oh him! Oh, that was my girlfriend's boyfriend. They had a big fight, and I was trying to cheer him up. They've been together like, forever." She pauses and then says "I'm sorry we didn't stay to watch your show." "That's okay. You two looked pretty serious." "Yeah. I wouldn't go out with him though. I'm single." She reaches down and takes hold of my left hand, touching the ring finger where my wedding ring is conspicuously absent. "You took your wedding ring off, huh?" "Yeah." I had finally pried it off and left it on my bathroom sink before coming to the party. "Hmm," she says. "Looks like we're both single." "Yeah," I say, smiling. Gina turns and flicks the cigarette over the side of the balcony. She looks inside the apartment to see that no one is looking, and then leans forward and kisses me on the lips. It's a long, involved kiss that makes me feel higher than the pot ever could. She steps back. "Do you want to go?" she asks. "Yeah," I say. "Let's go back to my place. I don't live far." "Cool." I seem to have completely lost the ability to form sentences longer than a single word. We drink up our beers and head inside. I grab my remaining bottles and since the dreadlocked burnout has finally drifted out of the kitchen, I wrap up a bunch of the pot brownies and cookies in a piece of paper towel and toss them into the half-empty beer case. "Thanks for the party guys," I say to the remaining crowd in the living room. Matt, who looks on the verge of passing out, doesn't get up. "Yeah, cool man," he says. "Thanks for coming." "I'm going too," says Gina, who starts lacing up her knee-high leather boots. "I'll see you guys at practice." We slip out the door, down the stairs and out into the night together. 2006 Nolan Whyte
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