Hazy Days and Cloudy NightsHow It All Got Started 012: Carson
Monday, June 18, 1984
After Tess hung up, Carson sat on the edge of his bed for a few minutes. That he didn’t seem to have it in him to cry confused him. He expected to be sad; to be heartbroken.
There just wasn’t room for it. Frustration crowded his skull.
He’d had the rug pulled out from under his feet twice in one day. Hell, in one afternoon. At least with his folks, he’d managed to assert some control.
But Tess! That was a mind-blower. They had made plans. They had it all worked out, together.
That didn’t matter when it came down to what she wanted.
He felt like he was all sharp angles. Like the air was made of tissue paper.
His room felt small. He went into the hall; it felt small. Living room: small.
Everything around him; all the familiar surroundings of the house in which he’d grown up represented the perfectly defined regiment of his life.
It was making him crazy.
He heard his mother come up behind him.
“Hey, kiddo,” she said. “Your father filled me in.”
Carson turned around. “Sorry.”
“You’ve got a stubborn streak, which I appreciate, since you get it from me.” She opened her arms. “Come here.”
His mother gave him a hug, which reminded him that he was so much taller than her. It didn’t match his mental image; he’d spent most of his life looking up at her.
She lightly slapped his chest when they broke the hug. “Live your life, Carson. At least as often as life allows, that is.”
He laughed ruefully. “How often is that?”
“Up to you, I guess.” She turned for the kitchen. “I’m getting dinner together.”
Carson bit his lip. “Um… do you mind if I skip this one? I was gonna…”
He had no agenda, no idea what he wanted to do, just that he didn’t want to be in the house for a while. “I was gonna go out.”
“Give ’em an inch..!” His mother smiled.
Car drove a white 1971 Volkswagen Beetle that had been his uncle Mic’s. The car had seen better days, but Car liked it. It was his own little space. He was gradually covering the narrow dashboard with band stickers.
He headed up El Camino Real and hung a right on Avenida del Mar. He found a parking spot on Santa Ana Lane and walked down Monterey Lane toward the pier.
The sun was still a couple of hours from setting. A perfect breeze caressed Car as he trotted across Avenida Victoria and stepped onto the sand south of the pier. He sat on his haunches and watched surfers cross back and forth across the low waves.
The ocean attracted Carson. It seemed endless, and while the pulse of the waves was consistent in general, the actual details were absolutely unrestrained. Only the sea knew the sea, and it didn’t appear inclined to self-inspection.
It gave Car great peace.
First day of summer, almost over.
The intense frustration that drove him from his house gave way to melancholy. He shook his head. Very quietly, he said, “Tess. Fuck.”
He sighed and stood up, pushing against his knees. He meandered a little closer to the tide line and noticed two people he knew sitting in the sand. He waved when they saw him approach.
Preston VanHart had shared a few classes with Carson, and they’d partied now and then. He was a bud, if not a close friend. Preston pulled his sunglasses down his nose for a moment. “Hey, Car. What’s up?”
“Chicken butt,” Car said automatically. “Hey, Crystal.”
Crystal and Preston had been going out at least as long as Car and Tess had. She put a hand over her brow and squinted. “Hey, Carson.”
Carson dropped onto the sand next to Preston. “What are you guys up to?”
“Nothin’,” Crystal said.
“Just hanging out,” Preston said.
Car wished he’d noticed the lack of an invitation in their body language before he’d sat down. He didn’t take it personally; these two just wanted to be left alone. Oops.
He adjusted his position on the sand as an intermediate move to standing that he hoped seemed less awkward than simply getting right back up again.
“That’s cool. I’m just wandering around; saw you guys; thought I’d say hi.”
“Cool.” Preston’s smile warmed a little; he got that Car got it.
Car stood up. “Anything going on this week?”
Crystal shrugged and looked down. Preston said, “I’m thinking of doing something at the House of Back, maybe this weekend. I’ll call you.”
No one could really say when the trend of naming their houses and other hang-outs started. In this case, Preston meant the small second unit in his back yard.
“Cool.” Carson looked back up toward the street like he had somewhere to go. “Take it easy, dude.” He nodded at Crystal. “See ya, Crys.”
“Later.” Preston and Crystal said it more or less simultaneously.
Car wandered back toward his car. Those two were set, probably. He realized he’d be a third wheel around them from here on out. Truly, they had never warmed to Tess anyway, who they probably thought was not quite cool enough.
That was a little unfair. Tess was all business, at least if you didn’t know her that well. Preston and Crystal would be surprised if they knew Tess had taken to some of the music Car had shared with her.
He really wanted that record back. Was it the only one Tess had? He’d have to check when he got home.
He dug his keys out of the front pocket of his jeans. He was about to unlock the Bug when music drifted down the street, like someone was playing their stereo through open windows.
It was that Modern English song, except it sounded… wrong. Intrigued, Car was drawn to walk down the sidewalk to find the source.
He stopped short of standing in front of a narrow house; two stories stacked over a garage, much like his own home. The garage door was open slightly, hanging just six inches or so above the cracked concrete of the driveway.
There were people playing music inside that garage. A band, practicing.
How cool was that?
He couldn’t see anyone, but he sure could hear them. The whole street could hear them, but no one had come out to complain, apparently. That was a surprise, since this band was very clearly still learning.
Car wasn’t judging. He was woefully aware of his own shortcomings on the bass guitar. In fact, he had to give whoever was behind that garage door some credit. Their missed notes and uneven beats were utterly exposed, even if their faces weren’t.
It sounded like there was a drummer, a bassist and an electric guitarist. Now and then a keyboard player tapped out the melody handled by the lead guitar in the real version of “Melt With You.” Maybe that was beyond the garage guitarist’s skill.
No one sang. They just worked their way through, plowing past mistakes and missteps.
The Modern English version of the song ended with a fade out. These guys didn’t seem to quite know what to do about that. One by one, they each stopped playing until only the drummer was left to pound away with abandon. The almost-steady beat deteriorated into a cymbals-heavy drum solo until Car heard a boyish voice yell, “Enough with the Neal Peart bullshit!”
The drummer wrapped up with a brave if flawed flourish, and there was laughter.
“All right, let’s do it again.”
The drummer clicked time on his sticks and they dove back in.
The guitar was out of tune. The bass was too loud. The keyboard player was tentative. The drummer’s ambition outpaced his ability. All the same, Car stood there, unknown and anonymous, while chills ran down his back and goose flesh raised the hair on his arms.
Carson listened to the kids stumble through “Melt the World” four more times before he went back to his car with quick steps, grinning like a madman, eyes bright and wide.
Plans caromed around in his head, gaining momentum and strength with every ricochet off the inside of his skull.
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