POSTING MY FIRST NOVEL: ‘CONDITION OAKLAND: CONFESSIONS OF A NAÏVE PUNK WITH A HEART FULL OF ARSON, AND OH, HOW THE WORLD DOTH QUAKE & BURN’ – CHAPTER THREE – ‘THE TRIUMVIRATE’

Photo by emily burtner on flickr

CHAPTER 3: The Triumvirate

Monica had a car. She and Laura were a year ahead of me, in the senior class. I know I said they were in my math class, but I was a year ahead in math, because I had already taken certain classes at St. Louis High. So, having a car, being driven by the elemental forces of youth, Monica offered to drive me home.

“Oh, but I love riding the bus!”

“Get in the car.”

“Alright let’s do it.”

She had a small Toyota four door with big purple fuzzy dice on the rear view and about a thousand band stickers on the back. She drove fast, too.

One day we got out early, a half-day, and we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant near my house for lunch. We were still giddy with the newness that surrounded our friendship, laughing about how we knew nothing about each other, but wanted to.

“So what do you do?” she asked.

“Me?” Of course you, you idiot. “Oh, um. I mainly just hang out with friends, go to movies and shows sometimes.”

“Yeah, we do that stuff, too. But what do you do?”

For a minute I thought they meant drugs or something.

“Do you mean drugs?” I asked.

“No! No. I mean like, do you make art? Or write? Or music or something?”

“Oh. That kind of do. Yeah, I play guitar, and sing.”

“Have you written any songs?”

“Are you in a band?”

“No. But I want to be in a band, I’m supposed to start one with this guy Lane, from school. Do you know Lane?”

“Is he a junior?”

“Yeah. He’s kind of quiet, a little scrawny. Dresses kind of plain. He‘s cool.”

“Yeah, I think I saw him with you.”

“He plays guitar, and my other friend plays bass, but we’re still looking for a drummer.”

“There’s this guy Mark, who plays drums. At Division. He talks to us sometimes, but he’s kind of strange. We don’t really hang out with him.”

“Is he any good?”

“I don’t really know. I only know he’s supposed to play drums.”

The Chinese restaurant had murals on the walls, which had somehow gotten dirty, with large brown splotches. I stood looking at them as we waited in line.

“I’ve gotta pee.”

When Laura went to the bathroom, Monica sat next to me, in the booth. She was sitting on top of me practically. “What are you doing this weekend?” she asked me.

“Uh, I don’t know. Why?”

“I was hoping you might want to go somewhere with me. Out to dinner or something.”

“Like a date?” I asked. I was a little intimidated by her approach, but I liked her.

“Yeah, like a date. Just you and me.”

“Yeah, sure. We could do that.”

Laura came back, but Monica stayed where she was.

The next week at school was horrible. I had only been there for a few months, but I was now certain of my regret of leaving St. Louis‘. I called up Sidney one night that week after I got home from school and he came over and picked me up.

In his car I asked him about S.L.H., if everyone was still in mourning over me having left. He laughed.
“Seriously though,” he said, “lunch isn’t as much fun without you. I miss you, even if no one else does. I still hang out with the loser group, and it’s alright.”

“I’m thinking about coming back.”

“What? How can you come back? You just left. I mean, I want you to come back, but they filled in the class this year, I don’t even know if they have openings. What are you going to do?”

“I’ve already talked to my mom, and she called the admissions office. They’re considering it. They’re going to have a board meeting and everything, just to see if they should readmit me. They’re going to vote. Isn’t that ridiculous? I mean, I realize now I made a mistake by leaving. It is a good school. But I think they were upset when I left, they don’t like to lose kids, you know? And now it seems like they’re rubbing it in my face. It’s not like I got kicked out or anything. I just left.”

I told Sidney about Lane, and the possibility about starting a band.

“How is he at guitar?”

“He’s better than me,” I admitted. “And he listens to good stuff, so he should be able to write what we’re looking for.”

“Awesome, we should meet.”

“I’ll arrange it, soon.”

“What about this Friday?” he asked.

“I have a date Friday.”

“Oh yeah? Who with?”

“This girl Monica from Division.”

Monica came over to pick me up, to the basement door like I asked, where my room was.

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

“How about Vietnamese?”

“I love Vietnamese! I know the perfect place.”

In the car we were rocking out to Weezer’s Blue Album, the touchstone of that periods’ music’s criterion collection.

We spiral straight out as the world turns… The playing out of youth’s thirsty metaphysics, all bright and dark-winged.

