Saturday, April 19, 2014

Live At Corvallis High School, For One Night Only

In every way possible for young men in love with women, it was our dream gig:  the chance for our band, cryptically named Time After Time, composed of mostly Notre Dame (all boys) High School students to play a concert for the annual barbecue at our all-girls sister school, Our Lady of Corvallis.  There was Mike the sax player, John the drummer, Bill the guitarist, me on keyboards, and Paul, he of flowing rocker hair, the oldest member and only non-N.D. student, on bass.  All those girls would be waiting for us and we’d take the stage with our modern jazz playlist, jamming live, for one night, or late afternoon, only.

It is inexplicable now across the years why, with all those Catholic school girls we hoped would be in the audience, that I needed to bring a date, but I did.  Carol and I had grown up together through elementary school only to separate when we hit ninth grade; she went to public and I continued on into Catholic high school.  She was petite with brown hair and a dash of freckles, quiet and smoldering in a way I didn’t understand at the time.  We’d never, despite my best efforts, moved beyond the friendship stage, but I hoped if she saw me play keyboards with the band, she would fall into my arms and everything would change.

When we kicked off our set that afternoon, Carol was seated with my grandmother at a table near the stage.  My grandmother usually came to all of our gigs and often let us rehearse in her backyard, although she did not want the guys to use the bathroom because, as she put it, “You don’t know where they’ve been.”  We weren’t exactly rowdy metal rockers, except maybe for Paul, but we managed to sneak in to relieve ourselves when she was occupied elsewhere in the house.  I was not embarrassed at all having a senior citizen and close relative be our main groupie, and I was happy Carol had someone to keep her company while I was up on stage.

The crowd was a little confused by us.  We weren’t a rock band, and our jazz arrangements cribbed from the bands we watched play in clubs around L.A. were mostly unknown to the audience of girls and their families.  Mid-set, in response to a girl who caught his eye, our saxophonist, Mike, wandered off the stage to follow her to some secluded location.  We continued to play on.  When I looked over at Carol, she looked bored.

Eventually, Mike returned and we finished our set to tepid applause.  Since our performance did not generate the rabid response we’d hoped for, we packed up and reconvened at a pizza restaurant near the Studio City campus to review our set and console ourselves.  Carol remained aloof and cool with me even as I made sure she got the pizza she wanted and plenty to drink.  Deep down, I knew this would probably be it for us because we just didn’t click.  It was weird because although we had been friends for years, we knew little about each other’s life.  She never told me about school.  I only knew that she was in all honors classes and was considered one of the brightest kids in her science program.  To me, she seemed always somewhere else and when we did talk, she was obviously more worldly and experienced in life than I was, and I think she looked down on me as a sheltered Catholic school boy.  During our pizza feast, she said little as we all ate and discussed the show.

Mike, ever the ladies’ man and also the craziest of us, made jokes and kept us entertained.  His nickname in the band was “Weed,” for obvious reasons.  Carol laughed at his antics and although she seemed to be ignoring me, she liked Mike, and it was clear he was performing for her.  I got up to get us another pitcher of Coke and when I returned, Mike had slid over next to Carol in the booth effectively blocking me from my date.  He was whispering into her ear while she giggled and blushed.  I demanded that Mike get out of my seat, but he refused leaving me to try to save face by acting like I didn’t care.  I slid into the booth opposite them and tried to make small talk with the others while Mike and Carol groped each other under the table.

By the time we were all ready to call it a day, I was hissing steam out of my ears.  Mike pulled me aside while Carol went to the bathroom.  “Listen, dude, I’m sorry but she really digs me,” he said, as if this were the most logical and ethical conclusion.  “If you want, I’ll take her home and save you the gas.”

So generous an offer, but I was having none of it.  “Forget it,” I snapped.

“Forget what?” Carol asked as she rejoined our group in the parking lot.

“Why don’t you let her decide, dude,” Mike said with his crooked grin.  He was tall with blond hair that hung seductively in his eyes.  Carol nestled under his arm and stared at me with defiance.

“I’m taking her home,” I said evenly.  I didn’t want to take her home at this point, but to let it go meant admitting defeat and our parents were good friends.  I was sure Carol’s mother would call and complain to my parents if she returned home with a stranger.  Plus, I was sure they would not be going straight home, and I did not want to think about what they might be up to in some vacant parking lot somewhere.  I did not know Carol, I was coming to understand, but I knew Mike and what he was capable of with a willing partner.

Carol gave me a hateful look and then turned to kiss Mike deeply on the mouth.  Tongues intertwined, and out of disgust, I turned away and started walking to my car.  “Call me,” I heard Carol say before she followed me.

On the freeway going home, Carol maintained a vow of silence.  I was so angry the blood was pounding in my head.  I left the radio off and let my anger build, mile after mile across the San Fernando Valley.  Up ahead in the hills, a brush fire had broken out and we could see the flames leaping into the night sky giving the horizon a bruised, orange and purple tint.  The tension in the car was unbearable.  “I guess it’s a brush fire,” I offered lamely.

Carol did not reply and kept staring out the passenger window.  I glanced at the rearview mirror; it would not surprise me to find Mike behind us.  I’m sure Carol hoped he was.

I let her out at the curb with a curt “Goodbye.”

“Bye,” she replied, slamming the door.

I never dated her again, and saw her only once or twice again before we drifted out of each other’s life.  Our families also went their separate ways.  I did see her older sister once in college, and she told me, without elaboration, that Carol had “issues” but was trying to work them out.  I didn’t care enough to ask for more information.

Our band eventually broke up.  Mike became an insurance executive.  Our drummer now lives in the Bay Area and plays in a Star Trek-themed punk rock band.  Our guitarist works for the Los Angeles Archdiocese and teaches theology at Loyola Marymount University.  The bass player, who had that long, gorgeous glam-rock hair, went on to join the punk group Bad Religion.

All of this goes to say, our lives moved on, and to a greater or lesser extent, music became a hobby or a distant memory for us.

Our Lady of Corvallis High School graduated its last class in the 1980s.  The closed campus existed as a movie set for a while before becoming a satellite school for a Japanese university.  Currently, it is back to being a private school, although a non-Catholic one.  Notre Dame High School, my alma mater, went co-ed shortly before Corvallis closed, which many believed hastened the demise of our sister school.

Corvallis was also my wife’s high school.  I knew her during our teenage years and I actually saw her the day we played our one and only gig on campus.  Years later, after we were married, we were going through boxes of old pictures when I stumbled upon a number of photos taken at our concert that day, including the one I’ve posted above.

“Oh my God,” I said upon finding them, “this is us.  My band, Time After Time.”  I was shocked and pleasantly surprised.  At least one beautiful woman was into us that day.

“Oh yeah,” she responded with an air of nonchalance.  “I took them of that bass player.  I loved his hair.  He was hot.”  I’m not sure she remembered that I was even there that day.  Unlike Carol, though, this girl stayed with me and later, agreed to join with me in the holy union of matrimony.  In the end, I got lucky after all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great read. If there was ever a metric for gauging the quality of one's life, I think it would be the number of stories that one is able to weave into an engaging tapestry - a tapestry that permanently hangs upon the walls of the local museum, frequented by friends and family and everyone in between. For all our sakes, keep on weaving.

P.S. Some former classmates and I have discussed potentially catching up with you over the summer. Let me know if you're up to it! We all miss you very much.