The Friday after the Young Evils’ show, I stop at a copy shop before work a little before seven in the morning. I need to have them print and bind a few copies of the book that I’ll then send to agents and publishers back east, and perhaps with a little luck, someone somewhere will pick it up and put it out there into the world, and that is the point, or at least part of it. I needed to write it, to get those thousands and thousands of words down, but I didn’t do it just to have it sit on my own bookshelf or just to have it reside within the zeroes and ones on my laptop. There’s that other part of doing art that is the sharing, the look-at-what-I-did, the hear-what-I-have-to-say bit, the feel-what-I-feel bit. Music is the same way. We don’t form bands just to play in the basement while drinking beers after work. We don’t record just to listen to ourselves when we’re eighty and think, Man, we rocked! Maybe that day will come, but we hope a few others along the way will listen, and remember, and say. “Man, you guys rocked!” both in the moment and also those many years later at the pub when two old guys at a corner table can ignore the young beauties and think about all that’s been and remember a night many years prior when the music was more than good. “That night was pretty cool, man, pretty cool. Hell, I still put those tunes on from time to time.”
Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t about making millions, though no one would mind that. It’s about being heard, even if only by a precious few people, and understood, and remembered for what we had to say during our brief time on stage, and my words come back to me from the other night, “It’s about orgasms that change lives.” Maybe it is.
I hand the guy at the copy shop a thumb drive and tell him the name of the file, “I need to print and bind five copies of it, that spiral bind you guys do.”
“Sure thing, sir.” He pulls the file into Word, scrolls down and then back up, pauses, reads the opening sentence, “‘It is a simple collection of bones.’ Hmm, interesting.” He smiles waiting for some kind of response. What can I say? They are old bones, old words, old thoughts, but they are there. I got them down, and they will never get older.
During my lunch break, I pick up the bound copies and walk to the post office in lower Queen Anne where I get in line. There’s only one worker behind the counter, and he’s asking a woman whether her packages contain any hazardous materials or firearms. I always wonder about that question and just can’t believe that anyone would ever answer, “Oh, shit! That’s right. You got me. This box has a bunch of guns in it.” And yet, the woman at the counter seems to be considering the question or not understanding it. “Could you repeat that, please?” I shake my head knowing I’m going to be here for a while as there are seven people ahead of me, and we all have multiple packages. I should have brought a sandwich. I consider leaving, but I have five copies of the book to send. “I’m sorry, ma’am, your card was declined. Do you have another?” The woman looks in her purse, back at the postal worker, “Could you repeat that, please?” Everyone in line sighs, but we wait, and wait, and wait. No one leaves. It takes about thirty minutes of my life leaking away into nothing before I get to the clerk. I hand him the envelopes I’d filled out in line. He weighs them. “All of them to New York?”
“Yep.” He stamps each one. I pay. He drops them in a cart behind him, and it feels as if I’ve sent five copies of myself out into the world, and old self or not, that’s a good feeling, something akin to staring death in the face and saying, “I know you’re coming, but you’ll never get all of me.” It’s like being on stage in the brief lull between the end of a song and the audience reaction. It often isn’t clear which way it’s going to go. Sometimes they clap, sometimes laugh, or nothing, but it doesn’t matter. The joy of it is out there. The song is out there, or the story. I open the door to leave the post office.
“Uh, hi.” There’s an awkward pause as we stare at each other. “You … look … great.” She does. She shrugs.
She’s the woman I used to love, the one I thought about during all that talk of humming it in there at the Skylark, a woman I still love for each love gives us something permanent before it fades. And all love fades. It’s a thought that saddens me instantly. All love fades. I used to know this woman. I used to sleep with her. She inspired the book. We talked naked in bed until all hours, and these days I write and write and am at no loss for words, but meeting her here at the post office and feeling the sadness take hold, I have no idea what to say. I have no apologies to win her sympathy, no declarations of love to win back her heart, no jokes to make her smile. Nothing. I’m empty. I’ve wondered about this moment so often over the past eight months, thought about the conversation we would have, wondered whether we’d share a coffee or a beer to catch up, maybe hugs and tears and promises to try again, but here, now, there is just this silence hanging from the hinges of the open door.
