I woke some time around sunrise after having slept only three or four hours. It had been a totally sweaty, delirious sleep filled with chaotic dreams of burglary, Bacon-bits and Larry Hagman from the old television show “Dallas.” Ms. Birdstall was of course involved as well.
I attempt to sit up but my stomach muscles are a whole mess of pain. I actually have to use my arms to push myself up in bed. It was really kind of pathetic. I hop out of bed and make a dash for the bathroom but my legs are apparently kept drinking after I went to bed last night. Instead of carrying me to the bathroom, they careen out of control and send me straight into the bedroom wall. WHAM! I slide cartoon-style to the floor. I think this is their way of saying, “Don’t even think about becoming a runner alright?”
My neighbors probably loved the loud crash into the wall. I nearly put my head through the drywall I hit it so hard. And if that wasn’t enough for them, they must have really enjoyed the loud scraping, shuffling noise that went on for the next ten minutes or so. That was me using the wall as a guide to make it back and forth from the bathroom. I took some Aleve and struggled back to bed for some more delirious sleep. “Sorry about that,” I say to the dream Elizabeth. “I had to use the john. Now what’s this shit about your Dad being Larry Hagman and where’s my TV, stereo and microwave? Someone robbed my apartment!” I’m back in the same damn dream again.
“You want some Bacon-bits?” the dream Elizabeth asks. “They’re better than butter.”
“Sure, why not,” I say, taking the glass jar of reddish-gray crumbs from her and pouring a handful.
The phone wakes me up again a few hours later and my eyes struggle to adjust to the bright sunlight streaming in the windows. I don’t even need to look at the caller ID because I just spotted the time on the alarm clock. 10:00 AM… Thursday morning. Work started at 9. Where the hell are you?
“Hello?” I ask, sounding like I’m ninety years old.
“Craig?” Tim says.
“Yeah,” I grumble, clearing my throat.
“Where the hell are you? Aren’t you coming in today?” he asks.
“No, not even close, man. Can you tell them I’m sick?”
“You weren’t stupid enough to go out with Sarah after happy hour last night were you?” he asks.
“No, I was stupid enough to go out on a date with this twenty-one year old and we got plowed and went streaking through West County and I’ve only been asleep for about three or four hours.”
“Streaking?” he asks.
“Is she there now?” he asks.
“No, I think she got arrested,” I say.
“Listen man.” I yawn. “Maybe we can go out for drinks after you get off work and I’ll explain then. I suspect I’m going to need the hair of the dog in a big way.”
“No c’mon, tell me now,” he pleads. “What’s this business about streaking and getting arrested? Have you gone completely nutso or what?”
“Tim you’re just gonna have to wait ’till tonight. I couldn’t even do the story any justice right now,” I say. “I need a few more hours sleep to get some perspective on the whole fucking mess.”
“Well we aren’t going out to happy hour tonight because Jonathan Richman is playing in Bloomington, you remember you idiot?” he says.
I start to drift off again… “Is Larry Hagman going to be there?” I ask.
“Huh, what the hell are you talking about?” he asks.
“Oh. Uh, never mind. I’m falling asleep again,” I say. “I think that was part of a dream.”
“So you going tonight or not?” he asks.
“Sure, Of course I’ll go. We can’t miss Jonathan.” I reach up and grab the pull string for the window shade and it comes crashing down, filling my bedroom with darkness again.
“Alright, well, go back to sleep you shithead,” he says. “But be ready at four because it takes like three and a half hours to get to Bloomington and the show is characteristically Richman-early. Doors open at seven. Talk to you later…” I hang up the phone and literally drop back into bed. I position my pillows and blankets just right until I’ve made myself a little nest. Sleep is always so much more wonderful when you’re skipping work.
In fact, it’s not just wonderful. It’s a little slice of heaven.
It’s the phone again. The phone is my enemy. It wont allow me to sleep. How long have I been asleep? This time I check out the caller ID before grabbing it.
