Sara Gentry

Current Work Home

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel Close Enough.

There was a gas station on the corner, so I decided to get a drink before checking in. I made sure my car was locked and walked down there. It was already so hot, and the air conditioning inside the shop felt wonderful. It looked almost exactly the same inside as the Speedway at home. I don't know why I expected it to look different – because it looked so very different outside, I guess. It was a little emptier inside than I thought it would be; the parking lot was packed. I found the soda fountain area and filled a foam cup with Diet Coke. The opportunity for exercise might not present itself anytime soon, so I thought I probably shouldn't get started with sugar. I stopped myself from buying any of the nasty snacks that only sound good until you start chewing them and headed to the register. I was third in line, so I checked my e-mail on my phone. Another e-mail of disjointed and malevolent craziness from my father had arrived since I last checked.

"Cool shirt," I heard from behind me.

"Thanks," I mumbled, still looking at my e-mail. I was used to boys commenting on it, but I was in college, where everyone thinks they know about music. It was an original Guns N' Roses/Metallica tour shirt. Of course it was cool.

"You must have been the coolest little kid ever. Or maybe you just had the shittiest parents ever," the guy behind me said.

That made me turn around. This person clearly wasn't picking up on my patented anti-social vibe. "What?"

"Well, that tour was in 1992. I doubt you went, especially by yourself. But it looks really fuckin' old, so it might be real." This guy didn't look like the guys who usually tried to engage me in conversation about my band T-shirts – not at all. He was young, but scruffy, with long, long hair down to the middle of his back. It wasn't perfectly combed, but it wasn't ratty, either, and it was straight and golden blond. He had on a dirty white backwards baseball cap, a T-shirt for some pizza place I'd never heard of, roughed-up cargo shorts, and combat boots. His left arm had several bracelets, and the bottom half of a tattoo was peeking out from his right sleeve. He also had a foam cup full of pop, but it was yellow. Mountain Dew, I thought. Of course. I was impressed, but I didn't show it.

"It was my uncle's," I said, looking him straight in the eye. "He went to the show." I turned back around. There were still two people in front of me. Why does it take so long to check out at a gas station? I really wanted to get to my room and take a nap.

"I'm guessing you're not from L.A.," the guy said. This time I turned only my head.

"Nope."

"Yeah, you don't look like it. I'm sorry to tell you that you're not gonna find much music like that around here anymore."

"Yeah, I can imagine."

"Mostly hipster shit," he said. "People turning knobs and girls in striped shirts."

I laughed and turned back around. "Yeah, I hate that stuff."

"What are you here for?"

"I'm really not sure. I can't drive any farther west, I guess."

This time he laughed. "Yeah, I guess so. That's cool."

It was finally my turn to pay. I handed the clerk my loyalty card and a dollar.

"Here's your receipt," she said. "You earned a free drink."

"Thanks," I said. I turned around to the long-haired guy and handed him the coupon. "Here you go. I'm trying to quit."

He smiled and took it. "Thanks." I started to walk away, but he stopped me.

"Hold up! I can't use this fucker without your card thing." He was right.

After our transactions, we walked out together. I think he had been planning to walk the other direction, but he changed his mind when he saw which way I was going.

"So how'd you know I wasn't from L.A.?" I asked.

"Because you don't look like you're trying to impress anyone. The chicks out here either look all hipster or shallow and skanky."

"Well, thanks, I think."

"No problem. Where you staying?" He hesitated and looked at me. "Wait, is that weird? I'm not trying to stalk you. I've just never seen a girl in a shirt like that."

"I don't think you're going to stalk me. I don't think stalkers generally talk to the people right away, do they?" He laughed. "I'm gonna stay at this hostel up here."

He made a face. "Get a private room," he said.

"I'm going to. Are they dangerous?"

