I get a beer and take a long drink standing at the bar. Someone tugs at my elbow. I turn and see that it's Wayne from Machine Within A Machine.
"Hey Terry," he says. "Pretty good show."
"Yeah, not really," I say. "That was bad. I mean, can you ask for anything worse than the lights going out on you? That was ridiculous"
"Heh, It was funny with the lights at the end. I'm glad that wasn't us up there."
I shrug and have a sip. "Well, I guess if something's going to go wrong it'll all go wrong. What can you do?"
"Yeah, exactly, what can you do? So anyway, Gina said you guys would be interested in coming on the road with us next month. Are you still into it?"
I almost spit my beer. "Are you kidding? You still want to go on the road with us after watching that piece of shit show?"
He raises his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh. Um, I didn't think it was all that bad really. I mean, yeah, you had that nutcase booing half the time and the lights went out on you, but you kept playing through it all. And you guys are pretty good. It's not like the lights went out because you sucked or anything, right? This is just a shitty bar. They need to figure out their wiring. Your band sounded good. That's what matters, right?"
I take a drink and nod.
"Besides," he says, "Gina really thinks you guys would be a good fit for us, even though Bobby's not playing with you. It would be awesome if you still had Bobby, but even so, yeah, we'd be happy if you guys came with us."
"Okay," I say. "Yeah Wayne, we'd be happy to come. I'm ready to hit the road. Do you want to talk details right now, or do you want to do it later?"
"Give me your number and I'll call you tomorrow, if that's cool."
"Sure." I give him my contact information. We shake hands, and he heads back into the stage area to watch Fledgling, the closing band.
The next person to talk to me is Leo, the sound guy. He looked somber.
"Well, I've got the tape," he says. "The sound is clean, but you'll have to give it a listen. And I hope you learned an important lesson tonight."
I smile. "Yeah? What lesson is that?"
"Wait until after your set to kick a guy in the ass. I'm pretty sure you can hear him booing on the recording."
I nod. "Yeah, I figured as much. Fuck it. We'll listen to it and see if we can salvage something."
I had paid Leo in advance using my credit card, so he feels no obligation to stick around. He tells me to stop into the guitar store soon so we can give a listen to the tape and see about a mix.
I head to the back. Jason and Mark are hanging around with their friends. They look depressed, so I walk up and ram into Mark with my shoulder. He turns on me like he's ready to punch someone out, but when he sees it's me, he gives a weak smile.
"Aye, Terry. All right?"
"Sure, bitch. I've got a question for you."
He shrugs. "Okay."
"You ready to take this fucking show on the road?"
His eyes light up. "Serious like?"
I smile and nod. "Serious. Machine Within a Machine wants us for their tour."
Jason leans in. "Really?"
"Yeah, can you believe that? I guess they like bands that get booed. And really, who doesn't like bands that get booed? All the best bands get booed. Shit, I wouldn't even bother listening to a band that didn't have someone booing them."
"Yeah, cut the shit, Terry," Jason says. "We're really going on tour?"
"Yeah, all the way across Canada. Vancouver and back, as far as I know."
Mark looks at my beer. "We've got to get drunk to celebrate."
"Sure, but we should probably start looking after our money," I tell them. "Touring is not going to be cheap, and I'm not sure how much money we're going to be making. Besides, we're already well in the hole after paying Leo to record us."
"I thought you already paid Leo," says Jason.
"I did, with my credit card. That counts as band money, as far as I'm concerned, and I want to see that money back. I'm not rich, guys."
Jason nods. "Yeah, I gathered that from your apartment."
We have a few beers and get our shit out into Bobby's truck. He drives us home, and Bobby and I trade road stories for Jason and Mark, who are giddy about the prospect of the open road.
The next day I get all the details from Wayne on the phone. They have eighteen shows planned, twelve on the way west, then six on the trip back. We'll share expenses when we can, but since seven people and two bands worth of gear in a single vehicle would be impossible, The Clutch Dogs will need to supply our own transportation. He gives me all the dates and as many details as I'm willing to write down. We have three weeks before we leave. Machine Within a Machine is booked for an opening slot for El Grande Floyd Ciccone at Mackenzie Hall two months down the road, so they'll have to back in Toronto for that. It all sounds good.
After I get off the phone I take some time to get myself cleaned up, shower and shave, and nicely dressed in a black collared shirt and khaki slacks. I try to look my very best. When I'm as ready as I can be, I walk out of my apartment and begin the walk up Yonge Street to The Bronze Room where Sheila is dancing now.
The Bronze Room is considered one of the classier peeler joints in the city. It's right at the heart of the city, and it attracts the upper-scale clientele. Sheila probably does pretty well there, making a lot of cash off of private dances for corporate sleaze-bags and real estate investors. Bankers on their lunch breaks and brokers trying to impress clients probably put a hundred bucks an hour into her pocket.
