Randy’s band is playing tonight. I haven’t seen Randy since that time I met him in that dive in Dallas. He got there ahead of me and was on his second beer, had his ear buds in at a booth by himself, black ball cap low over his eyes saying don’t bother me. And that’s why it worked, the two of us, as different as we were. I didn’t wear black t-shirts, black jeans, black Doc Martins, or play punkthrashmetal, but given the option, I would sit alone at a booth, not at the bar. And maybe talk a little philosophy. That was twenty years ago.
At the venue there’s a pool in front of the outdoor stage. More of an above ground tank, really, parked on the bricks that used to be a parking lot. The lone swimmer, a chubby old broad, makes duck lips and holds two fingers sideways as her boyfriend snaps a pic. After she climbs out, another guy unbuckles his belt, drops his jeans next to the ladder going up into the tank, climbs in wearing only plaid boxers.
There’s no muscly hulk checking IDs at the door like there would have been twenty years ago, just a little girl with a nose piercing, sitting in front of a laptop.
“Sixteen twenty-four,” she says.
I hand her a twenty. I want to ask why it’s not fifteen like it said on the website, but I don’t. It never seems to go well when I ask questions, and she already seems a bit put out that I’m not using a card. She pulls three dollars and seventy-six cents change out of a zippered bank bag, and we both wonder how many more times she can do that.
I was going to wear shorts and a Beatles t-shirt but my wife talked me out of it, said I would be showing my age, trying to look young. We settled on jeans and a green golf shirt that was more or less age appropriate. Turns out everyone else was my age or older, and mostly in black.
I texted my wife a picture of the place.
“What the f? Is that a pool?” she replied.
“You could call it that.”
“Do you feel overdressed?”
“No, it’s fine,” I wrote back. “I mean, I’m a dork, but it’s fine. The Beatles shirt would have been better. Or something black.”
“You don’t wear black.”
The singer for the opening band calls himself Butts. His actual last name is Butz, which is better than his first name (Darrold). He was the bass player in Randy’s band, back when I knew Randy. He’s got gray hair now, and a belly under his black t-shirt that he didn’t have when I last saw him shirtless on stage with a strand of saliva hanging to his knees. That was the speed talking, I’m told. That was twenty years ago.
Inside, at the tables in front of the bar, groups of old hipsters sit and look hip together. One guy wears a pressed white button down tucked into dress shorts, sports a stingy-brim straw fedora. Another guy wears a black ball cap over gray hair and thick-frame glasses, a black Hank Williams III shirt that looks brand new. He’s older than me, but hipper, and dressed younger, looks younger. All of this make me feel older, and I can’t find a bathroom. My search somehow leads me through well-appointed office hallways that look like they belong to brokers and lawyers, rounding corners, finally stumbling across a long-haired dude in black holding a beer and a key ring with about a hundred keys on it. He’s trying each one in the lock of the men’s room door until he finds one that opens it. I don’t know why he has it, how I got here, what’s going on.
Randy’s band is on next, but when they start, it’s not Randy’s band. Or rather, not one of them is anyone I remember being in Randy’s band. But they are playing Randy’s songs and they are all my age. The guitar player has long Gandalf hair and a belly under his black t-shirt.
I look up Randy’s band on my phone. Information is limited, but from what I gather Randy’s no longer in the band and the band bills itself under a different name, the name of one of their songs. But that’s not how they are billed today, they’re billed under the original name. I don’t get it.
At some point Butts wanders past, sipping on a beer. There’s no way on earth he remembers me so I don’t even try, just ask about Randy.
“Yeah, I heard he was supposed to be here tonight. I guess he flaked.”
I update my wife via text. She writes back, “He’s probably sitting on a balcony nearby, reading Wittgenstein, looking down every once in a while to shake his head in disgust.” Last we heard, Randy had enrolled in seminary and was working on a Ph.D. in religious studies. His mentor, I hear, is a fairly renowned theologian, in some circles.
I figure there’s two possible explanations. One, Randy quit his own band, the band carried on without him, hired a new singer to sing Randy’s songs. This seems like a real possibility. Two, Randy quit his own band, licensed hired hands to play his songs, and collects royalties. This seems to me like the less likely possibility, but still a real one. It would be a genius move.
I’m going with possibility two. I call it the booth option.
When I get home, I pull my old guitar out of the closet, plug in to my dusty practice amp. The high E string is broken, and I can’t remember how to play Randy’s riffs even though I just heard them. I had learned a few twenty years ago when I was thinking about trying out for his band. Stood in front of the mirror back then with the same guitar slung over my shoulder, wearing an old Joshua Tree Tour shirt, my only black one, thinking this might not be the best idea.