"I don't know. I've heard of people getting their shit stolen – that's all. I think the private rooms have lockers or deposit boxes or something. I mean, they're cheap places to stay on Sunset. It's not a fuckin' Bel Air mansion or anything."

"Where do you live?"

"With my band," he said. He looked proud, but also modest – not like he had been trying to work it into the conversation. "In the Valley."

"Well, I'm new to all this, but I know that means a little ways north of here. Where Cher gets held up in Clueless, right?"

His face went blank. "Um, I guess."

We walked in silence for a few paces, and when we got to the hostel, he turned to me. "My name's Josh, by the way. I'd be happy to show you around after you get settled in and unpack your shit or whatever. Do you know what time it is?"

I looked at my phone. "It's 3:30."

"Oh, shit. I have to go. Do you have something you can write your number down on? I don't have a cell phone, but my buddy does. I mean, it's kind of our band phone."

I rummaged through my bag, found a receipt and scribbled my number on the back of it.

I handed it to him. "My name's Leslie," I said.

He shoved it in his pocket. "Cool. I'll call you tomorrow. I gotta go." He smiled and hurried in the other direction, hair gleaming in the sun.

The glass door squeaked a little when I opened it. The place was a far cry from the swanky, modern hotels downtown or the luxurious ones in Beverly Hills, but it had A/C, and I could see a long line of computers down one wall. The sticker on the door said they had free WiFi, so I was excited about that. I registered with my school ID, got my parking pass, and headed back out to park in the lot, marveling at what an industry parking must be in a place like L.A.

The lot was a few buildings down, right on the corner, and it looked like it was shared by multiple businesses. I had to find a spot that was marked for the hostel. I decided to empty my car of pretty much everything, since I was leaving it nearly defenseless on a corner on Sunset Boulevard, which is not nearly as glamorous as it looks in your head. Today it was hot, dusty and busy. But I didn't know a soul there, and that was a relaxing thought. I clipped all my pieces of luggage together, hung various bags on my arms and made for my new temporary home, where just up a flight of stairs I found a surprisingly clean little room that I'd paid barely anything for. There was a full-size bed, a sink, a locker and a cheap full-length mirror. The floor was old, '60s or '70s commercial floor tile, but that was OK, because hotel carpets freaked me out a little. At least tile is easily cleaned. The room was rectangular, with the bed pushed up against a corner and the sink a few feet from the foot of it. The sheets were crisp and white, but I wasn't real wound up about the idea of using their blanket, so I made a mental note to go buy my own, along with a padlock. I'd probably also need a rolling rack, as there was no closet or even exposed piping to act as one.

I stacked my luggage in the corner, turned the window air conditioner down a bit and walked back to the door.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds. This time I was going to see it differently. When I reopened my eyes, I saw a cheerful room painted in a happy shade of aqua. The sink and its faucet were new and clean, the floor was spotless, and the bed looked pretty comfortable. And it wasn't tiny. There was even a little bit of a view from the window. I could live here for the next four weeks (at which point I'd have to stay somewhere else for at least one night before checking back in, they said).

I dug an afghan out of one of my bags and settled into a nap.

 

The next day I decided to check out Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach. After a shockingly long bus ride aboard a shockingly long bus, I disembarked the enormous vehicle and meandered through the carnivalesque atmosphere. Unlike the area of Sunset that I was now marginally familiar with, this area was even better than I'd pictured it. It was still early when I got there, so it wasn't overrun by pedestrians. I walked and walked, sometimes on the sand, sometimes on the boardwalk and sometimes on the street. I ate delicious street food, looked at imitation designer sunglasses and listened to busking musicians. There really were girls roller-skating in bikinis. I saw street performers of all kinds; they were juggling, singing, lifting heavy things, guessing people's weights and ages, being one-man bands. I couldn't believe it. Face-painters were decorating the faces of little kids with intricate designs that I would be sad to wash off, and henna artists were adorning beach-goers of all ages with temporary tattoos. It was like a really laid-back, year-round carnival that happened to be attached to a beautiful beach. It looked nothing like the scary, crime-riddled wasteland my parents made L.A. out to be.

