SAT SEPT 2, 2018 // WHAT'S HIDDEN LIES IN GARY, INDIANA

KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN

Eric drove out of Milwaukee. Ben was standing on the sidewalk waving wistfully goodbye. My wet bathing suit was drying on the dashboard. We stopped briefly at a record store so Eric could purchase a record he’d had his eye on yesterday afternoon. Then we wove through a maze of highway on ramps and were on our way to Kalamazoo. The sky had the moody look of late summer thunderstorms.

The side of the road was swamps, winding rivers, old factories, and forlorn post industrial towns. All along the way there were lots of toll booths still unmanned by robots. We took turns digging through our wallets for dollar bills and change. Eric was amused by the lack of a discernible pattern reflected by the personalities of the toll booth operators.

We saw signs for Gary, Indiana and both commented on how down and out it had been the other times we’d passed through on our own. Eric described it as the level of poverty where lots of dudes are walking around shirtless wearing only one shoe. Also, he’d seen a small child panhandling alone like the baby in the Dave Chappelle story. I didn’t tell him, but I’m pretty sure I once narrowly avoided being propositioned in a truck stop bathroom. And by “propositioned” I mean the sort of question that isn’t really a question. I was wide eyed and drunk. I was twenty two years old, but though my mind was slow, my body was not. The fat, drunk trucker got the cross over and tipped sideways into the wall, knocking over a trash can, scattering himself with damp and crumpled paper towels across the filthy faux terra cotta tiles on the floor.

It was hot out now, and mid afternoon. I’d neglected to bring my sunglasses with me from California and my eyes burned when the grey clouds parted and the sun shown through. We talked a lot about 1980s glam rock because Eric was reading a tell all book about Motley Crue. Yesterday I’d finally divulged to him the way in which I’d met my girlfriend and he thought it was funny to compare me to Vince Neil, the besotted, womanizing, morally bankrupt singer of that band. I did not like this at all, which is why he found it funny.

We talked about how the production quality on the records by those glam bands was so poor, and often so was the playing and the singing. Still, it was remarkable how well they were able to play at all, given the not sleeping and doing drugs and alcohol all the time. Eric told a story about how Nikki Six once got sent to rehab by the band’s management because he ran up a multi thousand dollar bordello bill by hiring something like twenty six prostitutes to dress up in World War II fascist uniforms, and pretend to fight each other.

We wondered who wrote the songs for Poison. Was it Bret Michaels or C.C. Deville? I told him that Slash had tried out for Poison but got cut. We tried to remember the titles of five Poison songs. Eric offered to play “Nothing but a Good Time” on Spotify and I begged him not to. I was already feeling fragile and on the border of being depressed from not enough sleep, and too much beer. We’d originally bonded years ago on tour in Europe over the accidental discovery of our shared fly by night love of Guns N’ Roses, who were the exception to the rule of bands from that glam rock period of the mid to late 1980s.

After this discovery, the rest of that European tour’s theme was a deep investigation of Guns N’ Roses music and its antecedents. It wasn’t really glam at all. It resisted codification, and in the words of the band members themselves, could have only been made by those five individuals. I suspected that most of the bands from that time period that were supposed to be rock and roll, or glam rock, or heavy metal, or whatever you want to call it, were actually assembled by cynical music industry people the same way they did for boy bands and girl groups. It was just a different costume, and a slightly seedier fantasy being sold. The Guns N’ Roses band, it’s later extravagancies not withstanding, were not a contrivance. On the contrary, in retrospect, there was something naive, and innocent about them.

That first tour Eric and I took was in the spring of 2011. Now we seemed to have drifted into a post ironic, post sincere period where we listened to music as scientists beyond the grave. Yesterday we heard a Velvet Underground show where the audience was scant and inattentive, and the band played all the songs aggressively too long and too slow. Today, Eric put on a cover of an old crooning song by the lead singer of Roxy Music.

We arrived in Kalamazoo early and in relatively good spirits. The show was to take place in the living room of an old house where two young women lived. The first was named Samantha. She was a musician who would be performing in Eight Belles, one of the other bands on the bill for the evening. She was dressed in short shorts and a t shirt I think. I liked how it seemed like an afterthought and not a choice. It was a very hot and humid evening. She was a violinist. Her demeanor was friendly and longing in a way that seemed to match the season. The other woman introduced herself as E.T. She wore a skirt and a t shirt. She was smart and defiant. I appreciated them both but didn’t feel like being seen, and so I offered to Eric to get us dinner from a nearby grocery. He gave me the car keys and I did so.

When I returned the stage at the far end of the living room had been set. Outside E.T. had arranged a merch table and place to charge admission by the door that led in from the back garden. Eric and I ate salad and tortilla chips in the kitchen while the first band played. It was a bearded man in a trucker hat who played guitar and sang sitting down. He went by Jimmie Bennet but that wasn’t his real name. This subtle adjustment of identity seemed to be an inside joke between himself and the more intimately acquainted members of the audience. His songs were clever and Samantha played violin with him.

Eight Belles went on second. The singer’s name was Jessie Phillips. We’d known her from San Francisco before she’d moved back to the midwest. She liked drinking whiskey and had a country music voice. After each song she raised her left arm diagonally like she’d just woken up. I liked the break up song she played a lot. She laughed and spilled half her beer on the floor.

There were over weight, middle aged music bloggers posted in the couches right by the stage. They had goatees and probably liked sci fi and / or Jesus. Eric said they were the type that always got to the show early. They drank sugar iced tea. They liked the music of young women, and I presumed wouldn’t care for us.

We played anyway. Samantha sat on the floor in the fanciful front row. E.T remained outside. The music bloggers stayed put on the couches, though I sensed I made them uncomfortable. The remainder of the crowd was polite, attentive, but perhaps leaning toward the exit. It was on the later side of a work night and the air in the room was stiflingly hot.

Afterwards a man with a t shirt for the punk band MDC said he really liked the show and bought a record from me. I walked from the house down to the car where Eric was packing up our gear. I told him about the punk man, and he said he knew that was going to be the one who’d like our music. We went over our performance while I smoked on the side walk, taking refuge from the social situation inside the house. Eric seemed happy and earnest in a way I was grateful for. It had been a long summer for me.

The girls were getting ready to go swimming in a lake when we returned to the house to say our good byes. They implored us to come a long but we declined, having a two hour drive back to Ypsilanti in front of us. I called Jessie on the way back and had her change my plane reservation at the end of tour to return to California sooner than I’d originally planned. She did so rapidly, I imagined while doing three other things at the same time, if not physically, then in her mind that moved so fast and far that I could hear it over the phone. I told her I’d text her when we reached Ypsilanti and we hung up. I didn’t want Eric to see me so emotionally vulnerable and had conducted the entire conversation with the side of my face pressed into the passenger side window. He definitely noticed. I spied his weary amusement illuminated by the dashboard lights glowing video game ghost blue behind the wheel.

When we arrived back in Ypsilanti at 1 am Erica was still awake. She told us she’d spoken to Annie on the phone that day. She said they’d talked about me. I cross examined her about the details, and she grew defensive. Eric said it’s best we let it go. Erica left the room with an eye roll. I took two beers from the refrigerator and went out to drink and smoke beneath the oak tree in the back yard. After that I brushed my teeth, and lay a quilt made of Eric’s childhood t shirts across the living room floor. Flourescent light from the grocery store across the street poured in through the window. The house was quiet but for the sounds of passing cars. I lay down on the blanket and tried to fall asleep.