1994. November 1. 4 p.m.
“91 South! There! On the left!” Buck is turned around in the front passenger seat. “You’re clear! Go!”
Robby swerves left, to much horn-honking and raising of fists from other drivers. “Yikes,” he says. “Touchy.”
“Oh yeah?” says Buck, rolling his window down, sticking his hand out and giving someone the finger. “How about this?” he says, sticking out his other hand, giving the double finger.
The sun is low in the sky and flashing across the highway. We’re on our first band trip to New York and I’m feeling slightly delirious and very pinch-me. We’re playing at Brownie’s, the kind of skanky rock dive I’ve been dying to play. In my previous life, the mere mention of Brownie’s caused me deep pangs of inferiority and what-about-me.
“You know that guy,” someone might say. “Freddy? From Brownie’s?”
“Sure,” I’d say, “the booking guy,” hoping I wouldn’t have to admit that I’d been calling Freddy from Brownie’s for over two years to exactly zero avail.
Until a few weeks ago, when he’d finally called me back.
“Yeah, this is Freddy from Brownie’s,” he said when I answered. “I’m looking for Jennifer Trynin?”
“This is Jen,” I said, my heart pounding up a storm.
“Oh, hey. Well, like, I got your 45 with the big boots on it and—that’s yours, right? This is you, right?”
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“Yeah,” I said. How in the world did Freddy from Brownie’s get ahold of my 45?
“Well, I think it’s really good. Where you from?”
“Boston,” I said.
“What’re they puttin’ in the water up there anyway? A lot of great bands comin’ outta Boston. How come I never heard of you?”
Shit shit shit. I didn’t want to admit that until very recently, few people cared about my music one way or the other. So I began coughing, fake choking-coughing—which unfortunately dislodged something in my lungs that really did catch in my throat, causing a real coughing fit.
“Hey, you okay?” asked Freddy. “Want me to hang on? Maybe get yourself some water?”
“No, no, I’m okay,” I wheezed, pounding myself on the chest. “Just getting over a cold.”
“Sounds like a bitch,” he said. “Anyway, you want a gig?”
“You alive back there?” asks Buck.
“I said do you like the Clash?”
“I guess,” I say.
“You guess?” says Buck, turning around, leaning over the back of his seat and hitting me on the head with a magazine. He smiles. “Go back to sleep, rock star.”
I smile, closing my eyes, the sunlight catching in my lashes, and for once I’m not dreaming. This is the way I’d always imagined it would be. Me and my bandmates goofing around in the van, roaming the highways. I have the feeling I used to get driving down to the Jersey shore with my family when I was maybe six. I’d pile blankets into the back-back of the station wagon and make a fort where I could be alone, but not really alone. I remember wanting never to get there, wanting always to stay just like we were in that car, together and forgiving, because there was nowhere else to go.
I’m walking toward Brownie’s big black door, which is covered with band stickers and graffiti and chewing gum—when someone bursts through from the other side.
“Hallefuckinluiah!” yells this short guy with long black hair who’s sucking on a lollipop. His fingers are dirty. “You’re Jennifer, right?” He has a black leather jacket and a long nose with two silver studs.
“Are you Freddy?”
“Ready Freddy and willing,” he says. He’s clacking the lollipop around in his mouth a mile a minute. “Hey, you didn’t tell me this was gonna be a fuckin’ showcase. You got some pretty big dudes calling. You gonna be a rock star or something?” Freddy yanks the lollipop from his mouth with his dirty fingers and whips it toward the street, hitting the side of our van where it shatters and falls to the ground.
“Hey man, that’s our van,” I say, not giving in to my fear of people like Freddy. I don’t know what kind of life they really lead but I always picture it damp and poorly lit, filled with knives and heroin.
“Oh,” he says. “Sorry ’bout that, partner. Listen, I’ll go get some crew guys to help with your gear,” and he disappears inside again. This is the first time anyone from a club has ever offered to help me do anything. I feel like I’ve been let in on some kind of secret handshake. For a moment, I imagine never having to carry my equipment again, but after a while, when no help materializes, I start dragging my amp across the sidewalk and life rubberbands back to normal.
Inside, Brownie’s is no frills, just a big rectangular room with a bar along one wall and a stage at the end. Freddy counts through a ream of brown paper tickets and hands me twenty-four. “Good for domestic beers or a buck off mixed drinks,” he says. “I’m giving you guys extra cuz I’m stoked you’re playing here tonight.”
“You are?” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “You know, it’s good for the club when this kinda shit goes down.”
“What kinda shit?”
“You know, sharkfest,” says Freddy. “Mark my fuckin’ words.”
“Awesome,” says Robby.
“Words marked,” says Buck, putting his arm around me, squeezing me tight, then pushing me away. “Stop hugging me all the time,” he says.
I rip the tickets into eights and hand Buck and Robby theirs.
“Whoa,” says Robby. “Can I sell some of these?”
“You trying to get us drunk, little lady?” says Buck. “Planning on taking advantage of us after the show?”
“Do I have to wait that long?” I say, smiling at my guys. They seem to be glowing, as if the highway sun is still shining on them, as if they’re the best friends IR...