Monday, April 28, 2008

...Sing This Song...Doo-Dah...

Well, 11 April was my 28th birthday. Unfortunately, that day consisted of driving nine hours out to Detroit for a work weekend, followed by great dinner with my boss and assistant, and then another boring night in a hotel, made manageable by hours spent with my guitar. Then, up bright and early to work a few hours at a gluten-free vendor fair, and back in the car for the nine-hour drive home. The highlight of the trip was at the beginning of dinner when Brian called me from Iraq to wish me happy birthday. We only got to talk for a minute, but he promised to call back the next weekend.

I was able to get a little celebration time in on 9 April, at good-old Wednesday Night Drinking. Our mission was to get as many people to come out as possible, while keeping everyone else at the bar from finding out it was my birthday. Overall, we did a pretty good job, but about halfway through the last set, Chris found out. He literally dragged me to the stage, where he informed James that it was my birthday, and then forced me up there. I did a pretty good job hiding behind Bobby the whole time, but Dave was still able to snap a picture of me with his phone. James is there in the foreground, and the lead singer Henry is on the left, about to ask me to "State my name for the record." James came over right after to tell me not to worry, that they all know who I am, and Henry just has to ask that. Thanks, James, too sweet. And also for the drink he got me a few minutes later. It was a fun night overall, and even though it was for my birthday, I actually didn't do much drinking. So, in that respect, it was a typical Wednesday. Matt stayed sober, in case Dave couldn't make it out of work, so he went home and didn't sleep on our couch. Weird. My birthday present from my boss was getting to sleep in for a couple of hours, so I made it into work at ten instead of eight.

After the trip to Detroit, it was a long week at work. When Friday finally came, I met up with my brother Brian's old friend Gina at Newark Airport, and we flew out to Louisville for the weekend to spend time with Melissa, Brian's girlfriend. The flight out was delayed for a bit, but nothing major, and we had a great chat pretty much from the moment we first saw each other until the plane touched down. Melissa picked us up at the airport, and we headed into Louisville to check into our hotel. We stayed on the sixteenth floor of the Hyatt, looking down on the city, right near an area of the city that they shut down to traffic at night. Fourth Street Live is full of bars and restaurants, and you have to show ID just to get onto the block. After getting changed, we headed down there to get some munchies and a couple of drinks. I introduced the other girls to a couple of new beers, Stella Artois and Newcastle Brown Ale, because the bar didn't have the only thing that Melissa drinks: Bud Light. We watched some wasted middle-aged women celebrate a birthday by practically molesting a poor guitar player who was quietly covering songs in the corner. By this point we were all exhausted, and headed back to the hotel to crash. I didn't think it was worth it to get a second room, and the beds were a bit to small to share, so I took all of the extra pillows and blankets and made myself a great bed on the floor. It was more comfortable than many hotel beds I've slept in, and I think I slept the best of the three of us.

We were up at a decent hour the next morning, and headed out for awalk around the city. We made our way down to the riverside and walked a ways up the bank, then crossed back over at just the right point to catch the Louisville Slugger Museum. We didn't actually take the tour, just got some fun pictures with the giant bat, and picked up some souvenirs. I always pick up a shot glass for Dave , so he has them from all over the place now.

Louisville Slugger was Gina's and my main goal for the trip, so we were now satisfied. We headed back towards our hotel, looking for some food, and ended up back at Fourth Street Live in TGI Fridays. We had a great lunch, complete with a bottle of wine split between the three of us, and followed it up with some Coldstone from the food court upstairs. We took the skywalk back to our hotel to avoid the rain outside, then hopped in the car and headed out to Churchill Downs. It was cheap to check out the Kentucky Derby museum and take a tour of the track, so we did that, and then picked up some more souvenirs at the gift shop.

Melissa is from New Albany, IN, which is only about twenty minutes from Louisville, so we headed back to her house to pick up a sweatshirt for the next day. By then, we were getting hungry again, so we went toa local pizza place and microbrewery. The pizza ended up being awesome, and I got the girls to let the waiter recommend some new beers for all of us. Mine is the porter on the right, Gina's (on the left) was Sam Adams-like, and Melissa went for something similar to Bud Light, of course. We took a picture because we felt the beers were very representative of us and our personalities.

Stuffed with pizza and beer, we rolled ourselves on back to Melissa's house to meet her mom and drop off leftovers. Then, after another stop off at the hotel, we hung out at a comedy club for a couple of hours. The show was pretty good, but it felt like one hundred degrees crammed in there with everyone. We couldn't wait to get back out in the fresh air! Once again exhausted, we went back to the hotel for another great night's sleep.