I notice she has an envelope in her hand. “Uh, mailing a letter?” I ask. Nothing like stating the obvious. I just want to disappear.
I step out of her way holding the door open, “The line is long.” Again with the obvious, and she’s probably wondering why she ever spent any time at all with me. She starts to enter. “Nice to see you.”
She nods and steps forward, and then she’s in. I’m out. The door closes. It’s glass so I can still see her there, envelope in hand, blue jeans on, green coat, black hair hanging halfway down her back. I can’t leave just yet. I want to reach out and open the door and do something, say something, anything. The line moves. She steps forward without looking back. There will be no coffee or beer, no tender hugs, no forgiveness. That book is finished. It’s on its way to New York.
There’s no going back to work after that, so I head over to Alki beach in West Seattle after texting my boss that lunch left a disagreeable feeling in my stomach. He doesn’t need to know the truth as bosses tend not to understand the debilitating nature of an empty heart, and besides, my job is utterly dull. I do data entry, document scanning, some editing and reentering of data. Not a day goes by that didn’t go by the preceding day, but with the book out there, I want this day to be different. I want to be as far away from a cubicle as I can. I park in front of Starbucks at Alki and then walk up and down the beach where I come across a little kid, maybe ten years old and with no parents in sight. He has a bowl cut of blond hair much as I did at his age. He runs up to me, “Hey, mister!” and flips his middle finger. I say nothing as he runs off laughing. He’s got wild arms and an awkward stride, but he’s fast and is soon gone. It’s one of those odd things that makes me doubt it even happened, and after a few moments, I sit on a bench and disappear as the people and the couples and the dogs go by and by, back and forth, up and down, and the waves swoosh in and roll out. The little boy never comes back, and as the daylight wanes, I wonder what to do with my evening. Sit here? Go to a movie? Home? The girly clubs?
When I get to the Skylark, I park next to a rusting, white minivan, a Ford Windstar. Its engine is running. Inside are Greg, Katie and a woman I don’t know. Greg waves and motions for me to get in so I open the door and sit next to him in back. Katie’s in the front passenger seat fiddling with CDs. She takes one out of the player and drops it in the cup holder while shuffling through a stack of others, all of them without their cases, some of them probably getting scratched in the process. It always makes me cringe a little to see people treat their CDs as if they aren’t the fragile things they are, the fragile things they contain. The other woman is smoking a joint.
“You’re late,” Greg says.
“Apologies, but I couldn’t pry myself away from the beach.”
Katie puts a CD in, a mix, someone’s idea of the best of Pearl Jam, and the beginning notes of “Who You Are” drift about. It’s a song that always makes me feel like I’m at a campfire. Katie turns around. “This is Lindsay.” We nod at each other. Katie takes the joint, puffs, starts to hand it to Greg but then offers it to me.
“Have a hit?”
“He doesn’t smoke.”
“Not cigarettes,” I say taking it, “but I will on rare occasions smoke pot.” This is true. I’ve never understood cigarettes, but over the years, I’ve known so many musicians who smoked pot and spoke well of its effects that I have been inclined to try it sometimes. It usually just makes me tired, but then I’ve typically been drunk on those occasions. Maybe since I’m sober now, it’ll do its thing. I inhale and cough.
“Easy there,” Lindsay says.
“Here.” I hand it to Greg, and we all pass it around for a few minutes while the music continues. A car pulls up on the other side of the minivan, and a guy gets out carrying a guitar, walks into the Skylark. A police car drives by but thankfully doesn’t turn into the lot. “Indifference” comes on.
“I love this tune,” I say. “It’s one of Pearl Jam’s best.”
“Indeed.” Katie exhales a cloud of smoke, and we all sing under our breath with the first chorus and wonder how much of a difference anything makes. Greg takes the joint, inhales, hands it to me. “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to do tonight?” The question makes me wonder how much he’s already smoked.