- BIRDSTALL, EDWARD F. -
Shit. I hope it’s her and not her Dad looking for her. I pick it up.
“Hey, it’s me.” It’s Elizabeth.
“Good, cause I don’t know what I would have said to ‘Edward F,’” I say. “Maybe something like, ‘Hey Ed! I went streaking with your daughter last night but sorry, I don’t really have a clue what happened to her after the police started chasing us.’”
She laughs. “Probably wouldn’t make him any angrier,” she says. “He was up half the night calling the lawyers and important friends around town trying to get the charges dropped.”
“You got arrested?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she giggles.
“Oh Elizabeth, I’m so sorry. I feel really bad about this.. I mean, I got away,” I say.
“Yeah, so I heard,” she says. “According to that patrolman you ran like a man possessed. They kept trying to get me to tell them who you were but you lucked out, I told them you were some guy named Frank that I’d met at the party. I told ‘em you lived in Fenton and for some reason they just gave up at that point. I guess there are a lot of Frank’s in Fenton.”
“Yeah, except when there’s a truck and tractor pull, WWF event or when Meatloaf comes in concert,” I say. “Because then all the Franks are downtown and town is empty. But anyway, what happened to you?”
“Oh,” she say. “I cut to the right and I was nearly over this creek when the cops came running from all directions. I think we missed another car, that or the backup got there really fast.”
“So what’d they do?” I ask.
“I think they were pretty happy to see me even if I was resisting arrest.” She giggles. “They all had big leering smiles on their face and they didn’t seem to be in any hurry to give me anything to cover up with. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad,” she says. “The cops were in a pretty good mood and I’ve never been arrested before.”
“So how long were you in jail?” I ask. “I waited and waited for you and then Steve gave me a ride home.” I roll over and idly play with the books on my headboard as I talk to her.
“My dad had me out by six this morning,” she says. “I was only in jail for about an hour or so and they ended up having to drop all the charges. I’m not too sure how my daddy pulled that one off but he did. Oh yeah, thanks for letting Bogart in from the pasture. I found him in his stall this morning when I went back to get my clothes and stuff.”
“No problem,” I say. “Did you see my note in the dirt?”
“No, was it a love note?” She giggles.
“No, sorry. I just wanted to let you know I’d been there and was heading back to Steve’s in case you were lost,” I say.
“So how do you feel?” she says.
“Like someone spent a few hours beating the shit out of me. I’m all scratched up and bruised.”
“I have a tendency to do that to people,” she says.
“You sure do,” I say.
“Hold on a second… I’ll be off in a second!” she yells at someone in the background. “I gotta get off the phone.”
“Ok, Well maybe when I recover we can go out again?” I ask.
“Yeah, I think I’d like that,” she says. “I can probably fit you into my schedule at some point.”
“Hey, while I’m thinking about it, give me your number. I have Edward’s phone number here on the Caller ID but I don’t have your home number.’”
“Sure, it’s 555-5726,” she says. I write her number on a bill that’s laying on my nightstand and repeat it back to her.
“Yeah, that’s it. By the way, Have you called in to talk to Girlfriend-Express yet?” she asks.
“No, I think I’ll call them tomorrow or something,” I say. “I’m really exhausted.”
“I left them a message to let them know everything went great,” she says. “Pretty weird that they weren’t there at twelve in the afternoon.”
“Maybe they were out to lunch or something,” I point out.
“Well listen, give me a call soon,” she says. “I gotta go home and catch some Z’s. I haven’t been to sleep yet.”
“Yeah. Get some sleep,” I say.
“I had a great time Craig,” she says softly.
I hang up the phone and roll onto my back. So the bombshell wants to go out with me again. She’s not really my type. But what is my type anyway? I fall asleep again trying to figure that one out.