After checking out in the morning, we took a ride back to Melissa's area again to get some brunch. We had a huge meal once again, and each of us got to talk to Brian from Iraq for a few minutes. Then, it was back to the airport. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed by about two hours, so we wandered around a bit, even taking a few minutes to hang out in the massage chairs. If we had been on schedule, I would've made it for at least the second half of my Sunday night soccer game, but I ended up missing it completely.

Dream a Little Dream...

This is basically my dream from last night, when I got roughly one hour of sleep:

I remember opening my eyes and suddenly seeing him standing in front of me. I’m not sure if I had been sleeping for a while, or if it was just momentary concentration or frustration that had caused me to close my eyes. Regardless, he had not been there when last my eyes were open, and I hadn’t known that emeralds could smolder as coals do until I saw his eyes staring back at me from under thick black bangs.

My heart began to pound in my chest, as fear and adrenaline flooded my body. Early morning, long before the sun has come up, is not the best time to find a stranger in your room, when all you can
do is cower helplessly under the covers.

“Who are you? What do you want? Get out of here!” I tried to scream, but shock kept my voice to a breathy whisper. He continued to stare, with a malevolent smile beginning to play at the corn
ers of his mouth. His arms relaxed at his sides, and yet tension seemed to flow through every inch of his lithe frame. Only his face and fingertips were visible, the rest of him was completely covered in clothing, right down to cut-up gloves on his hands. He didn’t approach the bed, but now the hint of smile had disappeared, and the fear in my blood increased.

“What do you want?” I repeated with slightly more force, pulling the blanket up to my chin and dreading what his response might be.

“Just stay quiet, and I’ll try not to hurt you,” he said softly, putting his hands out in front of him, as if to keep me at a distance. Maybe that’s what it was; did he say try not to hurt me?

I heard a strange scratching noise come from outside of the room. It could’ve been in the hallway, or even on the other side of the fron
t door; there was no way to tell. He had apparently closed the bedroom door after entering. When I swung my gaze back, I saw what seemed like fear cross his pale face, before he regained the slightly menacing frown that I had seen before. Thinking that whomever he was afraid of might be able to help me, I opened my mouth to cry out.

Before even a sound could escape, he was next to me on the bed, one arm wrapped around my waist to hold me still, and the other hand covering my mouth.

“What did I say?” he hissed, close enough for his lips to brush my ear. I wanted to struggle, to scream, but I was frozen, my breath was gone. He pressed behind me, holding me tight, basically cheek-to-cheek, and we waited in silence. Moments ticked by, and I heard no more sounds. He slowly relaxed his hand from my mouth, slipped out from his grip on me, and then in instant he was at the foot of the bed once again. I collapsed backwards onto the bed, limp with exhaustion. I looked up into the green pools that seemed to grow bigger and softer, and then I fell in…

I woke up in the dim, darker than my last glimpse of consciousness. At first, I thought it had all been a midnight dream, but when I sat up, I saw movement near the door. He was seated in the corner on the floor, knees drawn up to his chest, head down on his arms. He lifted his head and penetrated me with green once again.

“I’m sorry, but it was too late for me to leave,” he said quietly. “I’m afraid you’ll have to stay here with me for a while, but as soon as I can, I’m gone.”

The threat was gone from his voice and demeanor, so I let my guard down long enough to tear my eyes away and investigate the room. He had drawn the heavy curtains closed, but otherwise, nothing had been moved.

“What do you want?” I asked one more time, mind racing as I tried to come up with an escape plan.

“Nothing,” he responded. “This was just a place to hide.”

“Hide from what? Or who?” I was terrified of him; what could he be afraid of?

“It doesn’t matter. Like I said, I’m stuck here for a little while, but it’s all going to be ok.” The eyes had me again. His voice was getting softer, and I was straining to hear him. My eyelids began to droop…

Once more awake, brighter than before, it must have been full sun outside by now. The closet door was open, blocking the window out further, and he sat in the same huddled position up against it. This time, I didn’t wait for any conversation. Throwing the covers back, I leapt off the bed and ran for the door. He was there long before me, impossibly fast, standing right in my way. I stopped short, loath to be touched by him again, sliding on the wood floor, and nearly fell backwards. He reached out and gently grabbed my arm to steady me. I wrenched out of his grip and glared up into his face, and the eyes that gazed back were full of disappointment.

“Look,” he said. “Please just stay in the house. I don’t want to confine you, but this is just how it has to be for a little while longer.” He stepped aside and opened the bedroom door, motioning f
or me to walk through it. Confused, I took a couple of steps into the hallway, and turned to look at him. Framed in the doorway, he seemed strong and foreboding, but he made no move to follow me. I turned and sprinted for the front door; head down, pushing with all that I had. Still a few feet away, I looked up, and he was there waiting for me. This time, I slid on the hallway runner, and fell down hard. Dejected, I curled up on my side and began to cry silently. He leaned back against the door for a moment, then slid down to the floor and drew his knees to his chest again.

