Band Geek

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“I was a bandgeek,” Ryan said.

“No way,” I said.

“It’s true.”

The thing with Ryan – the thing that really got to me – was that he lied about the stupidest shit.

“Coffee machine’s broken, no more caffeine for the rest of the week.”

“I joined the varsity football team while still in eighth grade. I was that good.”

He got worse after the promotion. Ryan was always my superior, technically – he started six months earlier than myself – but the promotion made it official.

The waitress came over to our table and placed our empty glasses on her tray.

“Another round?” she asked.

“I’m game if you are,” Ryan said.

“Sure thing.”

We kept to two rounds when we started dart night, back when John used join us. I haven’t heard from him since he quit and moved away. Since then Ryan and I bumped up to three rounds.

“I played the trombone, I started when I was ten,” Ryan said.

“I still don’t believe you,” I said.

The time passed and we watched the bar workers set up the stage next to the pool tables and dart boards. Amps and stools and mics. One worker with a ponytail plugged and unplugged every mic and said “testing 1-2-3” into each of them.

The waitress came back and collected our empty glasses.

“Another round?” she asked.

“Who’s playing tonight?” Ryan asked.

“‘The Bandleaders,’ they’re a jazz band.”

Ryan looked to me, “I’ll buy this round if you stay.”

“Then of course.”

The waitress walked away and I looked back to the stage. The band members were standing around in matching pinstripe jackets.

“You know I tell you what I made up over the past week on our dart nights,” Ryan said.

“I know you do,” I said.

“So why would I lie about being a band geek?”

“Why do you lie in the first place?”

“To keep things interesting.”

“There has to be more than that.”

Ryan shook his head and pointed to the stage.

“Alright, thank you all for being here tonight,” the lead singer said. He wore sunglasses though the bar was in the basement.

“For our first song, I’d like to invite a special guest. He’s a good friend of mine that I’ve known since college.” The lead singer then pointed to Ryan. “Get up here you son of a bitch!”

Ryan looked to me, shrugged his shoulders and stood up. There was a weak applause because there was only me and the bartender left. That’s when I checked the time and saw it was after eleven.

I watched Ryan shake the lead singer’s hand and remove a mouthpiece from his pocket. He wipe it with his shirt. I knew there would be no more dart nights once he put the trombone to his mouth and started playing.

A Million-Dollar Idea

We all have these million dollar ideas…

guyoncouch

You think you’re unpredictable when you come home drunk, but you’re not.

“I’m a little drunk,” you say as you kick off your Converses. Half of the time you fall over while doing so.

“I can tell,” I say.

“Just a little. Only a little.”  You then walk over and give me a hug while I’m on the couch with my laptop. “You’re my best friend,” you say.

“You’re my best friend too,” I say.

You walk into the kitchen and I follow. You open the jar of peanut butter and eat it with your finger.

“That’s mine,” I say. “You only get the chunky.”

“My bad, I’ll buy you some more,” you say.

The food does differ from time to time. Sometimes leftover pizza or a chocolate bar.

“I have it,” you say. “This is what’ll make us rich.”

“What’s the idea?” I say.

You shut the fridge and walk back into the living room. Sometimes you push me aside. Sometimes it’s deliberate.

“You know me, I’m an ideas guy,” you say, falling onto the sofa I was sitting on. You never notice that you’re on my laptop.” And you’ll help me because you’re a great writer and great with words and you’re my best friend.”

“What’s the idea?” I ask, but you’re asleep. You never tell me what the idea is.

Sometimes I want to write on your cheek with a Sharpie. Sometimes I want to take the peanut butter and smear it on your forehead. Most of the time I want to pull my laptop from underneath your legs and hit you across the face with it.

I know you have great ideas. You’ve told me about them many nights out on our porch while smoking Black & Milds. Only I’m the guy who pulls out my phone and searches your idea and pulls up several thousand results. I only do it to bring you down to earth, because you think all your ideas are worth a million dollars. Only you end up landing in a sofa, drunk and without any ideas at all, just like me.

Animal Crackers

The thunderstorm ended, so I went to the grocery store – a five minute walk if I got lucky with the traffic light. Otherwise the time would jump up to six minutes because I was on the wrong side of the intersection. An additional minute isn’t a huge deal, I got that, but it was enough time for someone to strike up a conversation with me when I wasn’t up for one.

“Why are you wearing a beanie in June?” the guy waiting next to me asked. He was on a blue framed bike and his helmet was covered in Avery stickers.

“The AC at my place is cranked down to sixty.”

“Why so cold?”

“That’s how my landlord wants it. He lives with me.”

“That sucks, dude,” he said. He then adjusted the helmet’s neck strap. The light turned green and the guy peddled away.

