Gas station, fast-food, banana-cream pie blizzard from Dairy Queen. In the restroom, on a wallpaper strip of painted fawns in the forrest, someone has written “MY NAME IS CHUCK AND I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.” Nathan’s sick, absent, saving his voice, drinking tea. I’m sick. Everybody’s sick. Wandered Madison yesterday in the heat. Drew a (bad) picture of Central Park. Doodled. Smoked cigarettes and drank iced Americanos while watching the local college girls dressed up for Spring. Tom Waits on the stereo. Jacobs wears a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache. Another gas-station. Wander the isles, buy a lemon tea. Squint in the sun outside, somewhere between Wisconsin and Minneapolis. Walked over to a dive bar by myself the other day, maybe a week ago, in Pittsburgh. Walked an old dirt road and looked down on the city. All the glimmering white and yellow lights from the darkened buildings reflected in the river, under the bridge. All those bridges. Walked over to the bar, o
rdered a whiskey and a beer. Looked at the dart boards. Smoked a few cigarettes. Wrote a little in my moleskine journal. Drank a few more whiskeys, a few more beers. Jukebox cranked on by bartender. Called Adam, bought him a few drinks for his twenty-first, talked about life. Listened to the old jukebox. Goddam jukeboxes in bars: make me think of the Blarney Stone, back in Midtown, New York. The old Blarney Stone, lost Meredith’s onyx ring. Was given to her by her grandmother. Looked for it on the floors with the rats, with Marcus, the Texan. Went back to the bar before it closed, drunk off a handle of Jack Daniels, and looked for Mer’s onyx ring. Never found it. The old Blarney Stone.
Bethany removes her glasses and wipes some tears from her eyes, sitting next to me on the bus. Stares out at the passing fields. Nothing to say. MacDonnalds signs. Telephone poles. Gas stations. Drank after the show in Madison, danced a number with some girl who sang karaoke. Fell over. Called some guy a prick. Called some friends, muttered aimlessly into the phone, am told I started crying but don’t remember. After the show at Calvin College, where we saw Salmond Rushdie speak (articulate and funny), was invited by some students to play capture the flag in a graveyard. Declined politely. Played some piano backstage. Undressed the other day and stared at my ass. Looks like hamburger. Scarred up from the cysts. Gonna tell my wife, assuming I wind up with somebody some day, that I got it in the war. Street-fight. Shrapnel. Doesn’t matter. “Sorry about my old hamburger ass,” I’ll say. Called my mom in Chicago, walked around Mer’s kitchen, cried. Said I missed home. Big alligator tears. Show in Chicago went well. After crying and talking with my mom, went up and read Mer part of a story until she fell back asleep (since I had woken her up to say hello). Gave up reading when she woke up again ten or fifteen minutes later to go to work.
People sleeping in bunks. People sitting on the bus. China and Kate, up front, talk animatedly. Bethany checks her phone. Jacobs reading one of his music industry books. Mears bought a new pair of jeans and white cons. Adam asleep all day. Pass a used car sales lot and a Blockbuster. $2.50 CLEANERS. Middle America. Jesus on the billboards. Cars glinting white-hot in the late afternoon sun, slung low over the flat roads. Trees green and stiffling. Some vague city on our left. Interstate 94. Been reading Hemmingway in public restrooms. Getting used to shitting in them. Pass what might be a church. Throat hurts. Wake up in a new town. Wake up in an old town, worn out three nights. Ask Marke at a gas-station if we have a show tonight. Take Sebastian for a walk around a parking lot on his leash, going nowhere, going in a circle. Collect vegetable oil. Rubber gloves, oil pump, sniffing back the snot. Watching a cigarette smoke itself. Fly to Seattle for a friend’s wedding. Go down to the docks. Shadows like olive paint dabs floating in the water. Seagulls skim the surface. A furnace between my eyes. Take some photos in a photo machine with Rachel. Red wine, a cigar. Whiskey and beer with Caleb. Argue with a Scottish kid about American cigarettes. A girl pipes in defending him. “You can’t trust HER,” I say. “She smokes menthol, for chrissake.” Meet up with band in Pittsburgh, nervous breakdown in the airport, hearing temporarily lost in one ear. Buy some advil and a bottled water and rub my sinuses. Blood in my mucus. Cyst maybe returning. Walk into an airport bathroom and lock myself in a stall. Pull down my pants and feel my ass, the soft bump, the other scars, all hamburger, pull my fingers away with blood on them. Try to call my dad but it’s maybe 4:30 in the morning. No answer. Nathan is saying something to me but I can’t hear him. His plane leaves twenty minutes before mine. He’ll meet me in Pittsburgh. I tell him okay and stumble through the airport, shaking. When I awoke on the descent into Chicago twenty minutes earlier I thought I might die, staring out the window at the ghostly sky as the air-pressure built to a silent scream in my ears. Had to piss, but the elderly couple next to me were sleeping, slumped over their trays. Wondered if they were dead. Looked out the window, expecting to … discover something. Hold my head and concentrate on not chewing through my teeth, mouthing “Oh-my-fucking-God” silently. Pray to God it will be over. Think the words “My own personal twenty-minute hell,” and, “I will never hear again.” Everything is silent and suspended. I look around the cabin expected everybody screaming in pain, but nobody moves. Everyone is normal as my head shrinks and I crumple over, holding my head and chewing at my teeth. Plane lands, the pressure subsides but I still can’t hear, Nathan tells me to answer him, not ignore him, I start shaking and whisper (it feels like I’m yelling) “I … can’t … hear … a … fucking … thing.” Freaking out. Curse him out. Apologize later, Pittsburgh airport, Hyatt lobby, black coffee, then read Bukowski on the lawn outside. Meet up with the band a few hours later. I’m not talking, just reading. Somebody says, “You heard Modest Mouse’s song about Bukowski?”