“Fuck,” Lindsay says.
“Okay. That’s obvious. How about other than fucking?”
“I’d work at the bar and give everyone free drinks all night and let the good times roll. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but it’d be a good way to make a lot of people happy and maybe be remembered.”
“I like that,” I say. It’s the best answer I’ve ever heard to such a question. Most people go on about sex and the extraordinary bucket-list type stuff, but here she’s just saying she’d go to work and ease the pain of others, make their lives easier even as hers was dwindling.
“I’d come for the free drinks.” Greg touches Katie’s shoulder briefly and then retracts his arm.
“As would I.”
Lindsay lights another joint. “I think I’d go out with Larry, probably for pizza. I mean, what better comfort food is there? Hell, maybe even McDonald’s. Why not? Nothing to worry about health-wise. Then maybe up the Space Needle to look down on it all one last time. Sex would be unavoidable. How could you not? Maybe even sex on the Space Needle.”
“I don’t know what I’d do. It’s something that …”
“Something that what?”
“Well, I guess something that scares me.”
“What? Sex?” Katie asks.
“I always thought that silly. It’s unavoidable so why fear it?”
“The finality. The total darkness. The not knowing what comes next, if anything comes next.”
“Nothing comes next,” Lindsay assures me. “Here.”
“I agree, but that’s exactly the fear. There’s also the bit about losing everything in this life, all these years just gone in a breath. To think about tonight, we’re all just sitting here smoking pot. In a hundred years, we’ll all be dead, and who will give a damn that this night ever happened?” I take a hit, cough. There’s a bit of smoke in the car even though the two front windows are cracked open. I take a deep breath and look out across the street. There’s an old, one-story brick building nearly overgrown with grass and trees. “I’ll lie in bed and almost shake sometimes for fear and try to wonder if anything means anything.” I realize that I’m speaking slowly, that I’m stoned, swirling a little, floating a little as Pearl Jam keeps doing its thing, “Oceans” now. “I mean, look at us here,” I continue, “We feel good, but we all want a little something more, kids or love or money or … whatever, but even getting all those things, what … what have you really got? Our hearts will stop one day.”
Katie hands the joint to Lindsay. “All the more reason not to worry,” Lindsay says after taking a hit and passing the joint back.
“I fear it sometimes too, who doesn’t?” Greg says. “But you’re not answering the question. What would you do?”
Katie holds the joint back while looking straight ahead. I take it and speak. “Well, a big last act would be meaningless so I guess on my last night I’d drive out to the beach, not Alki, but the ocean, the coast, maybe down to Long Beach or on into Oregon and just stare at the water.” I take a hit imagining the scene, the waves on the sand in the sunset, beer in hand as I watch my time slip away. I wonder which songs I’d listen to. “Or maybe I’d stay home and get drunk and write a poem. Maybe solitude is the answer to it all, a certain level of comfort with oneself so that the end can be faced head on without fear.”
“For someone who wants solitude, you spend a lot of time out at the pub or seeing bands.”
“Yeah, I do. Doubts and fears are hard to face alone. Maybe I would end up at a bar and just play out the night like any other.”
“I believe in living in the moment,” Lindsay says. “The pleasure principle. Life will have its ups and downs, but so as long as you’re happy now, who gives a fuck what happened or what’s to come or when you’ll die.” She snuffs out the joint in the ashtray. “Who’s up for pizza?”
“Hell yeah. Talarico’s?” Greg loves Talarico’s. It’s one of those places that have the New York style monster-size slices that are the equivalent of a whole pizza at some places.
“I’d love to, but I need to get in and get settled at the bar. I decided to write about the show tonight so I think I’ll just eat here.”
“Sure? We can bring you back some pizza.” Katie smiles when she offers this, and for half a second I almost think it’s what she wants, to come back here to see me after food, but that must be the pot speaking. She isn’t in my cards. She and Greg are on the verge of something. I’m just taking notes.
“Okay. We’ll see you in a bit.”
A list of all the chapters in this series can be found here: The Music Book Chapter List