I had fifteen dollars for groceries to get me through the next four days. Buying in bulk got you the best deal, at least where I lived, and at least for some things like brown rice and peanut butter. No need for bottled water, that’s what faucets were for. I also ran out of chips and cookies the day before. I had rediscovered my love for animal crackers and the grocery store sold them by the jug. Only that night the jugs were no longer on sale.

Ten people waited before me in the self check out line. I looked to the cashier stations and saw they all were free. The guy working the closest cashier station waved me over.

“What’s with the beanie?” he asked.

“The AC at my place is cranked down to sixty. I forgot I had this on when I left,” I said.

“Why so cold?”

“My landlord wants it –.” I stopped because the cashier was laughing. He reached underneath the register and placed the helmet covered in Avery stickers on his head.

“I didn’t even recognize you,” I said.

“No worries man, if it wasn’t for your beanie I wouldn’t have recognized you either.”

I nodded and watched him scan the rice and peanut butter and corn chips I bought instead of the animal crackers in a jug.

“You find everything you need?” he asked.

“When are those jugs of animal crackers going back on sale?” I asked.

“Not sure, if they were on sale last week I don’t think they’ll be back on for a while.”

I paid and he handed me the plastic bag with my food. Outside the sky was gray again from the storm clouds that were coming from over the mountains.

Back at the house the AC was still cranked down to sixty. I put the food away and sat on the couch for several hours, through the storm. I thought about going back to the store without my beanie and back to the cashier with a jug of animal crackers, just to see if he would recognize me, just to see if the animal crackers happened to be on sale.

Lisa Edamame

It was a cool and cloudless Saturday evening. Yes, I’m starting this story this way because this is the truth. I’m not lying, unlike my co-worker who fixed me up with Lisa. She was a sweet girl, really. We shared a bowl of edamame. She requested brown rice instead of white to go with her chicken teriyaki. We talked without pause, until I excused myself to give Connor a call.

“How’s everything going buddy?” he asked.

“Everything’s great. Perfect. Peachy,” I said.

“She’s great, isn’t she?”

I said nothing.

“Ah, you know I don’t always get your sarcasm,” he said.

“Obviously.”

“So what’s wrong with her?”

“With her? Nothing. No problem at all. She’s sweet, we both have an extreme dislike for pears.”

“I’d tell her the same thing I’ve told you. You dislike them because you disliked them as children. If you give them another chance -”

“She’s married.”

Connor said nothing. I looked down the street and saw a guy dressed in a colonial costume. He stopped at the corner, removed a hat from the sack he was carrying and placed it in front of him.

“What do you mean she’s married?” Connor asked.

“How didn’t you know she was married?”

“I swear I didn’t.”

“I know you didn’t.”

“Really? You believe me?”

“Yeah I do.”

“That’s good. I wonder why she agreed to go out with you-”

“She thinks I can get her a job, that’s why.”

Again Connor said nothing. I looked down and saw the same guy, now wearing a white wig. Only the wig was too large and covered his entire forehead. Performers like him were common downtown. The week before I saw Elmo, only the eyes were unevenly glued on the face and caused a lot of children to cry.

“You told her I had openings in my department,” I said.

“Because you do.”

“Not yet, not until next week. No one’s supposed to know until after our meeting next week.”

“I didn’t know.”

“My own team doesn’t even know yet.”

“You haven’t told your team yet?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“That’s beside the point. You shouldn’t have told anyone that my department’s getting restructured.”

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Now I’m worried she might say something.”

“She’s not that type of woman. You’ll be fine, just tell her the truth.”

The man in the colonial costume started shouting at the people who walked passed him.

“How do you know? You just met her at the tech conference last week.”

“Alright, I don’t know, would you rather me tell you that?”

“I should just get back inside,” I said.

“Alright buddy, and you should’ve told your team what’s going on already.”

I hung up my phone and watched the man shout and wave his hands.

“What are you wearing?” he said to the college guys walking by in jeans. “Those carriages seem to be driving themselves,” he said while pointing to the cars driving by.

“What is that device in your hand?” he said. “Yes you, come over here,” he said, pointing to me. I walked over. “I saw you talking into it. Can it hear you? Does it talk back?”

I told him it was called a “Lisa,” after its inventor, Lisa Edamame. After all, why did that guy deserve the truth from me, when I couldn’t give it to my team?

Procrastination

Because every writer has trouble with procrastination…

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We sat on the sofa underneath the wooden awning attached to the back of our house. We were procrastinating.

I had an assignment due at midnight. Six hundred words on the value of going to business school. The latest ranking of the nation’s top business school was released the day before – the first of several to be released that year. It was a little after eight, and I found the sunset, the breeze against my skin and the squirrel running up the oak tree to be much more interesting.

“I’m taking the job, it makes the most sense,” Justin said. He held his phone and rubbed its case as if there was a stain. The job, an assistant manager at his uncle’s liquor store, was offered to him that morning. He had to decide by midnight..