When my shoulders were getting too pink and my feet were beginning to ache, I decided to take a bus back to my new digs. For the first few blocks, I had to stand, but it emptied out once we got farther from the beach. As I settled into a seat, there was less to look at, and my mind wandered back home. I still hadn't told anyone where I was, and no one had bothered to ask. The only person who knew my whereabouts was that Josh guy from the gas station. The spazzier side of me thought that sounded like a TV movie waiting to happen, but the side of me that just needed a fucking break thought it sounded totally liberating. But at some point, I reasoned with myself, I was going to have to explain to someone in my family where I was. I didn't really have an excuse for being there. I had thought about looking for some kind of magazine or PR internship, but I also liked the idea of just floating on the money I had saved. It was possible, especially with the bargain-basement price I was paying for lodging. Part of me couldn't believe what I was getting away with, but I suppose that had a lot to do with the oppression in which I'd grown up. I hadn't checked my e-mail in almost 24 hours – maybe I wouldn't check it all summer! No, said the spaz, I could get something from school. I should check it at least every few days. And I knew I would. It was just a fluke that I hadn't.

My mom, I knew, would just assume I was still in Bloomington at my apartment. I hadn't said when I was coming home, but eventually they'd wonder. I decided to just wait until then.

I was pretty pooped, so I grabbed a couple tacos from a walk-up place near my hostel and made my way back to my cool, relaxing and now very welcoming little room. I thought about getting a bulletin board or something for keepsakes. Maybe just a little box. The only thing I really had from that day was my ticket from the Ferris wheel at the pier, but I knew I'd end up with lots of mementos. It was only Day 2 of my adventure. I started to contemplate a shower. I'd taken one last night after my nap, and the facilities weren't too bad. My previous experiences with hostels included a shower that backed up and left you standing in your own (and others') dirty water, but this one apparently had clear enough pipes. The bathrooms were scattered about the place, but because I'd had success with the one nearest my door, I decided to go back to that one. The housekeeper had come in while I was gone, and I had a fresh-smelling white towel folded atop my clean sheets. I was just starting to grab the bathroom kit I'd assembled the previous night when my phone rang. It was an 818 number, and that meant absolutely nothing to me. I hesitated for a second, hoping it wasn't my annoyingly resourceful dad, but I decided to pick it up. I could always hang up on him.

"Hello?"

"Leslie?" It was a male.

"Yes…" I dragged out the word questioningly.

"It's Josh." I started a little. I didn't expect to actually hear from the grungy, but very nice and smiley, supposed musician. Not that grungy bothered me. More boys should be grungy.

"Oh, hi, Josh! I was confused about the area code."

"Oh, yeah, you're probably not used to that yet. If you want to put it in your phone, it's technically my buddy Nick's number. Nick Dunne. Anyway, I was just calling you because we have a show tonight, at the Blimp."

"The Blimp?"

"Oh, sorry. It's called the Blues Emporium. People call it the Blimp. Get it?"

"OK. What time?"

"Well, we'll probably go on around 9 –" There was a scuffle, and he started talking to someone else. "Dude, I'm pretty sure it's 9. I'll tell her to come earlier and hang out anyway." He returned to the phone. "Sorry, they're telling me they think it's earlier, but I was going to ask you to come hang out before and after anyway. It's usually a really good time. What's your last name? I'll put you on our list. You just tell them and they'll let you come back."

"Gerber. Like the baby stuff."

"OK, I'm writing it on my hand. Anyway, we'll get there at like 6, so you're welcome to show up anytime after that. But before 8! Because we might go on at 8," he emphasized again. "Oh, and it's just right down the street from you. I mean, I know it's a long street, but it's on Sunset. You might want to take the bus. It would be kind of a long walk. But we might be able to squish you in and give you a ride home." He started talking to someone else again. "Fuck you, dude. Shut up. We can give her a ride home." He paused and then laughed. "Shut up. Go away." I waited for him to return to our conversation. "Sorry, Leslie. Are you still there?"

