The other day I drove out to Holyoke, MA for a rehearsal with Cheap City. We rent a space about two or three blocks removed from kind of the center of downtown. So I got there earlier than I intended to be and decided to drive down the road to this gas station that has a Subway and Dunkin Donuts and whatever. My partner had just texted me asking if I could pick up some flu medicine and some batteries for smoke detector which had started beeping that morning. And I was starving so I figured I had plenty of time to get these errands done and get to practice maybe even a little early still.
While I’m pumping gas I see this guy wandering around the parking lot. His clothes are disheveled and tattered and he looks very confused. This particular gas station often has a lot of people asking for change, so when he’s approaching me I figure that he’s going to ask me for some money. Sure enough he comes up to me and says, “You got any change for me?” I say, “No I’m really sorry.” He suddenly screws his face up in anger, as if he can’t possibly believe what I’m saying to him. “You’re a n****r!” Well both of us are white and I could smell some alcohol on him and I didn’t really know what to say. “Okay.” And then he walks away.
So I head inside the gas station so I can buy something at Subway. There’s this dude in line in front of me. Super tough guy. Like, he’s wearing a t shirt and his muscles are just bursting out of this shirt and he has a teardrop tattoo and the whole thing. But I notice he’s having a really hard time ordering his food. The girl working there (who admittedly wasn’t moving too quick either) is asking him what kind of bread he wants and he seems genuinely confused that they have multiple kinds of bread. He has the same sort of reaction to the selection of meat and don’t even get me started on his fascination at the toaster. It was like he was in The Twilight Zone and came from a universe without toasted sandwiches. I’m trying not to get impatient with him but he looks at me and says, “I’m really sorry man. I’ve been in jail for the past twenty years. I got out today and this Subway thing is confusing.” “No worries,” I tell him. “Take your time.” Even though internally I’m thinking, “They probably had different kinds of breads available twenty years ago. Maybe even in jail?” I’ve never been to jail and I definitely can’t speak to the trauma of incarceration. Maybe he was truly attempting to process freedom in such a way that he was unable to choose his bread. I don’t know and I’m not judging. I’m just observing, albeit with a certain extent of wonder. So the girl behind the counter is almost done making his sandwich and she asks if he wants any spices or sauce or whatever. He says, “I honestly have no idea. What do you think?” She says, “Well I think oregano would go great on this.”
“What the fuck is that?”
“Oregano? Well, it’s like an Italian herb. It’s good. I think you’ll like it.”
“O-re-ga-no? Well they didn’t have that shit back in my day but I’ll give it a try. Why not? It probably won’t kill me.”
I’m thinking to myself how tragic it would be if he somehow turned out to be allergic to oregano. So he finally pays for his sandwich and I order mine which somehow takes this girl a good 15 minutes to make - I’m starting to get nervous about being late for practice. I order simply a bunch of veggies on toasted bread. That’s it. The girl stops putting things on the bread and says, “You know I’ve seen a lot of things before but I’ve never seen anyone just eat veggies on bread before.”
“Okay,” I say, waiting for her to please finish making the sandwich so I can get going.
She’s still just standing there staring at me. After what feels like an eternity of silence she says, “Well I guess I should finish making this.”
“Yes please,” I say making an admittedly lame attempt at being polite and not annoyed. At this point I start to wonder if I have a problem with patience. On one hand, it’s really not the end of the world if it takes a couple extra minutes for me to get a sandwich made. On the other, it’s a little annoying that this woman keeps stopping to chat with me when I obviously look like I’m in a mild rush.
So she finishes the sandwich and I remember that I’m supposed to buy batteries and medicine. This is the gas station where those things are behind the counter so I walk up and wait at the cash register. The cashier is having a conversation with another employee so I don’t say anything and just wait patiently. At one point she realizes I’m there and stops talking, turns and stares at me, and then turns around again to keep talking. Finally I muster up the courage to say, “I’m sorry to interrupt but can I make a purchase?”
She turns slowly.
“Yeah?! What can I get ya?”
“Could I get a nine volt battery?”
“We don’t got those.”
“Oh, I can see them behind you. They’re on the top shelf there.”
She turns slowly.
“Oh you mean these triple As?”
“No the nine volt please.”
“Oh you mean these double As?”
“No the nine volt please.”
“We don’t got those.”
“It’s the square one?”
“Oh you mean the rectangle.”
She hands me the battery.
“Can I also get some Day-Quil and Ny-Quil?” I ask.
“We don’t got those here neither.”
“They’re on the bottom shelf.”
She grabs some Advil.
“Oh actually could I please have the Day-Quil and Ny-Quil? They’re in the bottles. It’s liquid?”
“We don’t got those.”
“I can see them. Bottom shelf to the left.”
She grabs them and says, “Oh you don’t wanna buy these here. They’re way too expensive.”
I can see the price. They’re $5 each. I don’t buy Quils often so I’m not sure if that’s an expensive price or not but it doesn’t seem too bad to me. “No that’s okay. Can I just get them please?”
“Hey it’s your money.”
So I make the purchase and walk back to my car, realizing I’ve been in this gas station for about 35 minutes and am now very late to practice. As I get in my car I see some cops talking to the guy who asked me for change earlier
To totally change subjects, I’m getting married on Friday! I kind of can’t believe that it’s actually happening. Not in the sense that I have cold feet, but in the sense that we spent the past year and a half planning this thing and it’s finally here. Of course everyone I’ve talked to about weddings told me that the last week before it is the most stressful and I really didn’t believe them but holy shit they were right. We have people telling us they can’t come, people saying that they CAN come after all, people trying to change their meals, people trying to bring last minute guests, bubbling family drama, and I STILL haven’t written my vows and we’ve got about 72 hours to go here. On the bright side I’m wearing a tie decorated with rubber ducks, I get to marry my best friend, and our first dance is a Silver Jews song.
Even three or four years ago I wasn’t super interested in marriage. I mean, I liked the idea of it - I like the symbolism of commitment I mean. But I don’t think I was ready for the commitment. I know a lot of people will say that getting married doesn’t change anything, that you don’t have to prove your love to the state, only to each other. And I agree with that to a certain sense but I really think it does change things. It’s interesting to me because a few years ago I had no interest in this. I was relatively neutral about marriage and didn’t really want kids. Now I’ve totally flipped and I’m all about that domestic life. I really enjoy just making coffee in the morning, doing some laundry, and teaching some piano lessons. I love being on tour and doing the band thing, and don’t plan on stopping that anytime soon, but I’ve realized I’m really happy with how my life is set up.
A few weeks ago I came on a local radio show to help promote the Nashua Community Music School, where I teach a few days a week. The guy hosting the show played some of my music and asked me some questions about my work as a performer and teacher. At one point he said, “Why don’t you just move to New York or LA and make a ton of money? You’re talented enough.” This guy is from a different generation. He grew up playing drums and guitar in New York in the 70s. I tried to explain to him that moving to a big city to “make it big” is a myth. I also tried to explain that I’m really happy living in New Hampshire. I get to teach, I get commissioned to write pieces, and I play in a band that puts out records and tours. And I’m not paying a billion dollars to live in a closet. What more could I ask for?
I guess I wish more people would realize that there are so many ways to be an artist, and there’s not one right way to do it. Some people act like if your band isn’t playing a show every week then you must not be active. Some people think that if you’re not living in a huge city then you’re never going to “make it.” That raises a whole separate question about what “making it” means. It looks different for everybody. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing. I want to keep moving forward with my life and make the things I want to make and not worry about what anyone else is working on.