May 21, 2009
I fucking love the Walkmen.
Do you know the Walkmen?
If you don’t, you should. I would embed a video clip for their greatest (or anyway best-known) song, “The Rat,” if I knew how. Brad, how do I do this? I’m a technical moron, and undoubtedly a moron in other ways, as the following will demonstrate.
Last night the Walkmen played in L.A. Well, technically, as I write this, it was yesterday — Wednesday — night.
I couldn’t go. I had to work. I just got a part-time job as a pizza maker/delivery guy. That’s how bad things are at the moment. I’ve been making my living as a writer for years, and now I’ve hit a wall. It’s probably a temporary wall, but it’s a wall, due entirely to America’s current economic crisis.
Thanks, all you people who couldn’t afford houses but insisted on buying them! Thanks, all you real-estate brokers for setting up deals you knew wouldn’t pan out! You guys are the best!
It’s not that I mind, y’know, working a “job” job; it’s just that I’m a bit rusty at that kind of thing, having been out of the non-freelance world for some time. And of course these pizzeria people put me on the schedule on one of two nights when I absolutely could not work: Wednesday, when the Walkmen were in town (the other being Thursday, when I’m doing a reading from my recently-published novel). And I wanted to give the Walkmen a copy of said novel, because I listened to their music constantly during my final year of work on it, and also because I know they’re literate guys, even though I don’t know them personally. I know they’re literate because I’ve repeatedly read that they’ve been writing a novel together. All of them. Collectively. Which, in rock & roll terms, makes them very literate. It makes them practically lit professors. Almost no rocker types read, let alone attempt to write novels, collectively or not.
Anyway, I go to work at the pizzeria, and something is wrong with my brain. I mean, I keep forgetting everything. I rush out the door without the address of the place where I’m supposed to deliver, only to discover I’m missing it fifteen minutes later, when the pizzeria calls to say, “Hey, do you know where you’re going? You can’t, because you left the bill here.” And I get lost. Repeatedly. I end up delivering one guy’s pizzas two hours late, because I can’t find his goddamned street, and he’s called the pizzeria to complain. I don’t remember to get someone else to sign her credit-card thing. I’m making mistake after mistake, and I just know I’m going to get fired after working only two days. And I surely will; I just haven’t heard about it yet.
Meantime, as I’m rushing about lost and forgetting everything, my friend Bryce texts me with: “You working tonight? I’m going over to see the Walkmen and I have a plus-one.” I text him back: “Yes, I’m fucking working.” He texts me again, from the show: “Wow, what a set of pipes.” (This refers to the tremendous voice of the Walkmen frontman, Hamilton Leithauser, which has to be heard live to be fully appreciated.) I text Bryce back: “Fuck you. Fuck off.”
Then, mercifully, my shift ends, and I decide I’m going to drive home, get a copy of my book, and drive over to the El Rey theater, where the Walkmen are playing, and give them that copy of my book, even if I didn’t get to see the show.
I charge down the freeway. I’ve almost never driven this fast. I’m driving like Steve McQueen in Bullitt. I park about three blocks from the El Rey and walk up. Bryce, amazingly, is outside the El Rey with two girls. It’s only amazing because Bryce is in front of the El Rey, not because he’s with two girls. Bryce is annoyingly handsome. Here’s a picture of him doing something very peculiar with a drumstick:
“Where’s the Walkmen?” I ask him.
“They were just here two seconds ago,” he says. “They were standing right here.”
“Where did they go?”
“I don’t know. I mean, literally, two seconds ago, they were all standing here.”
I explain my insane scheme to give them a copy of my novel. Then one of the two girls says, “Oh, hey, there’s the drummer.”
“Don’t look,” I say to them, immediately before walking over to the drummer, who’s getting into somebody’s car with cymbals underarm. I say “Don’t look” because I’m very embarrassed to be seen doing what I’m about to do. I mean, it’s so teenaged.