After a while, it became apparent that he wasn’t getting up to come after me. I pushed myself to my knees and assessed my pain, which was minimal, and then settled back into a sitting position on the floor. Once again, I glared at him, and he raised his head to look at me. All trace of menace was gone, and he simply looked exhausted. Finally, my curiosity outweighed my fear.

“How did you do that?” I demanded. “How do you move so fast? It’s too fast.”

He looked back at me for a moment, then sighed and put his head back down on his arms, dismissing me. Angry, I got to my feet and stalked back to the bedroom, settling on the bed in a position that allowed me to see him.

It seemed as though hours passed without either of us moving. Eventually, I came to believe that it really would end with him just leaving me alone. Or, at least, that there was nothing I could do about it anyway. My curiosity about him and what I had seen was growing, but I was fighting it as best I could. Finally, it got the best of me, and I moved back down the hall and took my place on the floor a few feet in front of him.

“Why did you come here?” I asked, the accusation plain in my voice.

Sighing once again, he dropped his arms and leaned his head back against the door. “I already told you, it wasn’t planned. This was just a place to hide.”

“To hide from who? Was someone after you? What, did you rob a house or something? Steal a car? Get caught in the act by somebody’s husband?”

He barely suppressed a small smirk at my wild guesses, looking up at me from beneath his bangs. “Nope, nothing like that.”

Annoyed by his humor at my expense, I pressed on, “Kidnap a baby? Rape? Maybe you're some kind of serial killer-”

His eyes flashed at this last, and suddenly he was in my face, kneeling on the floor right in front of me. “Are you sure you really want to know?” he growled.

Once again, his eyes were burning with rage, and I was paralyzed by fear. My mouth wouldn’t open to protest, I could only manage to shake my head no. After a moment, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and I was released. My breath burst out, letting me know that I had been holding it, and my tense muscles cramped, then dissolved into jelly. He rocked back on his heels and dropped his head into his gloved hands for a moment, then stood up and began to back away.

After a couple of deep breaths, I gathered my strength and launched myself up from the floor, pushing him back against the door. I bounced off and broke towards the kitchen, trying to make it to the back door, but he had me again. He wrapped me up in a bear hug, ignoring my struggles, and carried me back to the bedroom. Throwing me in the middle of the bed, he pressed down on my shoulders and pinned me until I could no longer fight. Distraught and exhausted, I lay there panting, tears running out of my eyes and into my hair. He loosened his grip and sat down next to me on the bed, a sad look in his eyes.

“If you really want to know, I guess I’ll have to show you.”

Leaning over me, he stared deep into my eyes, reaching his hand down to softly caress my cheek with his bare fingertips.

The green flowed into me, filling me up, until all my thoughts were washed clean and there was nothing but him. I felt myself lose contact with the bed and float away, or maybe my body had just dissolved, been absorbed into him at his touch…a jade ocean, with long waves to lift me up gently, rhythmically, flowing like breath…in and up…out and down…

“Can you feel that?” I heard him say softly. A taller wave pushed me further up, and awareness slowly seeped back into my limbs. My thoughts began to gather back together, and I lazily turned my head to look for him beside me, stretched my arms and legs as if waking from a long sleep. I felt his hand caress my cheek again, and I was back on my bed, feeling relaxed and content, looking up into his now-serene face.

What did you do to me? I wondered, without really caring, just wanting more. I could feel him inside my head, in my chest, in the pit of my stomach, matching his breathing to mine.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Take This Moment to Make You My...

Well, the wedding plans are pretty much going nowhere. As I said before, we have the location and the dress, and nothing else. The club was supposed to give us a contract by the third week of January, and we're still waiting. We have the day confirmed and everything, but we haven't actually paid them a dime yet. I'm also waiting for table sizes and seating numbers so that I can work on centerpieces, so the flowers haven't been started either. Dave is working on the photographer and the dj, but as of now, he has no results. I have Mom trying to find us an officiant, since we're not members of any church or anything. It's a good thing we both have simple tastes; at this rate, we'll be lucky to find vendors to use at all!

The setting is a small country club in upstate New York: When we first went to look at it in mid-December of last year, we had already checked out a few halls in northern New Jersey and southern New York. Each place had the same generic feel, with more than one room so that multiple events could be going on at once. I hate that feeling of walking into a reception and being stopped by an employee who says, "Which wedding are you here for?" It should be obvious! There's only one important wedding that day, and it's ours! So, I made it my mission that no question like that would be necessary.

