Friday, June 18, 2004

I'm exhausted. I've been doing nothing but driving for the past three days.

Melissa and Sam came down last week for a 5 day visit. I think I've groused about the train service to Montreal on this page before: there is one train daily from Philadelphia and it leaves at 5:14 AM. There's a 45 minute or so layover in Manhattan at 7:00 or so, and then it's a long 10 hours. The seats are too small to accomodate a car seat, so Sam has to sit on his mom's the lap the whole way. When they came down last, he was 3 months old, and the trip was barely tolerable. At 5 months, there was no way i was going to put her through that, so I made the trip, 10 hours by car, Wednesday evening.

After 10 hours in the car, we needed to wind down, so we watched the final episode of The Lord of the Rings, on her dad's home theatre. To digress a moment, I avoided all three of those movies like the plague. I have a bad habit of automatically snubbing movies that get too much hype, and in this case I missed out. I wound up watching the movie almost all the way through (one criticism: the final flick has WAY too many denouements. It just kept going and going...), and crawled into bed around 2:30 AM. I guess Sam woke up aroudn 7:00 or so, but Melissa felt sorry for me having driven all day only to look at another day of driving ahead, and let me sleep in. I guess I woke up for real around 9:30 or so; we played with Sam, who's teething and difficult to deal with, before we packed him up for day care. the stroller went in the trunk, and a pile of his toys went in the back seat, along with Melissa's work clothes. We drove him to the daycare, and while she brought him in, I hung out with some little kids.

"Oooooh, you got tattoos," said a little black girl. "They're scary!" The kids all laughed; theyw ere lookign at me like I was a someone fromt he zoo.

"They're not all scary," I said, rolling up my other sleeve. "Look at the pretty birdie i have here!"

A kid with a French accent giggled. "I have.. I have.. I have tattoos too!" he said, pointing at a stick-on-picture of a panther on his little bicep.

"I'm scared of monsters," the little girl continued. "Are you scared of monsters?"

"Oh, you betcha!" I said. "I'm terrified of monsters. When I was your age.. how old are you, five?"

"I'm four now, but in a week I'll have a birthday and then I'll grow up and I'll be five!"
"Well, when I was your age," I continued, "I had a HORRIBLE problem with monsters in my closet. But you know, my dad put a light in there, and after a couple of days they left. Man, did they leave a mess in there!"

The conversation had turned to the merits of garlic in warding off monsters (I was for it, the little kids didn't seem to grasp the concept) when Melissa came out. I gave her a lift into work, and began the long drive home.

Montreal has many of the same problems as Philadelphia: the tax base is shrinking; the economy is a mess; the city's infrastructure is old and in need of repair; it seems some streets have more potholes than asphalt. And, like Philly, the highways are obsolete and do not deal well with the amount of traffic they must carry. Merge lanes do not exist; major exits, especially on 15, appear suddenly with no warnings. Signs are poorly placed, if at all. I mention 15 specifically because this is the highway I had to take to get to New York City, where I had an audition for Ozzfest (more on this below), the heavy metal festival, this Friday (a/k/a today). Of all the highways surrounding the city, I loathe 15 the most: the lanes are narrow, there always seems to be construction going on, and there's no shoulder. Traffic is bumper to bumper on the island, and I fought my way over the Pont Champlain only to miss the unmarked left hand exit as 15 continued. "Shit," I hollered, as I pulled into a mall parking lot, and banged an illegal U-turn back to the on-ramp. Finally, after almost an hour of crawling, I was on my way to the border. It was about 1:00, and with any luck, I'd be at the border in another 45 minutes. My luck held out, until I pulled into the duty-free shop at the border for a case of beer. I opened the trunk to make sure I had room... and there was Sam's stroller, which we'd packed that morning. "Shit," I mumbled, digging in my pocket for the cell phone. The word was becoming somethign of a mantra for the day. I dialed Melissa's job.

"Is it urgent?," the woman who answered the phone asked. "We're not supposed to get calls during the lunch rush. Is it urgent?"

"It's urgent," I assured her. "please get Melissa Macintyre. it's important."

"Is it urgent though? We're not supposed to get--"

"Listen, would I be calling you if it wasn't urgent? Now go get her, I'm paying for roaming charges!"

Interestingly, Melissa's response was also "shit" when I explained what had happened. I got in the car, explained my predicament to the customs guy, who for once wasn't some brainless ape, and returned to the island. The exit to the bridge heading north from route 15 turned as poorly marked as the exit from the bridge heading south, and I had to make another illegal U-turn or two before i had the privilege of fighting my way back up the very beltway i had just fought my way down. After getting back to Melissa's place I took a nap, and emailed my bandmates that I would be late. Would someone please print me out a copy of the Ozzfest application packet?

On my second trip to the border, I got caught in Montreal's lovely rush-hour traffic, but at lesast i was prepared for those sneaky exits across the bridge this time. Twenty minutes south of the Pont Champlain, the city disappears, replaced by prairie farms. Traffic dies down dramatically, setting the stage for the next 7 hours or so. Upstate New York is simply gorgeous, and I had more than enough cds to keep me entertained. I won't say the hours flew, but they walked by pleasantly enough through the mountains and over rivers.

By the time I got to Albany, I'd been driving for almost 5 hours. My lack of sleep was catching up with me, so I pulled over to a rest area and scarfed down a cardboard cheeseburger and some paper fries. As I got into my car, the first drops of rain began to come down. By the time I was back on the highway, the drops suddenly turned into a downpour, the kind that usually last 10 minutes. I had no such luck with this one, and the rain poured down in sheets that almost wiped out the road. That's when my passenger-side wiper snapped halfway off, dragging like a broken leg across the windshield.