"I'm here."

"Sorry. They're assholes. Anyway, it's on the Strip, kinda by Larrabee. Not quite as far as the Whisky from you. If you get close, you'll see the sign, I think. Just go to the window and tell them who you are." He started arguing with someone again. "No, dude, we're not putting Brittany on the list. She is annoying as fuck." He paused. "I don't care if she wants to blow all of us. She's a bitch." I could tell he was trying to cover up the phone for that last part, but I could make out what he was saying. I heard the unmistakable sound of someone uncovering the mouthpiece of a phone, and he came back. "Sorry again. Anyway, will you come?"

"Sure. It's what? About 4. I'll head that way in a couple hours. Am I going to be pleasantly surprised?"

"What? Oh, with our band? Yeah, I hope so."

"Cool. See you then. Oh – thanks for inviting me!"

"No problem. Cool. Later." He hung up.

Now a shower was absolutely necessary. As I soaped up and washed off the sand and pollution from the day (you really do feel it), I tried to decide on an outfit. I have a strict rule about not dressing up to concerts – definitely no heels – so that narrowed things down a bit.

It's not too often that you find yourself headed to an event full of people you've never met – like absolutely full of them. I'd talked to Josh for about 5 minutes, so that didn't really count as knowing him. He seemed like a nice, harmless guy with that sweet aura of wanting to impress without any arrogance. Of course, I hoped he'd have some arrogance onstage, or the show would probably suck. It was also rare for me to see eye to eye with anyone on music, especially people my own age (or near it). But it was also possible that our agreements would end with Metallica and Guns N' Roses. I suspected he was a couple years older than me, but he might not have been. I always felt younger and less experienced than others. I'm not sure why. I was just convinced they had seen more of the world or been through more shit than I had.

I did the messy bun thing with my hair, because it would probably be really hot in there, and the smoky eye thing with my makeup. Then I decided on a ripped-up jean skirt, an old Harley Davidson tank top and some well-worn, faded black Keds. I piled on the bracelets, as usual – silver bangles and multicolored braided ones, a few that were just chains. I looked in the full-length mirror so generously provided by my hosts. It was one of those mirrors they put on sale for $5 just before college move-in. It was a little wavy, like a funhouse mirror, so I kept that in mind as I surveyed what I'd done to myself. How was I presenting myself to a large crowd of people who knew nothing at all about me? Girls think about these things. I roughed up my caramel-brown bun a little more, and then decided I was OK with how I would be perceived. Sometimes if you go overboard with the rock and roll vibe, it looks contrived. But I didn't think I'd gone over the top. I looked at my phone. It was 5:30 now. I decided to head out.

I had once stayed in a hostel with a door that not only didn't like to lock, but didn't like to latch. So I had become very conscious of the state of my door when I left it. I walked away a couple times, coming back to stare at the knob, wiggle it and confirm that it truly was locked. It was. Now in this mood, I decided to check my car. It was a little down the street in the direction opposite to where I was going, but not by much. I had checked it that morning, and all was well. I had agonized a little the day before about whether I should take my car keys with me when I ventured out into the city and decided that I should. I wasn't likely to remove them from my bag, and I was even less likely to leave them somewhere. Maybe once I got a lock for that locker I would reconsider their level of safety in my room.

My car was fine. I beeped it a couple times with the key remote and very carefully put the keys into a little pocket of my bag. Then I set off toward the concert. I felt silly thinking I was heading to "the Sunset Strip." I knew it wouldn't look like old photos from a Motley Crue book or something. It would look like a city street with a few theaters, bars and unrelated businesses like cell phone stores and dry cleaners. I had only been half paying attention that morning when the bus passed the iconic landmarks, but I remembered seeing the Whisky and the Comedy Store.

