At my drummer’s house, I stand in the laundry room with my cell phone in one hand and my third beer in the other. I want to call my parents before I start slurring my words. I am nineteen years old, a college dropout with a purple mohawk and a predilection for existentialist novels. My drinking hardly surprises them anymore. They once harbored elaborate fantasies of success for their American son. Now my immigrant parents only worry for my safety.
“I’m not coming home tonight,” I say.
“You’re not driving, are you?” they say.
“That’s why I’m not coming home,” I say. “Jesus Christ.”
But six months later, I re-matriculate. I move out of my parents’ house in Delaware to an apartment in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It’s January 2003: a new year. Classes begin in a few days, but I’m more excited to live in the same town as the rest of my band than continue my education. No longer obligated to inform my parents every time I get wasted, I start drinking with impunity. The freedom is overwhelming.
The hangover begins before I have a chance to sleep. My roommate drives us from the dance club in Philly to the Jersey shore. There are four of us, none of age or remotely sober. My headache is getting worse, but I am in love with right now, speeding down unlit roads with the windows down and the music up loud. Time has lost all meaning. We park and get out of the car. The air is briny and wet. I watch the waves dissolve into the sand. It’s too cold to swim, but we shake off our shoes and dip our bare feet into the frigid water. The sun starts to rise, barely. The clouds flake apart and the sky turns imperceptibly from pitch black to navy blue. I am drunk and the whole world is so beautiful that I almost can’t take it, like my heart is about to burst, like I’m fifteen again and living in a goddamn Morrissey song. A cop comes and tells us to move along. Obedient and contrite, we comply, shoving our wet toes into sandy socks. He does not ask to smell our breath or see our IDs. We are invincible, blessed by fate. My roommate starts the car. We ride, seat belts be damned. Before we get on the freeway, I discard the evidence of our indiscretions, throwing empty bottles of beer, hard cider, and five-dollar champagne out of the moving car.
We make it back to West Chester just before morning rush hour. I sleep through two days of classes. My wallet is nowhere to be found. I can’t hold down food. It’s only the first week in my new apartment.
HOW TO OVERCOME STAGE FRIGHT
Step away from the microphone. Stand at the edge of the stage and scream the opening lyrics to your first song. Watch as dozens of kids in the audience throw their fists in the air. Hear your words shouted back to you. Wait for the wave of feedback, the big open E chord, the cymbal crash. Run to the back of the stage and jump on top of the bass drum. Hurl yourself off, six feet in the air, who cares about the landing. Wait for your roommate to develop the pictures a week later. Pore over the photographs, evidence of your former glory.
I become a master at peeing silently behind the shed while talking on the phone with Christina. This is my weekly ritual: I break away from the Saturday post-show revelry to both relieve myself and keep in touch with my new long-distance girlfriend. My bladder is small and I am hopelessly in love. I feel clever and resourceful, killing two birds with one stone. But Christina can still hear me suck on my cigarette and, sometimes, the raucous party raging inside the house.
My drummer stops the van at the light across from the pizza place, just down the block from the guitar store. Dozens of young women march through the street from the quad to the stadium. They wave flags and twirl batons, prancing in their sparkly uniforms, which cover their arms but leave their legs bare. The crosswalk is too narrow to fit them all. They move quickly but without urgency. A loose swarm. Their hair is pinned up, their faces painted with thick layers of make-up.
“Take a good look, gentleman,” my drummer says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
I am young and stupid. I know better than to leer, but I’m too timid to call out my drummer on his casual womanizing. Christina, on the other hand, finds the whole scenario hilarious. Like we’re watching some 80’s teensploitation movie. The sex-starved boy at last sees his first pair of breasts.
“It’s almost too ridiculous to get upset about,” she says, laughing.
I tug at the pockets sticking out of my too-short cutoffs. My band has adopted a new uniform for the summer: tight t-shirts and jeans with the legs sliced off just a few inches below the crotch. We look like assholes.
We are assholes.
After the color guard crosses, my drummer guns the van back into gear. Our equipment jostles in the back. A car in front of us drives several miles below the speed limit. In his frustration, my drummer deploys his newest catchphrase.
“Cut the shit and grow a dick.”
Christina points out that this is, in fact, a feminine rhyme.
WHAT PUNK PLANET HAS TO SAY ABOUT OUR BAND
“Uses SAT words to show how smart they are.”
A SAMPLE LIST OF SAT WORDS USED IN OUR SONGS
After the beer runs out, we scour the kitchen and find a bottle of sake. God knows who brought it to the party. None of us is quite sure how you’re supposed to drink it. We err on the side of efficiency and take turns doing shots. Bodies are strewn on the couches. My drummer walks through his house with a pile of blankets, covering our passed-out friends like he’s shrouding the dead. Only five of us are still standing. Too wired to sleep and too drunk to sustain a conversation, we head out to the backyard to watch the sun rise. My breath freezes. A few minutes pass. My guitar player runs inside. From the open bathroom window, I can hear him retch into the toilet. One down, four to go.
We crane our necks and wait. My friend Anthony takes off his shirt.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” he says before stripping down to his underwear.
“What the hell,” I say, disrobing. We pile our clothes on the back steps.
Daylight comes. The landlord strolls past as he walks his dog. He gives us a hesitant wave. We wave back, shivering and alive.
“I could punch you in the face, like, right now,” my drummer says.
I sit on his couch. He broods in a chair next to the TV. We have run out of words for each other. I get up to leave. He still has my bass cabinet, but I owe him money for a recording session we never finished. I make peace with the loss and walk out the door. He does not punch me in the face.
I drive to my parents’ house in Delaware. No one is home. I call my dad’s cell.
“I just quit my band,” I tell him.
“Oh,” he says, unsure of how to respond to the panic in my voice.
Night falls. I don’t bother to turn on the lights.
EVIDENCE OF OUR FORMER GLORY
Whoever worked the camcorder got creative with the on-board effects. Within the first few seconds, the video goes from color to black-and-white to sepia. It’s a confounding choice, filming a basement show to look jaundiced and old-timey. My mind fills in the missing hues: the red-painted walls, my cream sweater, the yellowish stripe of bleached hair on top of my head where the purple dye didn’t take. The camera pulls back to reveal kids packed in all the way to the back of the basement. Some stand with crossed arms. Others dance in time to the drums. Our band is better than I remember. But more surprising is how joyful we are, our smiles so broad and wide that it looks like we’re about to break out into a fit of laughter. It’s December 2002. We don’t yet know how quickly our commitment will waiver and our friendship deteriorate, how devastating an ending can be. The new year holds so much promise.