Yeah, so much for keeping my birthday a secret.
I got my license the day before my twenty first birthday and somehow that turned into me driving the van the next day.
When Bart climbed in he smiled and hit me on the shoulder, but then sat pretty quiet like maybe he was afraid of breaking my concentration.
Ziggy was a little more boisterous: “Oh my god!” He crossed himself as he got in. “On the road, on the road!” he shouted/sang as we cruised down Boylston Street toward Chinatown.
We arrived without incident or accident.
We were making good progress on a song we were calling Million Miles when dinner time rolled around. “Hey,” Bart said when the discussion of what and where to eat came up, “aren’t we taking you out for your birthday?”
I shook my head. “That really isn’t necessary.”
“Fuck necessary,” he said, swinging his bass into a stand and cracking his knuckles. “We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
Rolled eyes were not enough to dissuade him. “Come on, Daron. You took me out for my twenty first.” Well, more accurately Michelle and I had gone with him back to Providence for dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant there. We didn’t have a lot of fondness for Providence, but for certain things, well, okay.
“I don’t want to go out.”
“You have to eat.” Bart.
“Just for an hour, come on.” Ziggy.
“Live a little.” Chris.
“Okay, jeezus.” I took my guitar off and rolled my neck back. “Let’s go out. Did you fellows have somewhere in mind?”
They looked at each other. “We ate at Moon Villa yesterday,” Ziggy said.
Bart yawned. “Why don’t we go over to the North End? I’m tired of Chinese food.”
“No, I know,” Chris said. “If we’re willing to go as far as the North End, we should go out to the harbor piers for seafood.”
“Seafood,” I repeated, wary of exhibiting too much enthusiasm.
“Jimmy’s?” said Ziggy.
“Nah, let’s go to that place that doesn’t have a name.”
“You’re taking me to a place that has no name.” For some reason my irony meter went wild and I started thinking of strange tabloid headlines: Band Leader Dies on Birthday at Nameless Restaurant. And so on.
“That’s right,” Christian said. “I’ll drive.”
We took the van past South Station and doubled back among empty industrial lots until we came to the far side of the World Trade Center and a parking lot. Outside the wind was raw and wet, and we shuffled behind Christian along the loading docks of fish companies, “John’s Fish”, “World’s Freshest Sushi!”, “Riordan Seafood” until we came to a door marked by a menu framed with a donut-style life preserver. Inside the place was dark wood, nautical-looking lanterns, seascape paintings and elaborate miniature ships. We followed a pinched-looking hostess up a steep flight of stairs to another similarly appointed dining room that might have had a nice view of the harbor during the day. Tonight the windows were dark.
And I wasn’t looking at the view anyway, I was looking at a bunch of people waving to us from the corner.
Christian led them in a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday to you”: Carynne, Colin, Lars, Michelle, a girl I didn’t know, Watt, Peter from the Soft Shoes, Marilynne and Reggie from Colin’s band, and a guy I didn’t know. As the song ended everyone began talking at once, motioning us toward seats, waving menus, lighting new cigarettes and laughing.
“What took you guys so long?” Carynne said to me.
I laid my coat over the back of an empty chair. “What, like I was supposed to be on time for my own surprise?”
Christian shrugged and took one of the chairs across from me. “We couldn’t hurry up too much without making him suspicious.” Bart took the chair next to him and Ziggy put his coat on the chair next to me, then went down the table high-fiving people. I didn’t have time to wonder about whether he really intended to sit next to me before Carynne slipped into the chair.
“Well, are you surprised?” Carynne tugged at my arm, her maroon lipstick smearing as she grimaced.
“Yes, yes I’m surprised.” Colin was taking beers out of a paper bag and passed one to me. I guess the nameless restaurant was also a BYOB kind of place. The table was actually four smaller tables pushed together, paper placemats in front of each chair showed a map of Cape Cod. Watt caught my eye and waved from the far end and I waved back. A waiter who looked like he doubled as a cook, his Popeye forearms showing from his pushed up sleeves, stood in sullen patience with an order pad while we looked at our menus.
“What, you guys didn’t read the thing before we came in?” Chris chided and ordered a broiled blue fish dinner without looking at the list.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” I said and the waiter nodded like it was a damn good thing I wasn’t making this any harder on him.
Once the chaos of ordering was done, more Popeye-ish waiters brought baskets of prefab rolls with hard frozen butter pats. Everyone took their assigned seats–Ziggy sat down next to me and I said to Carynne, who was now directly across from me, “So you planned this whole thing.”
She held up her hands. “No, no, it was Chris’s idea.”
Chris talked around a mouthful of roll. “Was not. Bart.”
Bart shook his head. “No, it was Carynne alright.”
“You guys,” she said and put her attention on buttering.
The beer was Sam Adams, some special brew, dark and nutty. Honestly, it didn’t feel that different to be drinking today versus yesterday when it was supposedly illegal. Not that I had expected to feel different. I did kind of hope to get carded at some point because now I actually had a card, but it wasn’t like I was in a hurry to prove it.
Marilynne swapped chairs with Ziggy for a while and talked about bass-playing with Bart, from which conversation I gathered she was thinking about doing something more than singing. Colin said nothing about it and I wondered if maybe their band was splitting up. The girl I didn’t know, it turned out, was Lars’ girlfriend Roxanne. She had taller hair than anyone else at the table but not in a punk way, in a kind of Jersey shore way. The guy I didn’t know was talking to Watt and sipping a Sam Adams, too. Later, after we’d eaten, and a long round of musician jokes had been told (How many bass players does it take to change a lightbulb? Five. One to play the solo and four to beat back all the guitarists who are trying to push him out of the spotlight. How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? None, they have machines to do that now…), Carynne introduced the guy as Gary. By the way he held her coat for her I gathered they knew one another somewhat better than mere acquaintances. Consensus decided we should troop back to the house instead of the studio to finish all the beer. The two of them also went off to a car together.
Okay, I may be a workaholic but that doesn’t mean I don’t know a good time when I see one. At the house we ended up sitting around the living room swapping stories about all kinds of shit, the kind of stuff musicians always talk about I guess, and laughing a lot. Lars told the story about how Miracle Mile, Christian’s old band, got themselves stuck in Columbus, Ohio with a dead water pump and ended up playing an extra gig there for a weightlifter’s convention party when the local band who were supposed to do it had to cancel when their iron-pumping lead singer slipped a disk trying to show off in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger. “They’re total metalheads, these lifting dudes!” he said, “but they kind of do this ultra-stiff dance move…” He demonstrated hiking up both elbows and thrusting his head forward. Ziggy told a version of our long-ago publicity trip to the Hollywood Walk of Fame with MNB, either heavily embellished or I’d forgotten most of it. Both things seemed likely.
Eventually the beer ran down and people went home. Michelle took Bart and offered to give Ziggy a ride but he demurred, saying it was too far out of the way for them to go back to the Fenway and then out to their place on Comm. Ave. Chris went up to his room while Colin and Lars hung around the living room with Lars’ girlfriend whose name I had already forgotten. Then she and he went into his room and Colin went to his room and that left me and Ziggy standing in the kitchen while I drank a glass of water.
If you’re hearing some kind of ominous soundtrack music right now, well, I’ll admit, so was I.
(Quick note to readers: The ebook compiling the first 40 chapters of DGC is available FREE on Smashwords. Get it now here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/25887)