“Did I ever tell you guys about how David was a mistake?”
Her glass was mostly empty by this point, but she kept swirling the straw around nonetheless.
“Mom, you really don’t have to tell this story aga-”
“Do you remember ‘The Sponge’?” she interrupted, “You all might be too young to remember it, ‘cause they took it off the shelves a while ago.”
“Couldn’t imagine why,” David’s dad chimed in.
That made his mom burst out into an awful, snorting laugh. You know, one of the ones where you can’t tell if they are choking or not?
“Yeah! Because it didn’t work! Shoulda stuck with a rubber, I guess.” she said between gasps for air, “But, I mean, it was Veterans’ Day. We had to honor the troops somehow.”
David’s head was buried into his hands, but his girlfriend, Kate, looked amused. I doubt that was the first time she’d heard the story.
“It worked out in the end, though. Right, honey?” David’s mom asked as she tried to tussle his hair. She ended up missing and just smushed her hand against the side of his face.
“Yup. It all worked out just great.” David’s dad said after finishing his beer. “That’s why I’m sitting in a bar in Chesaning and not in a Corvette.”
“I’m feeling very loved right now,” said David in between his fingers. His dad rolled his eyes.
“Oh lord, we’re just giving you a hard time. Go put a pitcher on my tab for the band. You guys are going on soon, right?”
“Yeah, after this band.”
“Then, go! I’m waiting to be entertained.”
After David slipped off of his stool and left, his dad turned to me.
“I’ll tell ya. That kid just can’t take a joke. Love him to death, but sometimes I wouldn’t even guess he’s my kid.”
David’s mom started laughing again.
“We did have some good looking mailmen back in the day.” She snorted and then stopped suddenly, “Ohh boy. I got to empty the tank.”
Katie ended up helping her to the bathroom, because God knows she really did need the help. Me and David’s dad sat and watched the band start to load their gear onto the stage. I fiddled with my camera a little bit, remembering that I was supposed to be there to take pictures.
The lighting was terrible in this place. Whoever set up the stage made a feeble attempt to put up a few lights, but they were angled all wrong and the only things lit were the ground and the back wall. Gee thanks, I thought, that ought to make for some lovely photos for me. I snapped a few shots, but was thoroughly disappointed. When I sat back down, David’s dad got my attention.
“You’re still doing the photographer thing?”
I nodded. “Trying at least.”
“Tough out there for you arty people.”
He paused for a second and then continued.
“When I was your age, I had it in my head that I was going to play guitar for a living. I wasn’t half bad either. We played shows here and there around Saginaw. Played a couple as far as Ohio even. Man, I loved it. All those people there just to cheer for me… us. I mean.”
“I never knew that.”
“Well, there’s not much point in telling people. You can’t pay the bills on fun. Eventually you got to do something worth something. I shoulda took those drums away from David a long time ago.”
He stopped again and stared at his half empty glass.
“You want some advice?” he asked eventually.
“Sure.” I was pretty sure I was going to hear it regardless.
“Get a real job. Stop with this crap while you’re still young and got time to do shit. These days everyone tells their kids that they can do anything they want. They tell them to ‘follow their passions’.”
He laughed for a moment.
“What a crock of shit. Country would fall apart, ‘cause no one would do any real work. You get it? No one.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I told him, but he wasn’t really listening. His eyes had the slow blink to them and his words were starting to smear slightly.
“I told David that once,” he continued, getting more worked up, “I told him but the damn kid wouldn’t listen to me. You know what he told me back? He told me ‘Well, I’m going to try anyway.’ Stupid, stupid kid. Now we got yet another bar band playing for gas and beer money.”
“But you’re still here?” I asked.
“You still came to his show. You’re still sitting here watching him.”
“Well, yeah. I’m not gunna force him to stop. He’ll figure it out eventually. He’ll figure out you can’t be selfish forever.”
“Yeah selfish. Why else do arty people do arty crap? ‘Look at this song I made! Look at this painting I drew!’ It’s never, ‘look at this paycheck that I earned through goddamn hard work.’”
I was pretty confused at this point. “Well what about the people who listen to that music or buy that painting?”
“What about them? What do they do for you? How are they going to feed my family and put a roof over their heads? It’s always an empty bar and a cheap owner. Anywhere you go” He was angry now, I could hear it in his tone. “How’s that gunna pay the bills? Huh?”
“Uhh, never mind.” Pressing the issue was not the best idea.
“Damn right, never mind.” He grumbled as he tried to flag down a waitress.
The band started to play, so I excused myself and went closer to the stage. As singer’s voice began to ring through the bar, David’s drums kicked in. The crowd of mostly friends and family cheered. I could see Kate smiling and waving, and David’s Mom singing along with her friends.
“Thank you for coming out tonight, everyone!” The singer told the crowd after the song ended, “We love each and every one you fuckers out there! Also, tip your bartenders!”
As they started the next song, I began to take pictures of the crowd.
Of the happy faces and the drunk dancers.
Of the owner, who was content to have even this meager amount of customers.
Of the waitresses pausing for moment to listen in between tables.
Of the sound guy carefully messing with his board.
Then, I took photos of the band.
Of the sweat spotting their faces.
Of their bloody knuckles.
Of their pieced-together equipment that took months to pay off.
I don’t really remember hearing the music much to be honest. It was loud enough to be heard in the next town, but I still didn’t hear it. People swirled around me as the kick from the bass drum hit my chest. The guitar would build and made me tense up without realizing it. I was waiting for the release. Waiting for the crash of the symbols. Waiting for the singer to just completely break down on stage. Waiting to exhale.
These moments played out in front of me. Each one frozen at a hundredth of a second. I could feel it in my finger’s tip. Feel the mirror clunk out of the way. Feel the shutter grind open and close. I swear to god I could. Each shot created a reminder. Yeah, that’s why I was there. I was there to remind you. Remind you of that feeling when the guitars start groaning and the drums slow down. You know? That moment when the dam breaks and takes everything with it.
In the middle of it was me, taking photos. They could have been terrible too for all I remember. But I kept taking them, because they weren’t for me. They never were, really.