Peter and I both woke up too late to make it to our 10 a.m. classes the next day- his sole obligation and, after I decided to ditch my only lecture of the day, mine too- and blearily needled each other over our behavior the previous night. I mostly played along to humor him, because I’d decided to act on an impulse I’d suppressed all week. My roommate had just started in about my hapless exchange with Francesca (who’d just passed by with an eye-roll for me) when I cut him off.
“I think I’ll go downtown today,” I said abruptly.
“Really?” he answered, rolling with it. “May I ask why?”
“My ex,” I said, and Peter groaned. “No no,” I clarified, “only because of what I told you Nadia said about the impossibility of me ever rocking out onstage.”
“Ah. And so…”
“And so,” I continued, “I am going to catch the bus to Jensen Guitars and purchase the Fender J-Bass that I’ve coveted for over, like, five years.”
Peter looked briefly surprised. “That so? Bass guitar?”
“Yep,” I nodded. “Not to, like, take lessons or play professionally or anything.”
“Oh, I see. You just want to pull chicks.”
“You’re a real booster, dude. No, seriously, I’ve wanted to play for a while, and wouldn’t be totally green either. Used to play violin in school, and made do with my stepdad’s warped old acoustic guitar, too.”
“Okay,” said Peter, “and speaking of- how much of his money will you be pouring into this indulgence?”
“Less than he’d miss,” I said. “Maybe there’ll be a used one.”
“For your sake, I hope so. Then I’ll let Geddy and Sting know they’d better make room for the great Roy Reed.”
“Fuck you,” I said, punching his shoulder. “That was pretty damn low, man. Have a heart.”
“I know,” he laughed, “but I refuse to endure, like, endless Flea and Primus impressions. Please tell me you’ll use the volume knob.”
“I’ll think about it,” I shot back, “Just for you.”
“Hey thanks. Let’s go get you a bass, then.”
We sat and chewed for a few minutes, and I took the opportunity to glance quickly around the dining hall to find Francesca, who’d settled over in the far corner with four Filipino guys from another dorm. They were talking and laughing away, too distant to pick up details.
“Oh hey,” said Peter suddenly, “I just remembered- wanted to tell you that there’s a band opening for Cool Water Canyon at I.V.B.C. tomorrow night. The Screaming Mimes. Local guys. You’d dig ’em. Saw a show last quarter at Giovanni’s on a weekend you’d gone home.
“Um, okay,” I shrugged, trying to sound interested. I’d been gradually absorbing the small galaxy of local talent, and lack thereof, in an ever-widening circle of envy, but I hadn’t heard of these guys yet.
“Just a bar-rock band,” he said. “Goofy white guys crunching like it’s 1966, but not bad.”
“Cool. Fake I.D.s?”
Peter shook his head. “Nah- they’ll stamp us, but as you know I have other methods of mayhem. I’d like to see your stoned pool game, dude.”
“I bet you would. Maybe I’ll lose even faster.” My eyes wandered over to Francesca’s corner again. “I think I’m gonna try and recruit somebody to come along. Is Alex going too?”
“Yeah,” said Peter, catching my drift, “he’ll be trying to reel in someone too. I’ll be the only one, um, actually listening to the music.”
“If she wants to even come,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant about it and gathering up my tray. “Come on, we better split if we want to catch the bus downtown.”
We missed the express, but still caught the slower route down Hollister and State instead of the freeway. Peter became lost in thought, silently gazing out the window, and I leafed non-comitally through the only book in my bag, a munched copy of Gatsby. The number twelve line seemed to stop every minute or so, and by the time we made it to the Carillo Street station, it was mid-afternoon and the bus had been stiflingly crowded since the mall at La Cumbre. Once on the street, we actually had to backtrack a bit on De la Vina, since by going all the way downtown we’d overshot the mark by several blocks.
The hike was good, though; we got a pizza at Topper’s before stopping in at Jensen to gawk at the gear on display in the cozy guitar shop. I did get a good deal on a used bass guitar, $185 for the Fender J that I craved, plus another $200 for a miniscule fifteen-watt amp, and we were able to catch the number 24 express back to campus. Later that night I had to exert a massive effort to switch off the little amp and stop playing. Peter was already getting his beauty sleep, so I quietly coiled the cable and carefully leaned my new guitar against the desk. I was still looking at tiny details in the red tortoise-shell pickguard when I fell asleep.