I got off the bus in front of a Subway. Consistent with what I'd noticed all over L.A., there were signs and billboards everywhere. The light poles had little flags commemorating the area, which made me feel very young and, in a way, left out. I was happy to see that the Blues Emporium was a shitty-looking building with posters and stickers covering the windows. It wasn't like I'd expected a slick and shiny, brand-new building, but I didn't want it to look too conventionally cool. It didn't. It looked like anything could be in there, from a sketchy dentist's office to a consignment clothing store. You know, except for all the fliers and stuff. The "marquee" was a rectangular sign that didn't look like it had been changed for a while. The letters were falling off, and the words were incomplete. Even the sign was crappy. I smiled.

Just inside the glass door, there was a little window that served as the box office. A grumpy-looking, middle-aged guy (he was the opposite of stereotypical L.A., for sure) sitting behind it grunted when I walked up.

"Um, hi," I said. He looked at me. "I'm on the list… Leslie Gerber."

"What list?"

"For the band."

"Which band?"

I realized I didn't even know what the name of Josh's band was. I felt really, really dumb. "Actually," I said, "I don't know. How many are there? There can't be that many."

He looked annoyed, but I only saw a few pieces of paper with boy handwriting on them. It wasn't Coachella; surely there were only three or four acts at the very most. It was a Thursday night. He shuffled through them. His breathing was loud and labored, and I noticed a pack of Pall Malls sitting near his keyboard. Maybe he should quit that. "You don't know the name of the band who put you on their list?"

I decided to own it. "Nope," I said confidently. He was still shuffling, but I think it was just for show. He was sitting on a stool in an air-conditioned room. His lot wasn't that terrible.

"Giraffe," he said.

"Excuse me?" Had he just said, "giraffe"? I thought. I wasn't sure how to respond to him.

"That's the band. Giraffe. Give me your wrist." I offered my wrist, and he put a papery bracelet around it. "Giraffe," I thought. I was kind of impressed. It wasn't all L.A.-ish – whatever that meant in my brain. He asked to see my ID, and I showed him that too. I returned it carefully to its slot in my wallet and stood there, looking at him. He stared back.

"Where do I go?" I asked.

He looked at me as if I should know. I didn't even know the name of the band. C'mon, guy. "They might be out back. But you can stay to the left and go down that long hall." I looked at the hall, which was kind of scary and fluorescently lit. It reminded me of the hall where the bathrooms are at a mall. "Turn right when you get to the very end."

"Thank you!" I smiled at him and acted as if he'd been really helpful. He hadn't. And I don't think he was even looking at me.

As I walked down the hall, I could hear heavy things being moved around somewhere. I could also hear The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" playing softly. As I got closer to the end of the hall, Mick and Keith faded and some heavy metal picked up strength. It sounded like Pantera. At the end of the hall, there were dirty swinging doors with semi-circle metal push plates. I used my foot to push it open. What was behind them was kind of a cross between a dirty warehouse and a high school band room. There was various music and sound equipment sitting around, but the floor was concrete, and there were lawn chairs scattered about. Beer cans were sitting on shelves and boxes. I saw some gear cases with GIRAFFE stenciled on them in white. I could hear guys laughing, so I followed the sounds outside, where there were six men (four young, two at least 35 or so) smoking cigarettes on a loading dock. One of them whistled, and I saw a head of long, golden hair jerk around.

"Leslie! You came! What's up?" Josh jumped up and walked toward me, tossing his cigarette behind him. He started to give me a hug, but very obviously felt weird and kind of patted my back. This time he was wearing a cheesy Las Vegas souvenir tank top, jeans cut off at the knees and the same combat boots. He still hadn't shaved. He looked at me as if he expected me to say something, but I didn't have anything to say. So I looked at him, looked at the rest of the guys, and looked back at him.

