First appeared in The Woolf
Tales from the Pit no. 10
CODES OF CONDUCT (PART III)
What a day for spaghetti straps: The wind pummels her from all directions, the kind of gales that drive horses mad and ravage any trace of a blow-dry. Every gust tangles her hair and cuts through her new coat – all sheen and no substance, probably glued together by kids half her age. She shudders, blames the wind, shudders, scans the line.
She’s usually first at the doors, but some tall guy and his mom beat her to it. On second thought, they look nothing alike and he’s not being mouthy. Maybe he’s trying to find a polite way to tell the woman she’s at the wrong gig. At least everybody else looks normal and not as good as she does, or did. She runs her fingers through the nest on her head and swears. It’s hard work, trying to stack the odds of getting this-any-every lead singer’s attention. Freezing her rack off is a small price to pay.
We stand feet away from the microphone, which means we will be close to him when he sings, which in turn will give us license to say we were the only ones standing right in front of him when he sang, which will more or less be the same thing as saying he sang every song to us and us alone. If we could, we would grab each other like we did when we bought the tickets and scream. Instead I make the universal hand gesture for take-it-down-a-notch before announcing that we are actually breathing the same air as the band because we are inside the same four walls, not necessarily the same inner walls but the club’s main weight-bearing walls that would theoretically count as the four walls from a building and zoning perspective.
We are just hypothesizing about the funny word taped onto the bass drum when the short lady in front of us turns around. She tells us that the word in question is actually the name of the opening act. We smile back because we have been taught to respect our elders even when they are wrong. For a second I wish we had the front row but decide we have a better spot because we will be more in his line of vision. This means he will see us and demand that the roadies give us the setlist. Those in the front row may technically be in a better position to ask for it, but not everyone looks like they would care and as my grandmother always says, girls in skimpy spaghetti straps do not get anywhere in life except possibly backstage to meet Elvis, though we would have to verify that with the lady. We hope the tall guy does not want the setlist. He is positioned on the other side of a large step placed between the stage and the crowd. If he does get it, I am sure he will be a gentleman and do the right thing.
He almost feels bad about the setlist but thinks of his car – the tubs of hummus on the front seat, nubby blanket in back, socks padding the seat-belt buckles for the nights he can’t afford a hotel. He’s been following them for weeks, his total-gig-score creeping closer to twenty. Sorry, mates, the setlist has been earned.
The woman in line who let him mooch off her hotspot asked if he’d ever tried meeting the band. She said they’d probably recognize him from the front row and be nice. Come to think of it, the setlist would look better with an autograph, and he wouldn’t even need an opening line.
It’s not that he doesn’t have one: he has too many. He’s spent hours sinking into the space of each song, tracking its turns through the windshield, over borders – in his head. All he knows now is a broken line on asphalt or a storm front on the stage. His ears ring, the trucks blow by, and every verse tastes like stale pastries and gum. He has so much to say to the frontman, he could be his brother.
He tanks a few beers. The bar fills up. The band walks in and he weaves through the crush. When his brother’s a step away, he smiles and waits for one in return.
The singer loosens his hold on a bare-shouldered friend. “What do you want?” he sneers, killing any hint of the question mark when he says it again.
He could say he wants an autograph but knows it isn’t true. What he wants is to tell him about the road, the storms and the words that won’t let go. Instead he says, “Nothing,” and backs away until his key is in the lock.