I never minded Sheila being a stripper. It turned me on when I first met her. I like the idea of having a girlfriend, and later a wife whose career was based on being as sexy as she could be: sensual, erotic, but still professional. Now she's a little older, and I know she's probably struggling to keep it up. I pity the idea of her trying to make a comeback at this type of career. It seems very short term to me. There's a parallel to my own situation of course. Young people don't want to see an old lady shaking her saggy ass on a stage. Why would they want to watch an aging nobody like me try to act sexy and bad-assed on a stage at a rock and roll show? In the end, girls like her end up dancing for bikers at rat-holes near the airport and guys like end up hosting jam night at the flea-bag motels. We're both trying to stage comebacks in careers generally reserved for younger people.
I walk into The Bronze Room. After the glare of the late afternoon sun it takes my eyes a moment to adjust before I can see back into the room. It's like a big cavern lit by stage lights and black light. I'm greeted by a burly bouncer in a tuxedo.
"Good afternoon, sir," he says.
"Hi," I say. "Is Sheila working today?"
"I don't know Sheila, sir."
"Right. She's probably using a stage name. How about Justina? No? Christasia? No? Well, how about Teralina? No? Maybe?oh never mind. I see her."
Sheila is sitting at a table talking to some old men in suits. It's too dim to get a good look, but I'm sure it's her. I head into the big room and sit down at a table not far from where she's working over the old fellows. I order a beer from a lingerie-clad waitress and wait.
I watch the girl dancing on the stage. She's young and pretty, with long, curling black hair. She demonstrates her flexibility for the sparse crowd, but I'm only half-paying attention to her gyrations and stretches. My eyes keep moving back to my wife.
Eventually Sheila gets up from the table. One of the men gets up with her. He's a bald old stiff in a thousand dollar suit. Together they walk further into the depths of the club and disappear into the area reserved for private dances, where she will press herself against him and rhythmically entice him until he either expends his weekly nudity budget or blows a measly load in his tailored shorts.
I continue to wait. I'm used to this routine. Sheila and I have been married for a long time, and I've been into the clubs where she works before. I've seen her up on the stage. I've seen her at the tables, putting down a routine to try and get the guys to buy private dances from her. I've seen too much I guess. The only thing I haven't seen is her actually give these old fellows their private dances, and frankly I sleep better not having seen that.
They come out of the back area a half hour later. With songs about three minutes long, that makes ten songs, and at twenty dollars a song it means the bald old fool just handed Sheila two hundred dollars. I try not to think about it. Shit, I should be asking her for alimony payments.
She sees me and casually drifts over. I look up at her. Sheila sits down across the table from me.
"Long time no see," she says. She's dressed to the nines in a tight little black outfit with her cleavage bursting out of the front. With her hair flowing around her and plenty of make up on she looks like every man's fantasy. I can smell vanilla perfume. It doesn't fool me. I know what she looks like with bed-head, no make up and morning breath.
"Good to see you," I say. "You look great. You look like you're in good shape."
"I've got to work hard to keep up, you know?" She leans across the table. "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to say hello," I say. "Hello."
She gives a wry half-grin. "Hello. Is that it?"
"Yeah, I guess so. How are you getting on?"
She shrugs. "As well as ever, I guess. As well without you as with you. What do you want me to say?"
"I'm going on tour."
She smiles and nods, like she's laughing at a sick joke. "I see. This is what you came to tell me. I heard you had a show last night. Beth told me. It must have gone pretty well."
"Not so well, actually. But even so, I've got a couple guys together and we're going across the country."
She looks at me coldly. There is, I think, pity and revulsion in her eyes. She's pretty sick of me. I can see that for sure. "Congratulations," she says. "I hope it makes all your dreams come true."
"Something will have to sooner or later."
She sighs. "Look Terry, there really isn't anything left for us to say, is there? Maybe if we bump into each other a few years down the road we can do the whole catching up thing, but for now, let's just let the lawyers do the paperwork and we can go our separate ways, okay? I really don't have the energy for this sort of thing."
"I um, heard you were doing some videos and stuff. Online stuff."
Her eyes narrow to lethal slits. "We've all got bills to pay."
I nod. "Yeah, we do. Okay. Well, I guess I'll see you around. We'll catch up some time." I get up.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it," she says.
"Take care of yourself." I walk outside, not looking over my shoulder. I want to. I want to take another look, maybe see her breaking down in tears that I'm gone, but I know that's not what I'll see. Her heart no longer breaks for me.
In the fading light I spark a cigarette. There are three left in my pack. After they are gone I will not buy a new pack. It's time to get back in the tour van and it's always a good idea to quit smoking for a while before a tour, to let your body get healthy before the long struggles of the road. But I want to smoke. I want to drink too. I want to drink to remember, and drink even more to forget.
2006 Nolan Whyte