I waited almost all of the next day to bug Francesca about the Mimes show, going to her room around five, saying I’d meet Peter in the dining commons later and tell him how it went. I walked down the hall slowly, rehearsing what I’d say, and rejecting most of it. From three doors away, I could see that she’d long since erased my stupid message on her little white board. I stood still, working up the guts to knock for about a minute. When I did, her sharp “Who is it?” followed a bit too long after.
“Roy,” I said, feeling like a trespasser. I could hear her scuffling around inside, and it took her a while to actually open the door, but when she did she looked agreeable enough.
“Hey,” she said through the cracked door, her body wedged in the small opening. Her face looked flushed, and she wore a faded Smashing Pumpkins “Zero” shirt, with sweatpants cut off above her bare ankles and feet. “So what’s up?”
I stammered like a child. “Uh… well, um, I’m not interrupting you or anything, am I?”
She smiled weakly, running her hand through her short blond, boyish hair. “Yeah, actually. Can I, like, come back over to your room in maybe half an hour or something?”
Now I blushed. I was thirteen again, striking out on dance dates. “Sure!” I said a little too loudly. “Yeah, sure. You know it, right? It’s room fourteen twen-”
“I know,” she said, shushing me. “Look, I can’t talk right now, okay? I’ll see you later.” She half-smiled again and disappeared behind the door. I returned to my room quickly. Peter had gone, so I sat on my bed and watched the red digits on his alarm change sluggishly for about ten minutes. I switched on the amp and plugged in my bass to distract myself, trying to remember the “Jungle Boogie” line I’d been learning that afternoon. Got back up to prop my door a little. Went through the whole song about six times before I heard a soft knock, looked up, and saw Francesca slip around the door without touching it. She was still wearing the same clothes, but with a zip-up sweatshirt too.
“Hi.” She blushed again. “Sorry about before. I, um, have my boyfriend over for a few days, and we-”
“No no,” I said, raising my arms peremptorily. “Forget it. I’m sorry I barged in like that.”
She giggled. “You didn’t barge anywhere, Roy. I didn’t give you a chance to.”
“Um, right. And, uh, I’m sorry about writing on your board like that.”
Her eyes widened and she smiled broadly. “I thought that was you!” She giggled some more. “Had to erase it, though- I didn’t think my boyfriend would appreciate it.”
“Probably not, and I’ll bet he wasn’t thrilled to hear some other guy knocking on your door while… um…”
She lightly brushed it off. “Whatever. Hadi- Farhad, I mean- he needs to get over a lot, the sooner the better.”
“Farhad?” I asked.
“Persian,” she said, “like Iran.”
“Of course,” I said, “Iran. Ayatollahs, Satanic Verses, terrorism, three-thousand-years-of-high-civilization-ruined-by-Greeks Iran, right?”
She laughed. “Well, he claims royal descent, but he’s lived in L.A. most of his life, so go figure. And anyway, he’s not religious or crazy either.”
“Okay,” I said, not really interested in him at all. I could stare at her eyes and almost not feel like a lecherous swine. I bent down to unplug my bass, she said, “No, leave it- I like how it sounds.”
“Well, most people either don’t care or don’t like it,” I said, surprised. “It’s not glamorous or flashy like a regular guitar.”
She feigned outrage. “Not glamorous? Not even when women play it, like in Talking Heads and Sonic Youth and the Pixies and,” she pointed at her shirt, “the Pumpkins?”
“Well, okay,” I conceded, “but they’re all prettier than me.”
“Oh, that’s debatable,” she said matter-of-factly.
I tried not to look flattered. “Don’t let your boyfriend hear that,” I said. Before she could reply, I kept going. “Actually, that’s kinda what’s up. My roommate and some friends and I are going over to I.V.B.C. tonight to see some bands, and, um, I wanted to maybe make up for my previously oblivious behavior. Wanna come?”
“You’re funny,” she smiled. “Don’t worry about that night, but I can’t tonight, Roy, I’m sorry. My boyfriend’s only gonna be up here for the weekend and I promised I’d spend it with him before he drives back down to Glendale.”
“Oh, okay.” The rejection dissipated as Francesca began talking about bands and music again, maybe trying to soften the blow. We’d put on some CDs as we talked, making it through Morphine and their two-string-slide-bassist to Meshell Ndegeocello and her sensuous funk when my roommate came back from dinner, so I introduced them (“Please, guys,” she’d said again, “call me Frankie”) before she made her excuses all over again. She smiled politely at Peter’s faux-melodramatic concern at her rejection, and after she left my roommate and I shamelessly began to chemically enhance the remaining hours before going to the show.