“Not if I can figure out how to string this thing,” I told him.
It’s kind of ironic that I am relying on my computer to be my lifeline to the world. It set me on this path in more ways than one. It didn’t just act as a tool for me to book my shows, but it acted as an agent of fate, unleashing the damage that made the whole trip necessary.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There are several carts before several horses here, and they’re starting to pile up.
There’s a girl that has been hovering around me all evening. I don’t think she works here, and it’s starting to give me the creeps. She looks like Tinkerbell with fetal alcohol syndrome. Four-and-a-half feet tall, hair fried by too many bleachings, and ears that look like they’ve been chewed on by several packs of dogs. She has one lazy eye that looks like it’s constantly trying to spot a pimple on her cheek. From what I can tell, she’s the local groupie, sprinkling her pixie dust on every guitar jockey that blows through here. Or should I apply that last verb elsewhere in that sentence?
Her brother is the sound guy for the bar, which has to be beneficial in getting her access to her quarry. He’s a big dude. I think he stole a couple of feet from her, and that’s why she’s so short. He’s got a blocky Superman chin and dark hair everywhere, and though neither of his eyes are lazy, he’s got heavy lids that give him a sort of droopy look. Maybe it’s hereditary or maybe there is something wonky with the gravitational pull around here and it’s fucking with everyone’s vision. It scares me when he’s talking to me because it looks like he’s about to fall asleep, and if he did, he’d come crashing down on me. I have to make sure that whatever I say is really interesting so he stays awake. I can just see myself boring him over the edge, and when he crushes me it will be like the tree taking revenge on the lumberjack.
The sister, Mary, had sat down next to me and started to quiz me. “You’re from Portland?” she asked.
“I hear it rains there a lot.”
“Is it interesting there?”
“I don’t know. All everyone ever wants to talk about is the rain, and I haven’t had a chance to find out what else there is.”
She looked at me for a second like she didn’t know if I was joking. I tried not to let the expression on my face give me away. Let her keep wondering, I thought, but then she started to laugh. It was like this wheezing snort.
“Did you know that I once went to Las Vegas when my cheerleading squad had won state?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“You did? Who told you?”
Mary seemed genuinely surprised. Her brother, Tony, leaned over her and whispered, “He’s joking,” while giving me a suspicious glance. I hadn’t realized he had been listening. He was nearby fussing with some cables, but I guess closer than I thought. “It’s hard to tell with smart guys like this,” he said.
I shrugged. I wasn’t interested in going toe to toe with this dude. I just wanted him to do my sound so I could play and then get out of there. I was planning on driving on to my next gig while I was still wired from the performance. That was my routine on this tour. I’d see how far I could get and then pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere or sleep in my car at a rest stop.
Tony stayed leaning on the table. “Do you know those guys in Everclear?” he asked. “They’re from Portland.”
“No, I haven’t met them.”
“They played here before. Well, I don’t mean here, but at the bigger place up the street, the Taxi Dance.”
“Was that a while ago?”
“Yeah. We’ve had a lot of big acts since, but I can’t think of any that were from your neck of the woods.”
Mary was pouting at having her attention subverted, and the look of distrust her brother gave me was only matched by the one of hatred she was dropping on him. I would’ve thought she’d have welcomed the introduction of a fourth person if that girl would redirect Tony’s attention elsewhere; however, when Erica came into the bar, Tinker Bell’s wand drooped considerably lower.
Erica was difficult not to notice. This would be true anywhere, not just at a mostly empty bar in the middle of Nowhere, Montana. I saw her the second she walked through the door, my extra sensory perception for such matters alerting me. My sleazebag sense was tingling.
Tall and skinny, hair as black as a vinyl record fresh from its sleeve, her skin chestnut. A light brush of powder covered her cheeks, concealing the faintest of acne scars. They were a little darker on her brown skin, so they were almost like freckles. It was an imperfection on paper, but in person they made her all the more gorgeous.
And Erica was gorgeous.
When she got to our table, she and Tony embraced.
She looked at me, and said, “Hello, who are you?”
Before I could answer, Tony turned her to face him and kissed her, marking his territory clearly. He then looked at me, they both looked at me--Mary was sulking and staring at no one--and Tony said, “That’s that J. Cricket guy who’s playing here tonight.”
I extended my hand across the table and said, “You can call me Lance.”