“Ok, let me get this straight,” he says. “You stole some clothes and went back to Steve’s, the Rams football player that apparently still lives with his parents.” Tim picked me up at four or so. I jumped in the shower really quick, threw on some clothes and donned some sunglasses before we commenced the road trip to Bloomington, Illinois to catch the great Jonathan Richman in concert. “And they were playing strip poker but you didn’t join in because you’d already done your time that night with no clothes on. And then when Elizabeth didn’t show up you just went home? You didn’t call the police and try to get her out or anything?” He glances over at me. He slots a CD into his car’s player and before long some Modern Lovers fills the car.
“He didn’t live with his parents. He lives in Webster Groves not too far from my pad in fact,” I say. “He was house-sitting for his parents.”
“So why didn’t this Steve guy try to get her out of jail?” he asks.
“Because he’s known her for years and apparently she gets arrested all the time, which according to him, is really no big deal because her father is loaded and he gets her out.”
“Why’s that? Is she a crook or something? You dating Al Capone’s daughter, Craig?” I reiterate the stories Steve told me the night before.
“Jesus man, she sounds like a complete nut,” he says when I’ve finished.
We pass the last Missouri exit on Highway-40 and head out over the bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. The St. Louis Arch looms up out of the skyline, its shadow casting a bizarre shadow over the water. I’ve been up in that thing so many times, on field trips throughout my childhood and when people were in town and wanted to do the sightseeing thing.
I remember seeing the band Camper Van Beethoven in town once, and in-between songs the singer David Lowery was like, “So you guys have this Arch thing right? And I know you’re used to it and all.” Then he left a long dramatic pause, smiled at the audience and said, “But don’t you think it’s kind of creepy??” He was right. They call it the “Gateway to the West.” Its supposed to be the symbol of the United States’ westward expansion – one of the nation’s tallest landmarks. But ito me it looks like a giant tombstone. Draw your own conclusions.
We cross over onto the Illinois side of the river – East St. Louis and continue onto Highway 55. “So what’re you gonna do? You gonna ask her out again?” Tim asks.
“How far of a drive do we have to Bloomington?” I ask, ignoring his question.
“About three hours. So get settled in.”
Tim has the Modern Lovers on again as we pull of the highway into Bloomington, Illinios. I finished my soda a few miles ago and I’m determined not to let him stop me from singing along to Jonathan’s songs in my horrible voice. But by the time “I’m Straight” comes on I’ve managed to get Tim singing along too.
“I called this number three times already today
But I, I got scared, I put It back in place,
I put my phone back in place.
I still don’t know if I should have called up.
Look, just tell me why don’t ya if I’m out of place.
‘Cause here’s your chance to make me feel awkward
And wish that I had never even called up this place.
I saw you though today walk by with hippie Johnny.
I had to call up and say how I want to take his place.”
I’m half tempted to sneak a few stanza’s of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55″ into the song just to rile Tim but I decide not to. He’s been a real sport about putting up with my manic outbursts over the past three hours. “I wonder if he’s gonna have a band tonight?” I ask.
“I dunno,” Tim says. “I haven’t read any reviews of the tour. But it’ll be Jonathan either way.”
“You know how to get to this place?”
“Yeah, he’s playing at the Hut,” he says.
“It used to be Bernies’ Basement before that shut down a few years ago.”
“Oh, ok. Yeah, I think I remember that place,” I say. “It’s near the campus right?” He nods. We’re turning onto the main drag through the college town passing by Frat Houses and sororities and the same sort of college crash pads I used to live in. The scenery sure brings back a lot of memories of my own college days. Kids lounge on couches in the front yards, drinking beers on a Thursday night. Man, those were the days. I stressed out so bad in college. I really did. I totally freaked out about papers and grades and classes, but watching all of these kids having fun on a Thursday night, I remember how easy I had it then.
College is hard. Real life is so much harder.