Music is what held us together in those days; …It still is.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“I just like to ask people that.”

“I don’t really like it when people ask me that. It’s not fair.”

“Why isn’t it fair?”

“Because I can’t control my thoughts. That’s why I go through them and pick out what I’m going to say. I don’t say everything I’m thinking.”

“Well, are there things you think about that you can’t say? I mean, about me or something?” I thought that was pretty self-centered and paranoid of her to ask, but I usually like self-centered people.

“No, not really. But I don’t like to say everything anyway. Sometimes my thoughts are private. A lot of times in fact.”

We got to the restaurant and walked in, continuing our conversation.

“Uh, two please.”

“Smoking,” says Monica.

“Well, do you have thoughts you’re embarrassed about?” she said, flirting I think.

“No. Not usually. Sometimes I try to spare people from my thought processes.”

“Do you think mean things?”

“Sometimes. Not if I can help it.”

“Everybody thinks mean things. I want to know what you think that it’s so hard for you to talk about.” She lit a cigarette, cupping her hand like she was doing a ventriloquist birdcall.

“I guess I think a lot of vain thoughts. Self-conscious things. I really just think too much. Things about whatever situation I’m in, and strange connections between things.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Like, when I see something, and it reminds me of something else. And I can’t control the connections I make…” She looked interested, but not understanding. “Like this spoon,” I said, picking it up. “This spoon could mean so many things. Like the movie the Matrix, ‘There is no spoon,’ or that ‘Saves the Day’ song about digging someone’s eyes out with a spoon, or something. I don’t know, it could mean so many things.”
“And you think about all those things when you look at a spoon? Every time?”

“Not every time. But I do that a lot, with a ton of things. And sometimes it gets so bad I can’t function, I’m paralyzed with thoughts. So many references to everything.

It’s like there’s this entertainment magazine in my head. (I’m speaking in mixed metaphor.) Like a print magazine and also like a gun. And I have to recock the gun so that it’s not in the entertainment mode. So I’m settled back to where it’s not all part of ‘the show’ as David Foster Wallace might call it.”
“Did you just compare your mind to a gun?”
“Yeah. I guess I did.”
“Well… Oh-K. Anyway, I don’t… think that really happens to me as much. I’ll have to think about it.” She laughed. “I guess I won’t ask you what you’re thinking about anymore.”

“No, you can. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I liked Monica, and it was a good time. At the end of the night, I leaned in to kiss her.

We kissed for a few minutes, parked outside my house, and I felt a desire to do more, but then she made a move that was a little too far for that particular moment, and I sort of backed off.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Um, nothing. I just don’t know if I want to do that right now. We don’t really know each other, that well. So, I don’t want to…Uh.”

“It’s better that we don’t know each other,” she said. “It makes it more fun, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s good. I don’t know. Maybe some other time.”

“OK, that’s fine. I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK.”

She made me feel like I was being a prude or something, and maybe I was. I guess the main reason I stopped her was because I had this quote drifting through my head: “I don’t think you should kiss anyone you don’t love.” Well, I had already kissed her, and in a way you could say I loved her. I mean, I love a lot of people, people I don’t even know. But the quote made me think about any type of sex as something more than just a physical act, so I was reluctant, at least just then. I’m not trying to be self-righteous about it or anything, and I explained that to her. I just didn’t feel like it, and I normally go by my feelings.

She was obviously a little affronted, because of what she said after a moment of silence.

“I’m not a slut or something.”

“I know. I didn’t say you were.”

“Maybe I just like you a lot. I just do this thing where I think I like someone so much, even if I don’t have anything real to base it on. I just fall in love, with the idea of someone. Like whenever I first meet someone, I think they’re perfect, the next big thing in my life, and, I don’t know, I just felt like it…”

Now she was making me regret stopping her.

“No, I do the same thing,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sorry. I like you too.”

There was a brief silence.

“I guess I just didn’t want to ruin anything,” I said. “I’m not good at loving people, I don’t think. It’s hard for me to. I just end up thinking about everything so much and I can’t do anything right, without thinking about it. I’m sorry. I like you.”

“Can I kiss you?” she asked me.

I looked at her, then kissed her.

I invited Sidney to meet Lane and I at a coffee shop, and he showed up right on time.

“Lane, Sidney. Sidney, Lane.”

“Hey, nice to meet you.”

“And you.”

“Well, my friends. Shall we get down to it?” I said, acting official.

“Yes, let’s,” Lane agreed.

