May 30, 2012
I saw you at Racer on days I came to write. One night you performed with your band, and I was impressed with the raucous creativity and character in your music. You kind of freaked me out, to be honest. The piercings, ink all over your hands and arms, weird-ass red dot make-up on your nose and cheeks. (Who does that? How does a guy like that get work to support his art?)
But I also admired it. I saw that I shared a similar dedication to creativity, and thought often about the different paths we took, both artists, but my path so safe, yours without any compromise I could see. And yet, don’t all paths require compromise? Don’t all ways exact sacrifice?
I took a cigar break one night on the bench outside the Racer, and you left the bar to have a cigarette. We exchanged a few words of greeting. When you finished your cigarette, you muttered, “Fuuuck…” and went back in. As in, “What the fuck do I say to a cigar-smoking dude without tats or nose rings and face dots, a guy with kids and a house?” Worlds of experience separate us. Or do they? Turned out, you were totally non-judgmental and open in later conversations. Interested even in the dermally unadorned. Eventually I hoped to learn where you came from, what influenced your decisions, when you chose your path, and what the deal is with those fucking red dots.
Your band mate, I think, was with you sometimes. She plays the fiddle, doesn’t she? She’d sit at the bar with an iPad while you drank and talked. Once on a Sunday morning I found the two of you two sitting outside, nursing beers, staring through a fog of cigarette smoke at a dressed-up young family crisply pushing a stroller up the street. The lady’s high heels clicked and echoed in still air between the buildings. They refrained from looking over at you, which made me smile.
“Better hurry up,” I said to you. “You’ll be late for church.”
“I got my church,” you said, toasting your can. “Church of Rainier.”
It wasn’t the first time I saw you at the bar before noon. Today was the last; through the photos from the security camera in the café I see you in your usual place at the middle of the bar, slumped and smiling like you just woke up and came down for pleasant company and a beer to ease into consciousness. The photo is taken from the moment the asshole entered, before anyone knew what he was up to. Ironically, I had been thinking of taking a day to write this week, and if it hadn’t been for a trick of rescheduling at work I might have been there today. I might have been the girl in the left side of the frame, above the asshole with the gun. We can see the paperback she holds (I wonder what she was reading, and why she’d come in that day. Was she stopping in for a quiet read before work? Taking a break from studying for her nursing exam—seems like there are lots of nursing students at Racer, poring over physiology texts). The guy a couple stools down was also reading.
They showed a second security frame with a more frontal view of the asshole’s face as he’s leaving. The time log at the bottom shows it was almost exactly a minute later. All the stools are empty now. Several are toppled. None of your companions remain at the counter, nor is the chef behind the counter, or the girl with the paperback at her chair. Her phone remains on the table in perfect alignment with the edge, as if she’d been waiting for the screen to light up. Your beer sits alone, exactly where it was a minute before.
I’ll never get to learn what brought you there. Never know what the hell was up with the red dots, or if our differences were illusion. I’ll never get to overcome my fear of your weirdness to see if we’re brothers. I’ll never know you. The rest is silence.
I’ll end this with a valediction from As You Like It, a play in which the character Touchstone is sometimes played with red dots on nose and cheeks.
Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.
Rest in peace, Drew. No, scratch that. Why should the next world be restful? Burst upon it singing and inspiring spirits, as you did here in our neighborhood cafe.
What a shitty thing this was. You hope someone as cracked inside as this guy will go and drink from a shotgun out in the woods somewhere, not come into a public place and let out his violence. Good writing, Stephen. Sad reason to do it.