Someone should drive that into the head of every college freshman, tell them to drink and fuck and make a ton of friends. And, of course, work hard at getting good grades, but don’t let that consume you. Maybe if I ever become a famous writer or something, someone will give me a shot at giving one of those hokey commencement speechs at graduation.
“Hey, I’ll cover gas tonight. You just cover my drinks, ok?” Tim asks, interupting my reverie.
“Sure, no problem,” I say. This should work out in my favor unless Tim’s going to drink like a college student. Drinks cost next to nothing in a college town; Anyone who’s ever been off to school knows that. “Here we are,” he says pulling into an Italian restaurant’s parking lot and dropping into one of the empty spaces.
“I thought you said we weren’t stopping,” I say.
“We’re not stopping. This is the final destination, the Hut.” He shuts the car off. I glance into the Italian restaurant. Families are dining on pasta and cheese garlic bread. I look around and spot the sign sitting just off the road. Pasta Hut.
“He’s gonna play at an Italian restaurant?!” I ask.
“No, the Hut is in the basement. It’s a basement bar. Remember? It used to be called Bernie’s basement bar?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember it being an Italian restaurant,” I say.
“No, you’re right. Back then the upstairs bar was called Lillies’. Remember, you had to go past all those bikers that hung out there just to use the bathroom?” he asks.
“Oh yeah!” I notice a line of people forming inside the restaurant. This must be the place. We shamble out of the car and head inside. Only with the extreme tolerance of a college town can a place like this exist. Families are seated at tables, eating their spaghetti and garlic bread and a huge line of concert-goers twists and turns through the whole restaurant and heads down a flight of stairs into the darkness of the downstairs bar. Music ripples up from down below.
We take our places at the back of the line and it isn’t long before a guy in front of us turns around to check us out. Apparently where Jonathan Richman fans are concerned, everyone’s curious to see what other hipsters have made the trip to see the rock genius no one else is supposed to know about. I guess that’s sort of important where being hip is concerned, knowing about artists and movies and books that no one else does. Personally, I could care less. I don’t wear the hipster clothes: the dark, muted colors, the Sebadoh T-shirt, the work boots, or the stylishly geeky glasses.
What’s the point? If I want to listen to Abba and Al Green and Sly and the Family Stone then I’ll do so and just forget about the judgments of the sort of people standing directly in front of us in line. Being cool is too much work and where are the rewards? I never have figured that one out. The guy in front of us with a goatee and a pensive look on his face brushes a stray ash from his carefully dirty gas station jacket and takes a poised drag from his cigarette. He even has the biker chain wallet. Really, I think people give hipsters an undue amount of credit. I you ask me, someone should give them more shit and that’s exactly what I do at every opportunity.
I nudge Tim and nod towards Mr. Goatee and after a few seconds, he catches on. “Hey Tim, I’m kind of looking forward to Jonathan man. I hope he plays all of his hits like ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Pablo Picasso,’” I say loudly. “I love it when they play those on the Edge 105. Those are some rocking tunes. I like him almost as much as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.” I notice the hipster in front of us overhearing me as I say this but that’s the whole point. “He kind of reminds me of the Counting Crows, or the Wallflowers or something,” I say, making sure to name the sort of mainstream bands that have a tendency to horrify hipsters.
Tim’s jumps right into the game. “Yeah, that’s all I’ve been listening to lately. The new Jonathan Richman and Madonna’s new one. She just had that baby and took voice lessons and she sounds fabulous.” The hipster in front of us snuffs out his cigarette on the wall, clearly disgusted at our remarks, and Tim and I start snickering. Oh it’s so horrible when the masses find out about your little pet band!
I survey the crowd standing in line as we wind through the tables of dining families: lots of college kids, lots a hipsters in their thrift store clothing and carefully chosen attire. And then there’s a few ordinary guys like Tim and me sprinkled into the line here and there.
“I’m gonna grab us some beers for the wait,” I say, motioning to the carry-out counter. I weave my way through the tables of dining families.