I took a day off from work so that Dave and I could drive the two hours north to look at the club. My family has a house on top of a mountain above a little village (read: a double-wide trailer in the woods) in the Catskills region of New York, and the location is only a couple of miles away. The road is a two-lane country highway that winds through fields and trees, then suddenly opens up to reveal a well-manicured golf course on both sides. We turned off the highway onto a wide, gravelly drive, glancing at each other with apprehension. As the driveway wound up the hill, the land on both sides was either covered in trees, or barren from new development. It was not an attractive picture on that icy grey December day. We reached the top of the mountain, turned around a bend, and the land opened up in front of us. The country club is set in the middle of a flat piece of open land, with a huge front lawn, and nothing else in sight but trees. Other mountains come up on every side, creating a cozy, secluded feel. We walked into an obviously new building, decorated with unmatched furniture placed around a two-sided fireplace. Dave, being a bartender, liked the feel of the large bar area, and the cocktail area around the fireplace. The front side has many windows, looking out onto a porch filled with tables and chairs. I can immediately picture our family and friends mingling in front of that fireplace, relaxing with drinks and cigarettes on that porch. Beyond the porch is the lawn, with a gazebo placed far in the distance, seemingly on the edge of a cliff. Otherwise, we can practically see the trees lit up with their different colored leaves, setting the stage for a life-beginning ceremony as the cycle of the year dies.

What has surprised me most about the process of planning this wedding is the feelings of change that have come with it. Dave and I have been together for over six years, and have lived together for more than three. I had always thought that marriage would just be another day in our lives, and all would continue unchanged. But friendships and plans have already begun to alter the way they affect me. The people around me have grown up in front of my eyes. Some of us have been together since childhood, some I met in college, a few have come into my life in just the past couple of years. I've shared every possible type of event with my friends, and our stories could fill hundreds of books, or make thousands of movies, both comedic and tragic. I have the sense now of these times ending, as people I had thought would always be there begin to separate themselves, to draw lines between us and move us into different futures.

In the time leading up to our official engagement, I had discussed with Dave our mutual feelings of apprehension when it came to giving up our current lives and beginning a more 'mature' existence. I've always wanted to have children, but when faced with the idea of giving up the freedom that I revel in daily, that I have never taken for granted, I hesitate. I can say easily that this is not to be considered a sacrifice, but more of a trade-up for the wondrous miracle that is a child. But everyone knows that theory and practice don't usually come together, and my constant fear is of a life lived tinged by jealousy or regret. As it is, I am often criticized for behavior considered unconventional or inappropriate for my age or gender. This ranges from going to bars or rather violent concerts to being interested in cars and playing soccer. I expect continuing the majority of this behavior after having children would meet with plenty of scorn, but does that mean it would actually be irresponsible? Do the things that make me the person that I am today figure into the future at all, or are they just ways to fill the time leading up to my real purpose in life? Many times, I have seen people and events that were the be-all and end-all of my present fade into my history, so I know that this is not only possible, but likely.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You're Once, Twice...

The week that began with Taste of Chaos-Asbury Park was packed full of activity and music.

That Monday was St. Patrick's Day, and Dave and I ended up at a Korean bar in Palisades Park, NJ, with a bunch of friends. The table was packed with mini kegs of Coors Light, platters of roasted chicken, and shots of soju. We all got pretty rowdy, and it ended up being a great time.

Wednesday was a typical night out. The indoor soccer season ended the week before, but the league was able to get some field time at the Teaneck Armory-Soccer Coliseum, so I headed down there for a quick pick-up game. I got home a little later than usual, and Matt was already at the house. I walked up stairs and found him sitting on my living room floor with one of my guitars, just playing away. I took a quick shower, and we headed down to the Junkyard to hang out with the Wednesday regulars and Lifespeed.

On Thursday, Dave, Matt, and I drove out to Farmindale, Long Island for the Unsigned Band Festival at the Crazy Donkey. A couple of months before, I had agreed to drive Ira to a show in exchange for a free ticket. He wanted to see Life of Agony, who I was not familiar with, but I'm always up for a show. There were three other bands playing that night at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, and the first one was called Dead Seven. These guys were obviously a local band, but they put on an energetic show, and the crowd really enjoyed them. Afterwards, we briefly met the lead singer, and eventually found them on Myspace. I had kept an eye out for any shows they would be playing, and when the bass player posted a bulletin about this Farmingdale show, I jumped on it. I payed $10 each for four tickets, thinking it would be a fun night out where we would get to see a bunch of different bands.

