The band storage room was the dirtiest place I knew on earth. Its original carpet was synthetic umber single-ply laid over stained concrete and committed to slow suicide by unraveling. They replaced it, while I was there, with a deep dark blue, the short pile of which had not yet bowed in shame at the things it would see—Oh, the things it would see.
Pineboard cubbies lined the walls on all sides. Some were small, for flute and clarinet cases, while the tuba cubbies could house a phone booth stuffing game’s worth of gangly teens. Old finishing nails worked their way out of the wood like worms after rain. They caught on your clothes if you passed too close, but we didn’t care, because grunge and alternative howled on the radio, and what were a few spare holes in a flannel shirt? Fraying gaps in our threadbare-by-choice clothing signaled tiny rebellions against the establishment—whatever that was. I couldn’t afford a coup anyway. Cigarettes and cheap pondwater beer and the faded denim impression of a dip canister in somebody’s pocket were the upper echelon of vice back when my small town was a small town. Anything worse felt like the unreality of cinema, like the name of a grindhouse film shoehorned into your machismo for credibility’s sake. We were secure in our miniature sins inside a band storage room.
The whole place smelled like a Tom Waits song, like petroleum and hormones simmering on a double-boiler of late August sweat. Occasionally, other fragrances would arise, ghosts of all the things we wanted to be: old spit cups haunting corners and exuding menthol, and periodic clouds of overwrought spray cologne. We practiced cussing like we knew what it was about. We said things that would have horrified our mothers. Michael and Wes found a hole above the water damaged drop panels and tucked a broken chair or two up there beneath the bare lightbulb hanging from the metal framework of the previous ceiling. It looked like an interrogation room where you couldn’t stand up properly—a room within a room, deepening the salty intrigue surrounding what was a glorified closet.
Yet, if you walked in at the right time, you would find some girl crying alone, because someone had died or because the marriage that had borne her and surrounded her all her life was withering like a plucked morning glory and nobody seemed to give a damn. Or, you would find two guys spitting dark fluid into old bottles while they stared past one another and attempted not to say everything that couldn’t be said. For the moment, the rebel flag cover of their half-baked bravado slipped back and they found a shared silence over bad tobacco they shouldn’t have been addicted to. You would find some intertwined couple up against a wall, tooth-locked in an imitation romance scene from an eighties film because, like all of us, they were too stupid to know love is not something you feel. They were doing the best they could, because just then, in between the performances and the Gershwin and the algebra and the college prep and the this-is-the-rest-of-your-life-kid, they beheld the passing glory of what it means to meet another person in the flesh in a festering, shabby world where music, like Gabriel’s horn stowed away in a closet, is a possibility.