211. Lips Like Sugar

I was in my room the next night, half spaced out listening to Led Zeppelin–which I blame entirely on Chris, who was always trying to get me to listen to more “classic rock” even though I didn’t actually have any deficiency in that area–when I realized someone was knocking on the door. I pulled the headphones down around my neck. “Come in!”

It was Colin. “Hey, it’s warm out. Want to walk to Herrell’s for some ice cream?”

“Er, I actually had ice cream for dinner,” I had to admit.

“So come get some more,” he said.

He looked kind of anxious, I realized. Okay, so maybe ice cream was just an excuse to talk to me? I wondered about what. “Sure. Gimme a sec.”

Soon we were walking up the street, shooting the shit. We were so successfully shooting the shit that I forgot he had looked nervous and so I wasn’t ready for it when he finally said, “So when are you going to ask me to move out?”


“Betsy broke up with me, and I still haven’t found a job, and I figure one of these days you’re going to kick me out so you can take the big bedroom.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“What?” I said again. “I haven’t even thought remotely about any of those things.”

“Well, technically you’re the landlord now.”

“Me and Chris, really,” I said. “Are you behind on rent?”

“No, but I’m about to be.”

“What happened to temping?”

“I got yelled at on the last job because my tattoos show, if you can believe that.”

Colin had a couple of black ink tattoos on his neck. He had jet black hair–dyed–that he could hawk up when he wanted but when it was down it looked pretty normal. But it didn’t hide the tattoos. “I believe that. I don’t suppose you could just wear turtlenecks all summer.”

“So now all of a sudden they’re like ‘nope, we don’t have anything.’ But I got a manager to admit that unless I’m going to switch to light industrial, I’m screwed.”

“Light industrial?”

“There’s two kinds of temp work, clerical and light industrial.”

“In other words, white collar and blue collar?”

“Kinda. Honestly, it’s mostly housewives in light industrial. Sometimes it’s retail warehouse work, sometimes it’s stuff like packing cartons in a factory. But the hours suck, usually seven a.m. to three p.m. so the moms can pick up their kids, and the jobs suck, too. Sometimes they’re dangerous and that’s why they hire temps to do it. You know, like disposing of questionable goods. If you’re only exposed to it for like a week you’re probably okay…”

I was staring at him.

“Anyway, yeah, I don’t like light industrial too much, and I’m too smart for it anyway. I should probably go and get my CPA already. I’m a good office temp, you know? Most of these places don’t even know how their own phone system works…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “But I have a tattoo on my neck and that might reflect badly on the temp agency.”

“Not to play devil’s advocate or anything, Col, but the neck tattoos are kinda scary.”

“Are they? They hurt like a motherfucker to get.”

“That’s at least part of why they’re scary.”

“Yeah, well, I suppose that was the point.” He sighed. “On the other hand, if I’m not temping anymore I can shave my head again. Except I should really be looking for a real job, I guess. Because I’m just about out of savings. The only reason I could pay the rent last month was because you guys hired me, you know.”

“Right. I’d forgotten about that.” I thought for a minute as we approached the place. A car honked and swerved around a pickup truck waiting to make a left turn. This intersection was always like that. “I guess this means I’ll buy.”

“Oh crap, I totally did not just bring you here to mooch off you.”

“Fuck you, Colin, we’re talking business,” I said, punching him lightly on the arm. “You just mentioned working for us, even. I’ll expense it.”

He grinned.

“Now seriously, where would you go?”

“I don’t know. Move back in with my parents for a while, I guess.”

“Aw hell no.” I pushed open the door to the ice cream shop and we got into line. They were blasting the Stone Roses in there, which didn’t bother me one bit. “First off, I don’t know where you got the idea we’d kick you out. I mean, seriously, it’s not like Chris and I need roommates to make rent and are going to go get another one. And no, I am not coveting the larger bedroom. I mean, fuck, I’m not even going to be here the rest of the summer.”

He was ordering orange chocolate and getting peanut butter cups mushed into it when I realized the answer was right in front of my face. “This is stupid,” I said.

“What? I love peanut butter cups.”

“Not that.”

One of the ice cream clerks waved at me. “Something for you?”

“Er, yeah, sweet cream, with a blob of hot fudge and crushed ice cream cones on top.”

She had pigtails and a nose ring and she grinned at me. “Didn’t you have that once already today?”

“Why, you think I should branch out?”

“Come on, live a little. How about strawberry?”

“Okay, sure, strawberry, with a blob of hot fudge and crushed ice cream cones. And nuts. There, fruit and protein in the same meal.”

“That’s the way,” she said and started digging in the strawberry bucket.

I paid for the ice cream and we sat down on a worn out bench to eat. “Anyway, what I was saying is the obvious answer is that we should just hire you again.”

“I thought you guys were going with a big production company.”

“We are, but apparently I get to hand-pick my own guitar tech.” I loved the way the hot fudge would harden onto the spoon when it got cold. I had to practically gnaw on it to get it free.

“Are you serious?”

“I am serious.”

“I dunno, Dar’. Kev’s more qualified than I am for that.”

“Bullshit. The most important thing you’d need to learn is how to work the electronic tuner and put strings on.” He still looked a bit skeptical. “And besides, Kevin’s got a gig. He’s working production crew at some summer theater thing. He was talking about it on the plane home.” I scraped the waxy bottom of the cup with the plastic spoon. “Seriously. I’m not using a lot of crazy effects, and it’ll be basically…” I did quick math in my head. “Four guitars, well six, except two of them are duplicates. Actually in rehearsal I might get it down to just two with the two duplicates. I’m not sure.” I wanted to bring the Takamine along even though I wasn’t going to play it in the show, and the 12-string I hadn’t quite decided if I could live without it or not. It might depend on whether a new song or two worked their way into the set. The Miller I liked but was going to leave home. Same with the new-old Yamaha.

“Okay. You’ll have to really tell me what to do, though, if I’m not just going to lug and carry.”

Colin was mostly a singer, and that was if he could be called that. He played the trumpet, too, but there hadn’t been much call for that in the kind of post-punk thrash he and Reggie and Marilynne played. “Have you ever restrung a guitar?”

“Maybe once…”

“It’s okay. We’ll figure it out. I’ll tell Carynne. And I’ll ask Chris if he thinks we should just let this month slide or what. Now let’s walk over to Daddy’s and get some new strings and you can practice tonight.”

I got recognized in Daddy’s and I started to wonder how often that sort of thing was going to happen.


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