“Sir, can I help you?” the girl at the counter says.
I laugh. “You can help me but you have to drop the ‘sir’ part,” I say.
She blushes. “Well… I didn’t mean. I guess I was just being polite.”
“It’s no problem.” I chuckle. “So what beers do you have?” I can see them lined up near the ceiling but for some reason I’m feeling flirty. I want to hear her read them off. She stares up at the ceiling trying to remember them all but doesn’t turn around and look at the bottles.
“We have Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Genuine Draft, Molson, Becks, Fosters, Guinness, Samuel Adams, some kind of Double Bock, uh… Corona, Rolling Rock, Dos Equis, and… uh, Samual Smith’s Taddy Porter.”
I’ve been watching the beers over her head just for the fun of it. She named every one. “Is the Guinness draft or bottles?” I ask.
“Bottles,” she says.
“Is the Fosters in an oil can?”
“An Oil can?” She shrugs.
“You know, it’s an oversized can, like the ones you used to have to punch a funnel into and pour into your car?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, we have those,” she says. “I guess I’ve never heard them called that.”
“Great, give me two of them. One for me, and one for the other sir over there,” I say pointing to Tim. Tim waves from across the room. She grins. I can’t believe I’m standing here flirting with this girl. She can’t be over eighteen or so. She reaches down into an ice cooler and hefts two huge blue cans up onto the counter. I hand her the cash and while she’s getting my change I continue to flirt. What the hell am I doing? “So you gonna be downstairs later for Jonathan?”
Th girl looks at the floor sheepishly as she hands my change back. “I don’t know. Maybe if I get off early enough.”
“Well, I’ll see you later, huh? You really should catch the show. He’s gonna be great.”
“Yeah, I know,” she says. “I met him earlier. He’s a really nice guy in person.” I want to ask her all about him. I want to go back to her dorm room and play Spin the Bottle for a few hours but I glance behind me and the group of guys in line are starting to give me dirty looks.
“Thanks.” I gather up the frosty cans and wander back to the line. It’s moving pretty fast now, Tim is almost to the stairs.
“Man, what tha…” he says, as I hand him a beer. “We’re you over there flirting with that little girl?”
I smirk. “Well, yeah. I guess I was. I don’t know what got into me.”
“What was your goal there? Were you gonna ask for her phone number?” he asks. “She can’t be over seventeen or so. She’s a high school senior if she’s a freshman.”
“No, I don’t think so. But it’s always good to get the practice,” I say.
“Practice?” he asks incredulously.
“You know, practice – in conversation. It’s difficult to get things going with someone you don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Think about it,” I say. “You have absolutely nothing to talk to them about except your surroundings because you have no idea what kind of person they are, so you make small talk and try to figure out something you have in common with them as quickly as possible.”
Tim gives me a blank stare.
“Like you notice she has a biker wallet and you say, ‘Oh yeah, you like biker wallets too? So do I. I just left mine at home because it’s at the leather shop getting refurbished,” I say. The hipster in front of us glances back to see if I’m talking about him. He probably thought the comment was directed at him. “Sorry man, I didn’t mean your biker wallet.”
He hurriedly jumps back into a conversation with his hipster friends, clearly uncomfortable by my focusing on a single element of his style. Hipster style, after all, isn’t meant to be a collection of elements. It’s meant to be “cool” without being an obvious effort. But it is an effort, that’s the whole scam. As we descend the stairs, I notice that the basement bar has a peculiar smell to it. I guess it smells kind of damp, musty and dusty like anyone’s cement-walled basement but this one is also filled with the heavy odor of cigarette smoke, air freshener and stale beer. As we near the bottom of the stairs the bouncers are putting wristbands on the over-21 crowd, checking Ids and collecting a mere $7 dollars for the show. Jonathan never charges much.