We discussed our possibilities, our schedules, and potential practice spaces. We agreed to meet once a week to play, for now at my house, just because my parents were the only ones who were willing to stand the noise.

“What kind of music do you like?” Sidney asked Lane.

“Um, anything brilliant basically.” He laughed. “I mean, I like anything as long as it’s distinct. It has to be intelligent.”

“Good answer,” I said.

That night we went back to my house to play. Eventually we would nail carpet to the ceiling of the basement, which was my room, to dampen the sound. But that first night we just kept it down.

The basement was my bed, entertainment center, books, and a sofa. It was the perfect practice space, having tons of room for the amps and moving around. There were a lot of band posters and pictures on the wood finish walls, ones I had taken. The floor was linoleum, but I had a light beige carpet that I had gotten from my friend Katie, whose parents had just redone their basement. It was sort of old and dusty, but I didn’t mind. We hung a blanket on the large window on the east wall to try to prevent any neighbor cop calls.

We played a few covers first, just to get comfortable with each other, but then Lane started playing this riff that instantly caught Sidney and I’s attention. It was this slow, picked out progression that was both catchy and obscure enough to work as a song, and Sidney added a part while I just played a few chords over the rest of it. A drum part would have made it complete, but we were taking what we could get. In the middle of playing it I brought out a notebook with some lyrics in it and propped them up on my amp. My parents had bought me the guitar and amp for Christmas when I was fifteen. It was a pretty nice amp, too. My parents were cool like that. I was looking over the lyrics and I picked out a part and then started singing over the music, and it was really working. I mean, they couldn’t really hear me, but I knew what they heard they liked, because they were looking at me like I had just cemented the fact that yes, we are going to be a band.

After that first practice, I was looking forward to the next all week. I spent the time in between rewriting old lyrics, playing guitar, and thinking about a name. We practiced each week for about a month, still unable to find a drummer. We didn’t focus on that though. We were trying to build a unique sound, but were also taking influence from some of our favorites. We were working on band logos before we even had a definite name.

One day Lane and I were talking outside a class, in between periods, watching people flow down the hallways, dancing out of each other’s way. Laura and Monica came up and started talking to me. I introduced them to Lane.

“Hey that Mark guy should be around in a second. We just saw him.”

I noticed this kid was walking towards us and I recognized him from the hallways. He had a cool style of dressing, sort of hippie-ish, but not like the prototypical hippie.

“Hey Mark,” Monica said. “Come here.”

She had to sort of beckon him.

He had black dreadlocked hair, a Rickie Lee Jones (whom I had never heard of) t-shirt, and baggy pajama type pants. He wore glasses, and looked intelligent. I hadn’t spoken to him before, mainly because he was older and might think he was too cool for me. I thought that pretty often in Division’s environment. Then he spoke to me.

“Nice shirt, man.”

“Thanks,” I said, looking down at my Violent Femmes t-shirt, not entirely sure he wasn’t mocking me.

“Meet Mark,” Laura told me.

“You guys were talking about me?”

We sort of ignored the question.

“Who else do you listen to?” he asked.

“Gotta go, boys,” Monica called to us over her shoulder. I waved.

Coming back to Mark’s question, Lane and I listed off some of our favorites. Then Mark started talking about what he listened to and we had a few bands in common, but more than that was communicated by the way we were talking and acting. You could tell we were of a type, or at least we could tell, anyways, and we suddenly had a mutual respect between us.

We talked about music for a while and then he asked us if we played any instruments.
We told him about the band.

“Shit, man. I can play.”

“So we’ve heard.”

“Yeah, I’ve been playing since I was twelve.”

I began to picture him in the band.

“We should get together,” he said. “Get together and play, practice, whatever.”
It sounded good to me. “Well, what about at your place?” I said. “I mean, I’m sure you don’t like moving your set around too much.” My mom had told me she didn’t want us practicing at my place so often, if possible.

“Yeah, we can play at my house. When were you thinking?”

‘We usually practice Wednesday nights.”

“That works. Here, let me give you directions.” He wrote on a piece of notebook paper from his bag, tore out the sheet, and handed it to me.

“Well, I’m going to get going, but it was cool talking to you guys. See you Wednesday.” He held out his hand.

Lane and I realized we hadn’t introduced ourselves.
“I’m Lane.”

“Tim.”

“Rock n’ roll. Well, Lane and Tim, see you Wednesday.”

THE VIOLENT FEMMES – KISS OFF

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