"Oh, right. Sorry. Shit. Guys, this is Leslie."

One of them was sitting on the ground and said, "The Metallica girl?"

"Yeah." The rest of the guys looked puzzled. "She was wearing an original Guns N' Roses and Metallica tour shirt when I met her yesterday." They didn't seem nearly as impressed as he wanted them to be. "Anyway, this is Nick, the drummer; Jamie, bass player; Jason, the singer. And these two guys work here – Steve and Mike.

Nick, the one who had been sitting on the ground, stood up and shook my hand. He had long, dark hair – though not as long as Josh's, and it was rattier – and he was wearing basketball shorts and a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. Jamie was almost pretty, and he sort of waved at me. He had on ratty, cut-off khakis and an old work shirt that said "Danny" on the name patch. He was tan, and his hair was shorter and dark blond with bleached out spots, but still overgrown, and chaotically curly. Jason was on the phone, arguing with someone. As he spoke, his cigarette bounced up and down, and I found myself waiting for it to fall from its precarious position between his lips. He looked like a frustrated and very scruffy little boy. He was wearing jeans and Chucks, but I couldn't tell what was on his black T-shirt. He nodded at me. The two venue guys were wearing black jeans and black T-shirts. I imagined that was probably their unofficial uniform.

"Do you ride?" the Steve guy asked.

"Um, what?"

"Your shirt. Do you ride?" He pointed at my shirt with his cigarette-holding hand.

"Oh," I laughed. "No. I'm a poseur. I just really like Harley stuff. Iconic, you know?"

It was quiet again for a few beats. I felt awkward. I could hear a girl on the other end of Jason's conversation. He hadn't said anything for a minute or two.

"You want a beer?" Josh asked. He looked cheerful but nervous.

"Um, sure." I followed him back inside to an old refrigerator with a loud rattle. Everything in there looked like it came from a service station. I expected to smell motor oil everywhere, but instead it smelled kind of bleachy and sweaty.

"Sorry, all we've got is Miller Lite."

"That's OK. I like most beer."

He laughed. "You're going to fit in just fine," he said, and turned to walk back outside.

When we got back out there, an old station wagon was pulling up. Some young guys in skinny jeans and black tank tops got out. A few of them had facial piercings. My first instinct was to snub them, but the Giraffe guys seemed glad to see them. They bumped fists and had little half-hugs all around. Then they started unloading a bunch of gear from the car and carrying it past us into the back room area.

"That's the first band," Josh said to me. "Shining Example." He lowered his voice. "You don't have to watch them. They're good guys most of the time, but their music is about like they look."

I smiled knowingly. "Yeah, I get it. You see a lot of that in Indiana too."

He pulled a couple patio chairs over and motioned for me to sit. "Is that where you're from? Indiana?"

"Yep." I cracked open my beer.

"Do you, like, live on a farm? Do you have corn and shit?"

"No. I'm from right around Indianapolis. No farms in my town. But we eat a lot of corn. There are lots of farms by where I go to school, I guess."

"Which is where?"

"IU."

"Oh, like Bobby Knight."

"Yeah, a long time ago. I don't even know who the coach is now. I don't really pay attention."

He pulled out another cigarette. "Want one?" I shook my head.

"So when does the show start?"

"Fuckin' 9:00. I told them."

"I told you," Nick said, from a few feet away. Josh flipped him off, and Nick kicked his chair. They both laughed.

"Well, the other band goes on at 8. But we'll just hang out back here." He turned back to look at them stacking their gear up inside. "Hey, Caleb! You gotta move your shit. They'll tow you," he yelled. One of the skinny jean boys came out with keys jangling and hopped in the station wagon. "It's really fucking glamorous backstage, huh?" He smiled.

I feigned an insulted look. "Hey, this isn't my first time backstage, bro."

He laughed. "Yeah, I didn't think it was."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I laughed and smacked his arm, which I could now see had an intricate, Day-of-the-Dead-style skull tattoo on it.