“Hey, check this out!” Tim nudges me. Hundreds of sliced up fake IDs fill a picture frame on the brick wall at our side, and underneath this unusual piece are the words: ‘Don’t even try it. We know you’re not twenty-one.’ I start laughing. Some of them are really hilarious, obviously shot against some college dorm room backdrop that some kid painted up. The kids in the ID pictures look nervous and downright underage. What kind of naive kid would think an ID like this was going to get them past the door?
“Whoah, look at this kid,” I say. The dumb look on the kid’s face is a testament to his young age. He has a raging case of acne, and it’s fairly obvious that he’s standing in from of an enlarged, poster-sized replica of an Illinois drivers license. And the makers of this ID were real pros.
“Look at this one!” Tim points. “You can see the edge of the original picture behind this kid’s head. Look, there’s an earing! I think it’s a woman.”
The door guy asks for my Id and I snicker. This is really kind of a novelty. After all, what are the chances that I’m under twenty-one? We get our wristbands and dig through the smoky crowd trying to get close to the stage. This place is really a trip. Literally, it’s like being in someone’s basement. The rafters are only a few feet above our heads and someone has randomly strung miniature Christmas lights over the pipes and across the walls. All that’s missing are the black lights and the Led Zeppelin black-light posters.
Band flyers and stickers are caked all over the bar, the walls, the ceiling and the tables, layer after layer, one flyer obscuring about twenty others. The bar spans one entire wall of the basement and behind it, dour looking bartenders and waitresses run around frantically trying to serve the crowd on hand. They trip over each other grabbing for bottles and trying to make drinks in the darkness. The stage is only elevated about two feet off the floor, but really, if it was any more elevated they’d have to raise the ceiling or the band would have to hunch over at their instruments, one of the two. I hoist my Fosters Oil can and take a swig.
“Is there an opening band?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Tim says, fiddling with his wrist band.
“Who are they?”
“What??” he yells.
“I don’t know who’s opening!” he shouts back, managing to spit on me at the same same time. “But the ad said there’d be an opening act.”
“What time is it?”
“Huh?” he yells.
I point to my wrist.
He looks at his watch. “It’s 7:30. They should be on any time now!”
A few mangy looking guys are moving about the stage, running cords and checking instruments. Is this the band or their roadies? So much of the time it’s really hard to tell. ‘Rape me, Rape me, Rape me! Rape me! Rape me!!!!!!!!’ Mr. Cobain screams near the end of the song that’s playing over the PA. But then the PA fades out and a group of even mangier looking guys take the stage; They’re unshaven, they have long hair, and they’re wearing plain T-shirts and faded blue jeans.
“Hey, welcome to our beautiful town of Bloomington,” the lead singer says nonchalantly, adjusting his mike stand. He looks out over the crowd, squinting to the back of the room where the line is still filtering down the stairs. “Hey all you guys upstairs,” he booms over the mike. “You guys having a fucking good time?” Whistles and cheers and pounding feet echo down the stairs from above. “Well that’s super!” the guy yells. “Because we’re Great White Lion Snake! And our first number is called ‘A Tribute to Donald Pleasence.’” And then they crank into a loud surf song that gets the whole crowd moving within minutes.
Tim taps me on the shoulder and I look over at him and he’s just smiling from ear to ear. Yeah, I agree. This rocks. We jump around through three or four songs before the guitar player breaks a string. No big deal, the singer starts telling this story about this French girl he used to date that wouldn’t eat anything other than Captain Crunch cereal. It’s an intelligent story, I’m heavily entertained and I can hear Tim laughing beside me. And then I feel someone behind me, nudging in closer to yell something in my ear. I lean back nonchalantly and I can smell her perfume through the cigarette smoke; It must be the cutie from upstairs.
“Hey Mr. Green car!” a female voice yells in my ear. I spin around but it’s not the girl from the carry-out counter. I stand in the face of celibacy.
<< Previous Chapter >> HEY! << Next Chapter >>