"No. Is it … awesome?" I say. They look at me weird.
Bus pulls into Minneapolis. The Varsity. Beautiful theatre. Exposed brick, shimmering, translucent sheets hung like gossamer from the high exposed ceilings, lit low and ghostly by lamps, a dusky escape into the past, or at least I’m pretending in my head. Piano man playing on an old, falling apart baby-grand. Pitcher of water next to him. Persian rugs laid out on the wooden floor. The Varsity: Presenting The Cinematic Underground With Painted Saints. Walk down the street and buy cigarettes and a beautiful old lighter at a tobacco shop. Dinner in Dinkytown, a block up from the Varsity. Bottle of wine. Denny, who we’re staying with, tells us the same guy designed these two buildings. Walk into the bathroom. White and black marble tile, offset by old brick, old sinks, separate HOT and COLD faucets. I think, inexplicably, that I’d like a shave. Some guy plays the saxophone from the stage at the restaurant. He’s good: he’s old and sad and good. “I like that motherfucke
r,” I say later to Mears. “He’s got class.” I walk around, listen, transfixed. Lofty ceilings with old shuttered windows cut into the high walls, the greying blue of evening high above us, smudged rectangles of muted blue contrast to the decaying brick. Ask the bartender to change a twenty. She’s cleaning out dusty martini glasses. Everything looks smoky and old, and for some reason reminds me of New York when I was sixteen, the first or second night I came into town, sitting out back in some small Italian place’s patio, dusk falling while I looked up at the towering buildings above the candle-lit square of fellow diners, all class and boredom, and I felt small and happy, like a child, and stared into the smoldering candle, feeling my pocket absently for cigarettes, all of this a day before I first saw Meredith at the conservatory. Lower East Side, maybe. I don’t remember where the restaurant was. Never went back in three years. “You heard Bukowski by Modest Mouse?” someone a
sks me. “I’ve got a new lighter,” I say, and take it out of my suit jacket as proof.
After dinner, bound across the street with Jacobs for coffee. “I only trust assholes,” I grin at him, leaning against the register while we wait for our coffees. “That’s why a grew a fu-man-chu,” he says, gesturing smugly at his mustache. “It says: ‘you will not like me.’ It says ‘Go Away.’” I laugh. Then the coffees are ready. Walk back, turn around to get a lid, walk back. Nathan’s smiling tiredly, if not feeling better. It’s really a beautiful theatre. I walk up-stairs, pass through a lounge with a pool table and a few cues, think about The Hustler, walk into the bathroom, tiled in black and white — like the restaurant — and the door is held open by a small round table. Decide for the fifth time this evening that I would like to shave in a place like this, and think vaguely about moving in, living in the rafters, The Phantom of the Varsity. Had a dream a few weeks ago which started out sexy with a girl before people walked in on us and her apartment turned crazily into some gothic-century Cabaret and I danced through people in masks with my suit-coat flowing like a cape, like the Phantom of the Opera, and waved at her while she danced in a line of girls, wearing black satin and mesh stockings. Woke up from the dream, had a cup of coffee, and read a Rolling Stones issue.