He raised his eyebrows. "Whatever." After taking a long, jokingly arrogant drag, he said, "No. I'm just kidding. I just mean I'm sure you've been to lots of shows. You seem like you have good taste in music. Hopefully you'll like us. We need more girls around. Oh, remind me to get you a shirt."

We sat there for a few moments in silence again. I was so bad at small talk, and he was a boy. I didn't normally want to talk to the ones who were good at it. For some reason, I didn't like his comment about needing more girls around. I hated the idea of being one of a group of girls – some faceless ponytail. Jason had finally hung up, and he tossed the cell phone to Nick.

"Fucking Hannah," Jason said, shaking his head and lighting up again. "She wants me to come pick her up, but I'm not fucking doing it. It's not my fault she went someplace in the canyon to get high with Janine. They can both fuck off."

He looked at me. "Sorry." I just kind of smiled at him half-heartedly. He intimidated me a little. He was very skinny, and now I could see that he had on a Michael Jackson shirt. His hair was dark brown – almost black – and it was tousled and wavy, just long enough to put behind his ears. His voice was lower than I'd expected – I think because he was kind of whimpering while he was on the phone. And because he was so very thin. He had tattoos on the insides of his forearms, but I couldn't tell what they were.

I tried to start talking to Josh again. He seemed the most open to conversation. Nick was lying on his back on the ground, looking at his phone, and Jamie hadn't said a word to me.

"The guy at the door was really nice," I offered.

He looked shocked. "He was?"

"No. He thought I was a complete idiot because I didn't know the name of the band whose list I was on."

He laughed. "Oh. Yeah, I guess that's a weird situation. I should have told you."

"That's OK. Why are you called Giraffe?"

"Well, before I moved here, they were called Dead Sunshine, which is just about the dumbest fucking name EVER," he raised his voice and directed those last words toward Nick.

"Fuck you, man." He kept scrolling through his phone.

"Anyway, and then we weren't really any good, so every time we played a show, we used a different fucking name. Like nonsense shit. Shillenmik. Dundengretter. That way we were playing, but we weren't getting a reputation for sucking."

"That's pretty smart."

"I guess. I don't know if it made any difference. Now we're Giraffe because it doesn't mean anything but a weird-fucking-looking animal. It's not some romantic sounding thing about seasons, and it's not The Giraffes, and it's not trying to sound hardass. We aren't like Wild Ass-Kicking Boar or some shit. It's just a word."

"I like that."

"This town is overrun with hipsters and all this weird stuff that emo turned into – like it wasn't bad enough to start with." He motioned with his thumb toward the guys inside. "I just hate it. But it's a necessary evil, you know?" He flicked his cigarette. "You have to be here to get seen. I wasn't going to get anywhere staying in Tonopah, Nevada."

"Is that where you're from?"

"Yep."

 

At a quarter to nine, the band started getting their gear ready. I suddenly felt not only awkward, but in the way. I didn't want to ask what to do, so I just found my way back out into the audience. The place had no seats and sloped down toward the stage. There was a bar at the back and two stands with merchandise being sold for the two bands. The Giraffe shirts were just black with a white silhouette of a giraffe. They also had a stack of CDs and a few stickers and buttons. I got a beer from the bar and made my way down front. The guys were checking their tunings and getting themselves situated.