Ira was also supposed to be coming with us, but he backed out at the last minute. Dave and I picked up Matt from his job around 7 PM, and we drove nearly an hour and a half (and over $15 in tolls) out to Long Island. The Crazy Donkey is a cool place, with two bars set up at the back of the room, one a few steps up from the other. We found a high top table and settled in with some Sam Adams White Ale. The sound at this place was terrible, with all of the lead guitars turned up way to loud, and all of the lead vocals turned way down low. The crowd seemed to be mostly high school students in the beginning, but it got a little bit older as the night went on. There were plenty of people walking around to chat about and make fun of. We ended up seeing six different bands perform for about twenty minutes each, the second-to-last of which was Dead Seven. Matt and Dave felt that they were the best band of the night, with none of the teeny-bopper-pop-feel of the rest of the bands. Overall, it was a great time, and we headed home happy.

On that Friday, I went directly from work to a gluten-free show outside Philadelphia. My boss and I demonstrated and sold our products, then had a great dinner and headed home. I think I walked in the door and collapsed into bed around 1 AM.

Saturday, I was supposed to be going into New York to see Dead Seven play at another bar, but Joey suddenly had extra tickets to see Taste of Chaos in Albany, NY. In exchange for a free ticket, I agreed to drive everybody up to Albany and back, about a two hour and fifteen minute drive. I picked up Joey and Seong in New Milford, NJ, then drove up to Matt's house in Thiells, NY, to pick him up. We made it to Albany about a half hour after the doors to the Washington Street Armory opened, but there was a line all the way around the block. It was really cold and windy, so we went across the street to a bar for a couple of beers. This bar was right out of a scary movie, the kind where the record screeches to a halt when the out-of-place group walks in. The four o'clock patrons were toothless and plastered, and the bartender was lacking most of her hair. About thirty seconds into our beers, Garth Brooks' 'Friends In Low Places' started up, and we exchanged amused glances. We killed some time, and other people clearly attending the same concert wandered in. After a couple of beers each, we went back outside, only to see that the line was still stretching around the block. Figuring it was now or never, we wandered all the way down to the end, and began the cold shuffle up to the front doors.

Our first stop inside was the bathrooms, followed by the beer stand. Unlike Asbury Park, there were no designated areas for alcohol, but on the other hand the only smoking area was outside in the wind. I picked up an Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt, Matt spotted me for an Atreyu sweatshirt, and I stole a bunch of Taste of Chaos picks off of the Ernie Ball guitar area. We all split up for Bullet for My Valentine, as I pushed up to the left side of the stage for a closer look. BFMV once again didn't impress me, and I ended up wandering outside for a cigarette about halfway through their set. It turned out that Joey, Seong, and Matt had the same idea. After our experience in Asbury Park, we were all looking forward to Atreyu's set.

I pushed up to the front right side for Atreyu. The crowd was far less rough than the previous week, and it was easy to move around. Since I had been listening to Matt's Atreyu cds all week, I knew all of the songs and got even more into it, screaming along with the lyrics and rocking out with the people around me. Towards the end, a crowd surfer kicked me in the back of the head, and I learned what it means to see stars. At that point, I pushed out of the crowd and went outside, hoping the cold would make me feel better. After a few minutes, the throbbing subsided, and I went back in to look for the guys before Avenged Sevenfold started up. I found them at the right side of the stage, only a couple of feet from where I'd been all through Atreyu. They were settled in there to watch Synyster Gates, Joey's idol, but I wanted to be on the left in front of Zacky again. I left them there and pushed my way straight across to the other side, stopping to talk to a few different people, and even to smoke a cigarette with some guy standing dead center. Before the set even started, I was only two people back from the rail.

While Avenged Sevenfold put on a good show in Asbury Park, seeing the Albany show made it clear that the previous week was simply routine. There were jokes and silliness this time, and sound glitches that even caused them to restart a song. It's odd to admit that there was also a spiritual feeling for me this time: quiet and still, absorbing the music and visuals, surrounded by writhing, screaming teenagers. This time, I remembered to take pictures, though most of them came out extremely blurry. When the show ended, I stood my ground and hoped for some interaction, which was rewarded by a tossed pick that fell to the floor at my feet. I quickly covered it with my foot, not even knowing which band member it had come from. People were scouring the floor looking for mementos, but I just stayed in place and waited for them to give up and move away. Then I scooped up and pocketed my reward. I met the other guys on the way to the exit, and after we left the building, I showed Joey my find: one yellow, skull-printed pick from Zacky Vengeance. Unbelievably, he offered me one hundred dollars for the pick. Perhaps even more unbelievable, I said no.