Pull my phone from my suit pocket after hanging my garment bag in the stall of the bathroom. Text-message from Ben: “Watch out for the skeleton upstairs, behind the stage, at the Varsity.” The Fray played here a few weeks ago. Text-message from Scott: “I just got fired, ha!” Sit down in the stall with Hemingway. Balance my coffee on the porcelain. Blow my nose: no blood. Good sign. Read my book and shit. Feel safe in proportion to the cramped stall. Wash my hands and examine my face in the mirror. After a minute of dispassionate scrutiny, decide there’s nothing new, leave the mirror and change into my suit in the stall. 9:30. We go on at 10, 10:30, not sure. It’s so quiet in the bathroom.
Walk downstairs and the lady taking tickets, pretty and disaffected, gives me an orange wristband for drinks. “Guest-list?” she asks Jacobs. “We don’t have any friends,” I say. “Me neither,” she says. Walk outside, smoke a cigarette, Kate’s talking with a friend of hers. Sit down on a stoop and read Hemingway. Sports bar across the street. I hate sports bars. I hate the TVs, I hate the games, I hate the interviews with the players. Blue TV screens blinking, fuzzing through the windows across the streets, and I can barely read a paragraph because I’m getting paranoid because the windows are fuzzing blue and some guy is getting interviewed. I hate sports bars. Then opening acts, then we go on. Show’s good - empty crowd but the band’s tight, we’re listening to each other, we’re playing music with each other, an audience of one, order a beer afterwards, sweat dripping down my neck, tired muscles, grinning red-faced while I shoot the shit with the bartender. Hug some people in the band. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s on the speakers, tear down with Marke, talking music, smiling at each other. Lazily disassemble my drum-kit, make a few jokes with Mears, order another beer, wander over the the broken-down baby-grand and clunk out my new song, about Scott and Amanda, and the theatre dies out, the lights dim, and the bar closes up. Order a beer and get it for free. Bartender’s counting out her tips, and I leave a few more dollars. Some people are still hanging around: Kate’s friend and a few others. I don’t know who they are, and eventually they probably wander out, but I don’t notice when. Drink another beer from the bus, from when Adam and I checked into a hotel and drank and smoked and watched TV. Pee outside the bar and think about high school, then back to grade-school. Trying to remember what I was like, which is this new hobby of mine. Remember in the fourth grade when I walked up and pretended to run into the chalk board, subtly kicking the wall to get the sound effect, and flinging my head back and grabbing my nose. Got a laugh from the class. Katie Tracy embarrassed. Always embarrassed. Sends a messenger: “Katie says she’s breaking up with you.” I’m standing on the playground with some guy who liked Star Trek, and I think maybe was named Kenton, although I’m not sure. “Ok,” I say.
Next morning, after the show, afternoon: a rainy afternoon. We’re in Minneapolis. It’s warm and rainy. I’m feeling good. No idea why. Whenever it rains. Denny drives us into town — we slept at his place, in his living room, and some of us at his girlfriend’s — and we see Friends With Money, which I love, and which puts me in a very introspective sort of mood, and so I stare out the back of the van on the way home, watching those rainy streets, the old buildings, the block-lettering erected above them on wires and metal. Adam starts singing this song he always sings. We park and while we’re walking down the hall into Denny’s apartment he keeps singing it, and so I shush him loudly. He stops, turns, and looks at me. Looks hurt and affronted, like a goddam doe or something. Really breaks my heart. “Who are you shushing?” Bethany asks. “Adam,” I say, walking past him, still stunned in the hall. “How come?” Bethany asks. “Because he always sings that song, and it’s abo
ut three goddam hours long,” I say. “Oh,” she says. I bought another Bukowski at the Borders outside the movie theatre. It’s called Post Office. I throw a cashed cigarette out on the porch, and it almost hits Marke. “You almost hit Marke,” Kim says. “You shoulda played baseball when you were young,” she says. I laugh. I’m still wearing my suit for some reason, and this green Guinness hooded-sweatshirt underneath that Amanda always wears around the apartment when I visit Scott and her in New York. For a little while I was trying to go down almost every weekend. Chinatown bus, fifteen dollars, four hours: Boston to New York, Scott and Amanda. And the time I left to go back to Boston, stopped at the bus-station in Chinatown and called Amanda. “I don’t wanna go back,” I said. “Don’t go back!” she said. “Ok!” I said, and turned right around, asked the lady if I could use my purchased ticket the next morning instead. “Yes, ok,” she said, “but no refunds.”