And yet I pressed on, through wind, through rain, until finally I saw a sign announcing Yonkers, then another announcing the George Washington Bridge just down the road. My cell phone rang. It was James, my drummer.

"Uhhh, hey man, it's James! How's your drive coming?"

"I'm like twenty minutes from Manhattan," I answered. "I'll be out at your place in another forty five minutes, less if traffic's died down."

"Uhh, yeah, so hey about staying here...." My stomach sank. "hey could you maybe uh, stay at Izzy's place? Cus I kinda have a guest." Meaning I want to get some pussy. "And my place is a mess..." Meaning I know I've pulled this exact same stunt on you twice before but I REALLY want to get some pussy.

You could say I got really mad about this, but that wouldn't be exactly right. I was too tired to yell, and instead I simply shut down. "James, I'm allergic to his cats, remember? Man.. you- you know what James? Fuck this. I'm going home," I said as I hung up, turned off the phone, and veered onto the on-ramp across the George Washington Bridge. Philly's only 2 more hours away. I can make it.

I was all the way down to the Vince Lombardi rest area when i felt pangs of guilt and turned on the phone. There were four voice messages waiting. Izzy, my guitar player. And the phone rang again. I pulled the car to a stop in the while yelling "I'm not gonna fucking take it! This is the third time he's done this to me! At the last fuckign minute! I'm not even IN THIS BAND anymore!!!" [I have been on hiatus from UncelFucker for a month due to my finances, and was only helping them at the audition because they haven't had enough time to find a replacement]

"I know, I know, I know," Izzy kept saying. "The guy's a bonehead. I know. PLEASE BRENDAN I am asking you as a friend to come back to the city, PLEASE don't leave us hanging like this. I will find you a hotel room. I will even stay with you in the hotel room."

"Man, all I want is a floor. What the fuckin is wrong with him? Dude, he could have called at 2:00, he could have called at 3:00, or even 5:00 or even 8:00! It's fucking almost midnight, Izzy. What the fuck did he expect me to do?"

"I know, I kn--"

"And the worst part, the worst goddamn part, is that he's screwing me over so he can bang his girlfriend. Just to get some pussy. That he gets every day anyway."

"I know, I kn--"

"Man, I haven't seen my girlfriend in almost a fuckin' month you know, and if I--"

"Brendan, do you want me to get you a call girl? I'll get you a call girl, I'll pay for a call--"

"No, no, that's not what I mean. Melissa and I were together all week. No what i mean,, is if I can go a month without my girlfriend, he can take one goddamn night off himself, never mind go to her place. You know man, what the fuck is wrong with him?"

"Dude, I'll get you a place to stay. Just come back man. please, we need you. Jamie's a bonehead, a total tool. Please. Don't screw me over. Please."

"Yeah, alright," I said. "I'm sorry I snapped. dude, I've been on the road all day."

"I know, I got your email man. I don't think Jamie knew you'd been driving all day. I'll set you up at Jack's place. He's right in the city and doesn't have cats."

"Arright man. I'm on my way."

And so it was I found myself sweating in my black polyester UncleFucker costume, drinking tallboys of Ballantine Ale (provided by a repentant jamie) out of the can at 9:30 AM Friday morning, standing in a line of in-cosytume heavy metal contenders that stretched from the middle of West 19th Street to the West Side Highway, north a block and snaking all the way down 20th Street to 10th Avenue. When Jack and I had parked the car a half hour earlier, we almost collapsed with laughter at the circus ahead of us. Men outnumbered women by at least 10-to-1. About 70% of the crowd was in their early 20s, coincidentally the same proportion representing the angry-fat-virgin nu-metal school of metal. Another 20% stood for the gothic horror rockers; one fella stood about 8 feet tall, wearing an ankle length leather trenchcoat covered with mutilated babydolls. Beads of sweat dripped from his shave head, which was caked with white skull makeup and a carefully crafted bleeding headwound. His friend was wearing a skeleton outfit that looked like it had been lifted from CVS last Halloween. Another 99.9% represented the old-school heshers, guys with mullets wearing leather jackets and denim. And then there was UncleFucker.

We found Izzy at the corner of 20tha and thr WSH; he'd been waiting in line with the Giraffes since 6:00 AM. They'd started drinking at 7:00. Our good friends The Giraffes were in front of us, and we were making jokes all the way. A girl dressed in bondage gear who had shaved her head (including her eyebros and lashes) walked by. One of the guys in The Giraffes muttered as she passed, "Fucking her would be like fucking Billy Corgan."

"Only with tits," I said.

"Billy Corgan HAS tits," added Izzy. We all laughed. I drank a second Ballantine. Izzy and the Giraffes were drinking Coronas. By this time, the line had moved a few feet and we were gazing across the highway at the Chelsea Piers. The sun was beating down. My beer was getting warm, so I set it down. The line moved a few more feet forward, as the Giraffes discussed ways to beat DUI charges.

"I know this guy who's a drunk AND a lawyer," said the bass player. "He goes to conferences and all they do is get loaded and figure out how to beat the rap." The scheme involved keeping a sealed bottle of bourbon or tequila in the car. "See, the cops can't pull you over for drunk driving, 'cus that's entrapment. They have to get you for driving eratically, running stoplights, or something like that. It's when they stop you that they can pull out the Breathalyzer."

"So how does the liquor come in?" asked James.

"Well, what you do the minute the sirens come on is pull over and remove your keys fromt he ignition. Now, technically you're neither driving nor have intent to drive. Then as the cop approaches your car, pull out the bottle, point out that it's sealed, then crack the seal and guzzle the stuff. You'll get busted for drinking in public, but that's about as far as they can take it. Oh hey, we're next!"

The rest of this story is pretty mundane. We got signed into the auditions. We did a brief interview for Ozzy and Sharon to watch. We did a longer interview to see if we were reality show fodder. We never heard back.


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