But I do it. I walk over to the drummer and say, “Hey, I just wanted to give you this,” and explain why. “I was listening to you guys like a motherfucker while I was working on it,” I say. “You’re even thanked in the back.” (Which they are, along with a hundred other people, including those who did real labor on the book, editing and proofreading and so on, as well as people who inspired me, even when in some cases I don’t personally know them.)The drummer seems almost touched, at first. He introduces himself.
“Matt,” he says.
“Duke,” I say. I know I should leave it at that, but I keep talking. As I say, something isn’t right with my brain. I don’t linger too long, but a transaction such as this one should be as brief as possible.
“We’ll read it,” he tells me. I hate the sound of that “we.” It sounds so impersonal, as if he knows I want the others to read the book as well, which I do, but still, who wants to feel like part of a targeted group instead of just himself?
I walk back to Bryce and the girls.
“I’m an idiot,” I say. “I fucked it all up.”
“Noooooooooo,” say the girls, meaning it, as girls, bless their hearts, often do by way of consolation.
“You’re just saying that,” I say, knowing they’re only consoling me.
The girls—or one of them—want to hang out. I don’t feel like hanging out. I have to wake up early to prepare for my reading. I haven’t done any preparation at all. Plus I have to run around like a maniac to collect a PA and set up the space and work out various other problems. This is a haphazardly organized reading.
Anyway, I’m inclined to go back to my car and go home and sleep, but somehow I’m talked into getting into Bryce’s car. There’s no good reason for this, except that one of the girls is insisting that Bryce will drive each of us to our respective cars, even though mine is only parked maybe three blocks away.
So Bryce drops off one of the girls, and I get out of his car to tell her good night. Then he drives me to mine. Then he drives off, and about fifteen blocks away, I check to see if I’ve gotten any text messages or the like, and realize I’m missing my phone. I know I had it outside the El Rey, because I checked it there as well. I stop the car and search it. My phone’s definitely MIA. I drive back to where my car was parked and look around on the sidewalk. Not there. It must have fallen out of my pocket in Bryce’s car, I decide, but I have no way of calling him.
But maybe I can call my own phone from a pay phone, and he’ll hear it ring and stop and find it. Then I realize that won’t work, since I stupidly set my phone to VIBRATE earlier in the evening.
I drive to Bryce’s house. He’s not there. I scribble a message and post it on his door, telling him to call me on my land line as soon as he gets home.Then, when I get home, I try to call a few people to see if they have Bryce’s number. I don’t, because it’s only on my phone.
Nobody picks up. It’s after one in the morning after all.
So now I sit, waiting to see if Bryce is going to call me before sunrise, and if he doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to cancel my phone service and buy a new phone. Except I can’t buy a new phone, not right away, because I’m so broke I have to work at a pizzeria, where I’m probably going to get fired anyway; and I need to speak to a hundred people first thing in the morning about this reading, and I don’t have half their numbers, which are all in my phone; and I don’t even have a working alarm clock anymore, because I’ve come to use my phone as my alarm clock; and I could conceivably have lost my phone not in Bryce’s car but when that first girl got out of the car and I got out to say good night, and I tried to search there but it was too dark to see; and somebody from Australia, say, might stumble on my phone before I manage to cancel my service and decide to call several friends in Australia and I’ll be liable for the bill; and Bryce is probably partying in one way or another with that girl who insisted that I get in his car for no good reason, and he won’t get the message I left on his door before that person from Australia has called everyone he knows Down Under so as to run up a $100,000 phone bill; and I made a fool of myself with Matt from the Walkmen, who’s going to display my novel to his bandmates (if I’m lucky) and say, “Some psycho gave me this thing after you guys left last night”; and the reading is going to be even more disorganized than it already is; and here I sit, still waiting for Bryce to call, with no other way to pass the time than to write about my fucked night and ridiculous life.
But what the hell. Might as well post the results, right? My contributions to TNB have so far amounted to one of two topics: early death and personal embarrassment. Here’s more of the latter. And seeing that I’m about to post without proofing, I may well have embarrassed myself further.
The perfect ending to a perfect day.
A reedited version of this piece appears in the nonfiction collection Subversia.