"No refunds," I said, and went down to Spice Market in the meat-packing district, where Scott worked before he got fired, and where Scott got me free whiskeys for about an hour before he got off. Then we went back to the apartment and watched Monk and drank beer with Amanda. Woke up late, alarm didn’t go off, hurried my ass down to Chinatown after saying goodbye and giving my love to Scott and Amanda, and four hours back to Boston, and we’ve got a show that night probably, but hell, I didn’t know because I never know. And we go out on the road for a couple of weeks, and it’s gas stations, and searching for vegetable oil for the bus, and it’s fast food, blurred cities, paperbacks shaking like crazy while you try to read them, some stops have wireless, trying to find half an hour for a cup of coffee, pissing in a water bottle up at the front of the bus, trying not to leak down on the goddam steps, dropping the warm bottle out the window and hoping there aren’t any cops around, and Peddley used to sing Beach Boys when he drove the bus in winter, back when we stood outside the bar in Chicago, after the bus left him, waiting for Mer to pick us up because the venue bar had closed down, and goddam, it sure was cold, even with our buffer of Scotch, but Mer shows up and our asses are saved! "She’s lovely," Peddley tells me later. "I know," I say. And it snows for the first time last year while I’m riding around the next day with Meredith, smoking a cigarette in her passenger seat and watching all that white snow fall, and listening to the Beatles with her, and looking at her hair on our way to lunch. She kisses me at a red-light and for three days I feel young again. Then we leave Chicago and we play Calvin College and we play some other places, God knows where, and more gas-stations with bathrooms with condom machines for seventy-five cents and I buy one and give it to somebody in the band as a joke, but it’s not actually funny, and we play Galapagos in New York, and Kate reads a book when we throw a small party in my cousin’s place in Brooklyn, while everybody else is drinking, and I wander over to Greenpoint, where Scott lives with The Films, and we drink and talk and laugh, and the tour’s over for the Fall, and I stay in New York for a few days after the band leaves, and I have a nervous breakdown on the Upper West Side, at Marcus and Tyler’s place, and Marcus breaks the empty whiskey bottle and starts scraping into his stomach, telling me in a steady voice that he’s going to cut the demons out, and I talk him down with Dawn, his girlfriend at the time, and I tell him that he’s loved, that God loves him, and I scrape up my own arm while looking at him in the eyes, and I say, "There, my demons are fucking out too, so calm the fuck down," and I get him to bed with Dawn after hugging him, and then I go straight for her vodka and I’m so drunk suddenly I’m blind and the tears won’t stop coming all of the sudden and I’m putting cigarettes out on my forearms and screaming, and then I punch Tyler in the face twice because he’s refusing to tell me why I exist, and later I piss on his floor in the living room. The next morning Dawn makes eggs, and I eat some, and someone says "What a crazy night" and laughs, and I almost puke. I look around the table and everybody’s eating their eggs. "Thanks, Dawn," I manage, get up and leave in a daze and meet up with Scott in SoHo, and he says "Christ, Charlie" when I show him my arms, and we get on the Chinatown bus to go to Boston together for Thanksgiving, and I fall asleep curled up next to him on the bus. When we get there I cry and cry when I see the band, and I show them and my family starts crying, and Nathan takes a long walk with me, and Seth buys me bandages and ointment, and Nathan and I come back and Seth bandages my arms and I hug Marke for a long time. At Thanksgiving we have a party down in Hyde Park, and there’s new people to meet but I don’t talk to any of them, and Kim and Marke and I talk about how we don’t have any room left for more people. Scott gets lovably drunk off of his wine and I help carry him home. He leaves. Then Christmas comes. I go back to Colorado and drink myself dumb for a few weeks and read Life Without God on the toilet at Caleb and Tyler’s apartment, usually when drunk, but I also take some nice walks with my mom around the lake by our home, and have some good drives with my dad, trading music new and old. And Christmas comes and goes, and the New Year. When midnight arrives I’m driving by myself downtown, listening to Ryan Adams. I arrive at Caleb and Tyler’s around ten-minutes past 12:00 and talk with some people I haven’t seen since high school (how does Caleb know them?) and try to catch up on drinking. I visit a psychologist a few times. I go to the dermotologist. And at sometime I wind up back in Boston, and the band picks up again, plays around the town a bit, and heads out for tour, and then we’re back in New York at Galapagos, and then we return to Boston. I take a walk in the Commons, but it’s freezing and the lights on the trees left over from Christmas aren’t hung very well, and I try to create a feeling of romance in myself but nothing happens, so I go see a movie at the Lowes by the park. Two-week break from tour, no money, nothing to do, and so I ring up a tab on Adam and we watch a movie a day, and I go to bed at eleven AM and wake up at 5 PM, never taking off my suit or long-underwear for two weeks, except to sleep and shower, and in the shower I sit down and feel my patchy, reddish scruff, and my cyst grows to the size of a golf-ball so that I can barely walk, and I’ve been cutting down on the drinking since Christmas, but we buy beer and whiskey, and I try to write a song but I can’t think, and so at the end of the two-weeks we pack everything up and move out, but I stay behind in the empty house for a few hours as the first hot day moves into evening, waiting to catch my flight back to Colorado later that afternoon as the band heads out again on tour.
