A Place to Practice

It was spring, and they had just won the Battle of the Bands.  They were excited to think that if they stayed together and practiced maybe they would someday be playing college dances, not crummy affairs in their high school cafeteria with chaperones that only paid $125 to split five ways.

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They had resolved to take things seriously, to try and get a booking agent who could get them steady gigs that would keep them busy, so they wouldn’t have to take summer jobs.  They’d work on new songs so they’d be able to play for a full three hours, plus another half hour if people wanted it–and were willing to pay for it.  They had played one night for adults at the local country club where no one danced the first set, then people slowly warmed up as they drank.  By the time they finished the third set the old people were drunk and yelling for more.  They refused to play until someone came up with another fifty dollars, which the president of the biggest bank in town finally produced.  They played the same songs they’d played earlier in the evening and no one noticed.

What they needed, they all agreed, was a place to practice—a place where they could leave their instruments instead of having to haul them home from someone’s basement every time they got together.  That way they could just drop in and hang out every weekend, they wouldn’t need to take their amps home and then drag them to somebody else’s house the next time they practiced.

There was a big shed behind David’s house where he kept his drums.  He practiced by himself there, but there was so much clutter in it there wasn’t space for the whole band.  David told the other guys that if they helped him clean it up there would be room to store their stuff and play, but they’d have to be careful not to touch the lumber and tools.  His dad had been planning on fixing the place up, maybe renting it out as an apartment.  That way the family would have a little money in addition to what he brought home driving a delivery truck.

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The boys agreed they’d get together Sunday afternoon and work on it for awhile.  Tony, Kurt and Mike showed up in two cars.

“Where’s Larry?” David asked.

“He couldn’t make it.  He had to go to Columbia to see his sister.”

They went inside where David’s mom and dad were sitting at their kitchen table, a platter piled high with brown things set in front of them.

“Well, look what the cat drug in,” David’s dad said.  “How you all doin’?”

The boys all replied in a non-committal way.

“You want some mushrooms?” David’s dad said.  “We just picked ‘em yesterdy.”  He had a big can of beer in front of him and was wearing a sleeveless undershirt.  He hadn’t shaved.

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Kurt looked at the mound of mushrooms and felt nauseous.  He didn’t like it when his mother put mushrooms in chop suey or spaghetti sauce, and the sight of the greasy, breaded morels made his stomach churn.

“The best part is—they’s free!” David’s dad said with a laugh.  Kurt mentally corrected the man’s English in his head, but said nothing.

“No thank you,” Tony said.  “We just ate.”

“What’d you have, a greasy hamburger?”

“Yeah,” Mike said.

“You guys are gonna get pimples if you keep eatin’ that stuff,” David’s dad said with a laugh.  “You sure you don’t want none of these mushrooms?”

“There’s plenty more where that came from,” David’s mother said.  She wasn’t drinking beer.

“No thank you,” Kurt said.

“They came over to help clean up the shed,” David said.

“Well that’s mighty kind of you,” David’s dad said.  “Lord knows my shiftless boy’d never git it done his self.”

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“C’mon,” David said as he motioned to the others to follow him out the back.

“Nice to see you,” Tony said, and Kurt and Mike echoed him.

“You boys are always welcome here, you know that,” David’s mom said as his dad resumed eating.

They went back to the shed and David got the key to turn in the lock with difficulty.  They could barely squeeze in the door; there was wood stacked to the left, storm windows to the right.  You had to step over and around stuff to get to David’s drums, which were arranged in a little space between a sawhorse and some plywood.

“This is gonna take forever,” Tony said.

“It’s not so bad,” Kurt said.  “We don’t have to move everything.  All we need is to clear spaces for each of us.”

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“Just don’t break anything,” David said, and they quietly went to work, moving objects from the middle of the room to the walls, stacking things where they could.  After an hour or so, during which they spoke of how they’d have money, girls and nice instruments soon, they had succeeded in clearing a space perhaps as big as four freight elevators in the center of the room.  They would still have to stand back from the door to let someone in, and there was no place for anyone to sit except David on his drummer’s stool, but they had to stand while they played at dances so this didn’t strike them as a defect in their new place to play.

They decided to bring their instruments in and practice when they were done.  Even with only four of five band members present it was crowded, and they saw that they would have to do more work in order to squeeze in Larry, who had both an amp and an organ they had to make room for.

They tuned up and decided to run through the songs in their first set list, starting with “Midnight Hour.”  David played the opening drum roll on his hanging tom drum, and they launched into it.  It felt good, and as they looked around the room at each other there was a feeling of shared accomplishment; they had done it, they were together, they were on their way.  There wouldn’t be the kind of resentment that had held them back in the past, when one of them would go away for the summer or would take a job in a restaurant that would keep him from playing weekend nights.

As they came to the end of the song Kurt, standing nearest the door, heard a bumping sound that grew louder.  He wasn’t sure what it was until they played the last chord together with a crash; then he realized that someone was trying to get in.  He stepped behind the door and opened it, and David’s father came pushing through.

“God dammit, who told you kids you could take over my place?” he yelled.  He was red in the face, and Kurt could smell the scent of beer as he brushed past him.  “I got all this good lumber here I don’t want you messin’ with, you hear?”

“Dad, you’re never gonna use this place.”

“Like hell I ain’t,” his father said, and David looked down at his snare.  “This here is my shed and I paid for it.  I’m gonna fix it up so it’s nice.”

The boys were silent as the man looked around the room.  David’s mother appeared at the door, a look of concern on her face.  She mouthed something to David; he gave a slight shrug and looked back down at his drum kit.

“Why can’t I have a nice place of my own,” David’s father continued.  “Kurt there, he lives in that big house on Magnolia, I bet his dad’s got somewheres he can go to get away—ain’t that right?”

Kurt didn’t want to answer but David’s father glared at him, as if it was his fault.  “Actually, he doesn’t.”

“Well, I bet he can go to his store up there on Main Street,” David’s father continued.  “I’ll bet he can go up there and get away and nobody’ll bother him.”

“He’s got a little office there, but that’s where he works on his books.”

David’s father said nothing; the boys could hear him breathing heavily in the closeness of the room.

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“Why don’t you come on back in the house,” David’s mother said into the room without much conviction, as if tossing a penny into a fountain.  “Darla’ll be home here shortly, don’t you want to shave?”

“No I don’t, and if I don’t want to I don’t have to.”

They were all silent then, the boys waiting for the lowering clouds of anger to scud off, the man unsteady, staring at his son.  The air outside was wet, and when it blew into the room it cooled their skin, hot with exertion or rage.

“C’mon, honey.  Them boys didn’t know any better,” David’s mother said.

“This one here sure did,” David’s father said, nodding at his son.

“You’re never gonna finish it,” David said.

“Don’t you talk fresh to me,” his father said, breathing more slowly now.  He looked at the other boys, then took a sip from the can in his hands.  “You can just leave it like it is, David’ll put it all back the way I tell him,” he said, then turned and, after one last look at his son, went out the door.

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