I suddenly realized I was also a little nervous. I had relaxed in the course of sitting outside with them – Jamie had even talked to me a little. The Hannah and Janine girls had shown up, and I could see why Jason wasn't going to go out of his way to pick them up from wherever they were. Hannah, Jason's girlfriend, was a tiny little thing. She had medium-length blonde hair in messy, braided pigtails and wore a long, patchy skirt with a handkerchief top. And she smoked and giggled a lot. Janine was kind of chubby, and she had on jeans and a Beatles T-shirt. She seemed dumb, and I got the feeling that Josh wasn't very fond of either of them. More friends and girls had filtered in, but Josh sat with me until it was time for him to set up, at which point he got very serious and told me he'd see me out there. He didn't seem nervous anymore, but I was. I liked these guys, and I realized that I was kind of hoping to spend a lot of time with them. I didn't have any plans till August, and they didn't act like they had any plans past their next gig. If I was appalled or even annoyed by Giraffe, I would forever see them with a jaundiced eye. I wanted to at least like the music that was about to be played for me.

I surveyed the crowd, hoping to glean some information on what I was about to hear. It didn't yield much. It looked like there were some leftover fans from the first group, but there were people of all kinds, from Abercrombie types to spiky-collar wearers. And, I realized, there were hundreds of them. A strange feeling of pride surged through me, even though I had no reason at all to feel pride for this group of guys I'd known for a couple hours.

I turned back around and looked at Josh fiddling with his equipment. His look of seriousness was endearing to me. We had talked a little about music, and we seemed to be in agreement about the greats. I was a little more gung-ho on The Beatles (I kind of wanted to slap Janine and her Revolver shirt), and he was a little more passionate about AC/DC and Kiss, but we certainly met in the middle on Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Bowie. And I could tell we both ached with adoration for Seattle bands.

I noticed both he and Jason had microphones, and I surmised that he must do a little backup singing. He hadn't mentioned that. Nick was doing that thing drummers do, tapping the drums in succession – I assume to check how they were set up and miked. Jason was smoking a cigarette and drinking a bottle of water, staring out at the crowd. They all looked perfectly comfortable with what they were about to do.

Suddenly the lights went down, and they were starting. The first song they played was an attack from the start; the riff was abrasive and a little bit sick-sounding, and Jason's vocals were loud and warbling. They all looked as if they were fighting a battle, and I noticed a lot of the people in the crowd were singing along.

When it was over, Jason took his shirt off and tossed it onto the drum riser. Then he approached the microphone. "Thanks," he said, running his hand through his hair and waiting for the cheers to die down. "We're Gee-raff. This next song is called 'Putting Up With It.'" More cheers. I could feel the crowd pulsing forward, and it occurred to me that this wasn't just some fledgling local band. These guys had a following. And they looked like rock stars. Jason hung on the mic stand, and Josh's guitar ripped through the songs, sometimes droning and sometimes buzzing like a saw. Jamie was eye-candy. I was sure he had his own little following. He looked all brooding and bard-like, but with a little bit of a vintage-surfer vibe. And Nick, from what you could see of him, was just smashing the life out of his drums. He had also removed his T-shirt, and his hair was in a ponytail on top of his head.

The songs they played were relentless, without a ballad in sight. They weren't whining about girls or posing for the camera; they were kicking ass, and there was real pain and aggression in what Jason was singing.

About six songs in, Josh locked eyes with me and nodded. He walked forward a couple steps and rested one foot on his monitor. Right about then, Jason said, "Here's a cover. You might not know it." And I heard the first few notes of "Times of Trouble," by Temple of the Dog. My heart filled with joy – not only was it a song I loved, it was finally a song I knew the words to. I screamed and jumped up and down, disregarding the fact that I was one of the few people screaming and jumping up and down for this song. He was right; we were going to get along just fine.

After the show, I waited while people filed out. The band milled around and packed up their gear. When he saw me, Josh pointed me over to where I could climb a short set of steps to the stage. He looked confident and exhilarated (and sweaty). "So, how'd you like it?"

"Oh, my God," I said, not caring that I sounded like a little preteen girl. "I loved it. It was great! You guys are great! And I mean, not to be insulting, but I didn't expect you to have such a crowd. You guys are a real thing!" I wanted to hug him, but we didn't know each other well enough for a sweat-soaked hug.

He smiled sheepishly. "It's really started to pick up heat the last few months."

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