I will rejoin them in two weeks, after the surgery. My bags sit packed and I eat a few chocolate donuts and drink a beer I found still in the fridge after I finish the coffee I had picked up earlier in the day, walking back from the post-office while everyone loaded boxes and suitcases and shit into the bus. Kim’s frustrated with me, and has, I decide, every right to be. I’m lazy. My parents have lent me a few hundred bucks. Mears is going to cover the drums, and he sounds great after learning the parts in one day. The band leaves on the bus, and so I clean the bathroom up-stairs and sit around in the empty house, play a little on the old, out-of-tune piano, walk out in the garden and call Meredith. I order a taxi when night falls, and then I eat another donut while I wait for it. “Where to?” asks the driver. “Airport,” I say. “Where you headed?” he says. I start to say “Airport” again, but realize that’s not what he meant. “Colorado,” I say. We shoot the shit about
the mountains for a little while — he talks about how beautiful they are — and even though I hate the mountains it doesn’t seem worth pointing out. I once told Marke, “Mountains are basically just a big goddam eye-sore.” I ask the cab-driver if I can smoke and he says sure. So I smoke. “I’m gonna miss Boston,” somebody in the band said to me earlier. “Good riddance,” I said. So I sit in the cab, smoking, and I think, “So long, Boston.”
Then it’s two very peaceful weeks with my parents and younger siblings in Colorado, I get my cyst lanced, I read and watch movies, I spend my days drawing at a coffee shop, then a weekend in Seattle, fly to Pittsburgh via Chicago to meet up with the band (which makes me think of the Wilco song Via Chicago, and during the hour lay-over in Chicago I wonder if Mer’s sleeping or if she’s still awake at four in the morning, staring out her window, the TV on in the background…), and we play Pittsburgh, and we play Calvin College, then some other city, then Madison, and we drive to Minneapolis and play the Varsity, and tomorrow we head to St. Louis, and tonight Adam’s friend Denny is grilling us meat down at the community pool, and tomorrow it’s gas-stations and rest-stops and fast-food, Arby’s connected to a petrol station, discount DVDs, changing cigarette prices, bathrooms, graffiti, looking for books left on the bus, fishing through bags, laughing, feeling dead, lying on the bunks and watching the passing scenery through the window as night falls, giving some serious consideration to crying like a baby, wondering when I last showered, haven’t shaved in weeks, Marke’s beard is full and Russian, his unruly hair tucked beneath his conductor’s hat, and another gas-station, and I’m drinking some Dayquil that somebody gave Adam (or did he say he found it?), STAR magazine and US Weekly at a Shell station, buying … pretzles, the wind blowing through the open windows on the bus, Springtime in the air, Kate gives me a pillow while I’m sleeping on the floor, Amanda writes me regular updates from New York that make me smile, that I actually can’t live without, Scott and I have a talk that makes me feel at home, I take a shit at a restaurant, look at my hamburger ass, reading Hemingway, discounted beer at a show, forty bucks from an ATM, wandering a city before a show, coffee, blood back in my mucus, rainy days, iPod charged, a fan loves the show (and I feel sincere and grateful when I say, “Thanks.”), meeting other people I don’t remember five minutes later, a hotel for a night with four people in a room, foreign showers, Seth ruffles my hair and says that I’m “a cutie,” packing up drums, cloudy mirrors, out of cigarettes, flavored Mocha, China grins at me while we’re playing a set, watch Family Guy episodes at a nameless hotel with Adam, trees passing, bridges, buildings, beautiful sunrises, boring sunrises, pack of cigarettes, masturbate, scammed out of forty dollars in Pittsburgh, someone has scrawled HOPE LIES WITHIN on a dirty trashcan in a bathroom, more discount DVDs, Burger King, and I’m walking out of a gas-station drinking a Pepsi and my mind is blank and somebody asks me if I’ve heard the song about Bukowski by Modest Mouse and I say, “Yeah, Adam showed me. I thought it was funny. I liked it.”