“But I really don’t want to work for my Uncle,” he said. “I promised myself that I’d never work for my uncle.”

“We’ve all lied to ourselves,” I said. The sky turned a deep orange and I couldn’t see the squirrel in the oak tree anymore. I could hear it, though. I listened to the squirrel because I found the sudden, quick sounds it made to be much more interesting.

“The money isn’t bad, and I’m sure my Uncle would let me take the summer holidays off.”

“Just call him and say you’re gonna take the job,” I said. “You know you are.”

Justin stood up and tossed his phone on the sofa. “And you just write the article. How hard is it? Take the top schools, look up some facts and that’s it.”

“They want me to tell a story,” I said.

“And you write fiction, so what’s the big deal?”

“I wonder if most people find the school rankings more interesting than the actual experience of college. I’d say so.” I pulled my legs onto the sofa and tossed Justin his phone.

“You must have hated business school,” my roommate said. He went into the house and I heard him on the phone, telling his uncle he would take the job.

I didn’t hate it. Business school was good to me, it was what I needed at the time. Something practical, because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. I wanted to believe I was a corporate man, but I knew I was lying to myself.

And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t inspiration, but something like relief. I knew I found the angle to the piece due in a couple hours. But I also knew in another moment or so, the angle I found I would consider self-pitying or narcissistic.

By ten-thirty I had no choice but to write. The idea I was on at that moment was the topic for the article. I wrote it and sent it off. I felt proud and I felt scared. I told myself it was great and I told myself it was awful. I also knew I had another piece due the following midnight, and I couldn’t wait to be back on the sofa, finding things that were much more interesting.

War

At Sean’s apartment, we played cards. We played on the floor because the movers came and took the furniture that afternoon. He asked to stay at my place that night and naturally I said yes. Jen was staying with her parents and she preferred if she didn’t see him that night.

“I haven’t played war since I was a kid,” I said. I was winning after drawing a couple tens, queens and aces.

“It’s easy, gives me time to think,” he said.

“About what?” I asked.

“About anything, about what’s next.”

The next day Sean would be moving to the city. His cousin’s roommate just moved out and needed someone to help with rent. I knew Sean would’ve preferred to have his own place, like me, but money was tight.

Nevertheless he was, at that moment, on a lucky streak. His sevens beat my sixes; his Jokers beat my tens.

“Will Jen still help move tomorrow?” I asked.

“She said she would.”

About a year ago, Sean helped me move out of the apartment I shared with Gabby. Or rather, it was a refurnished garage. It was good for the two of us until we realized we weren’t good for each other. At that time Sean met Jen and he was happy. Together they helped me move.

“We should get back to my place,” I said. “It’s almost nine.” I was back in the lead after drawing a queen and king. I lucked out when Sean drew a two against my four.

“When we finish this game, we’ll go,” he said.

I wanted to let him win. He needed to catch a break, even if that break was winning a card game. I knew the game would go on – sometimes with me in the lead, sometimes with Sean. It was just something I couldn’t control, something out of my hands.

Basement Scene

I was in the hospital, the emergency room, waiting. Waiting for an update on the something that happened. I wasn’t alone – Justin was there too, just as he was when the something happened. We called a Lyft driver to follow the ambulance that came to take Toby away.

I really can’t explain, that something that happened. It’s easy to describe what happened before it – the party, the beer pong and band playing AC/DC covers in the basement. Toby played bass guitar for the band. He stepped out onto our porch during intermission. The clock struck midnight minutes before and the bitter cold air greeted us into the New Year.

“2013,” Toby said. He smoked just like the rest of us. Between breaths and the smoke it seemed as if we could see the time rise and disappear.

“Thanks again for playing tonight,” I said. Toby and his band had a chance to play New Year’s Eve at a bar downtown. He convinced the rest of his band to play in my basement. We charged five dollars a head and over fifty people came.

Justin was out on the porch too. He was the lead singer. He sang “Highway to Hell,” right before midnight. Out on the porch he took a quick drag from his girlfriend’s cigarette and told Toby to come back into the basement for a couple more songs.

“We could’ve made more,” he said to Toby. This was probably true. I stayed outside and finished my cigarette with some people I didn’t know. The lights flickered and screams came from inside.

I ran downstairs to the basement and saw Toby unconscious with his bass across his chest. Everyone had a different story. He blacked out. He shocked himself. He mixed the wrong substances.

And that’s why Justin and I were in the emergency room, waiting. We didn’t know what happened, and we wanted to know. I was very worried about Toby, I was. I also wanted to know if it, the something, was somehow my fault. If the wiring in the basement was faulty. If I pressured him into taking one shot too many. I really, really hoped it wasn’t my fault. I was worried for Toby, but I really hoped it wasn’t my fault.